Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, October 12, 2009

The 3rd Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge

Fun fact: The person who thought of the last contest we had (Be an Agent for a Day), is now a client of mine: hello Jim Duncan! Also, the person who won the contest before that (The 2nd Semi-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge), is also now a client: hello Natalie Whipple!

We've also had three finalists, Stuart Neville, Terry DeHart, and Victoria Schwab go on to be published/soon-to-be-published authors respectively.

In other words: NO PRESSURE.

(Bonus fun fact: I didn't actually call the inaugural first paragraph challenge "stupendously ultimate," it was actually "largely indispensable," which throws into doubt whether this could properly be called the "third sort-of-annual." We'll just agree to forget that part, hmm?)

Now then!

It is time. Time to test your paragraph against... other first paragraphs. Time to see if your sentences can wage successful word combat in order to defeat other sentences and emerge victorious on a field of battle.

Oh, and there are prizes. Let's start there.

The GRAND PRIZE STUPENDOUSLY ULTIMATE WINNER will receive....

1) Their choice of a partial critique, query critique, or phone consultation

2) A very-sought-after galley of THE SECRET YEAR by Jennifer Hubbard, which will be published by Viking in January:



3) A signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark

4) The envy of their rivals

5) The pride of a job well done

6) I think you get the picture

The STUPENDOUSLY ULTIMATE FINALISTS will receive....

a) Query critiques

b) A signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark (assuming you live in a place that is reached in a reasonably affordable fashion by the postal service no offense forraners)

c) Pride. Lots of pride.

On to the rules!!

I) This is a for-fun contest that I conduct in the free time. Rules may be adjusted without notice, as I see fit, in ways in which you might find capricious, arbitrary, and in a possibly not fully comprehensible fashion. Complainants will be sent to the Magister, and trust me, you don't want to get sent to the Magister (who's been watching True Blood? This guy)

II) Ya hear? Angst = prohibited.

III) Please post the first paragraph of any work-in-progress in the comments section of THIS POST. Do not e-mail me your submission. The deadline for entry is THURSDAY 4pm Pacific time, at which point entries will be closed. Finalists will be announced on Friday, at which time you will exercise your democratic rights to choose a stupendously ultimate winner.

IV) You may enter once, once you may enter, and enter once you may.

V) Spreading word about the contest is strongly encouraged.

VI) I will be sole judge. Unless I chicken out.

VII) I am not imposing a word count on the paragraphs. However, a paragraph that is overly long may lose points in the judge's eyes. Use your own discretion.

VIII) Please remember that the paragraph needs to be a paragraph, not multiple paragraphs masquerading as one paragraph.

That is all.

And now I shall retreat to my stupendously ultimate bunker.

UPDATE: CONTEST IS CLOSED!! Thank you so much to everyone who entered.






2650 comments:

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Melissa said...

Thwap, thwap, thwap. Lucas’s footsteps pounded a staccato rhythm along the trail: you’re late, you’re late, you’re late. “I’m going as fast as I can,” he muttered, but he pushed his legs faster, hurdling fallen branches and zigzagging through close-packed trees. When the scrub cedar opened up to overgrown pasture, he twisted around and jogged backwards a few steps. “River! Here, boy!”

Tracey Devlyn said...

Guy Trevelyan, Earl of Helsford, stopped short at the sharp smell of burning flesh. The putrid odor melded with the dungeon’s thick, moldy air, causing his eyes to sting and his lungs to seize. His watery gaze slashed to the cell’s open door and he cocked his head, listening.

Corinne said...

I shrugged off the question of who would drink bourbon so early in the morning and placed the sweaty tumbler glass on my cleaning supply cart. The dirty cups clattered as I lunged my cart over the door jam and headed to the storage closet. It was heavier than me, so I had to use all of my strength and weight to kick start its slow crawl. Much like the rest of my life, I thought.

kristycolley said...

Facts have a way of making us seem incredibly put together, almost to an enviable degree. Take FACT One: The bruised, sallow bags beneath my eyes have increased ten-fold since last night. FACT Two: This is because I stayed up ‘til 2 a.m. drawing pictures of my ex husband. But everyone does that, right? Nothing says party like pulpy orange juice, self-loathing tears, and seven sketches of your ex, one of which involves devil horns. Just another Tuesday Night.

Victoria Schwab said...

Hey there, I was a finalist too! In the Dialogue Contest, ages ago. But I'm to-be-pubbed as well now :)

Victoria
The Near Witch
Hyperion 2011

Liz said...

The first time Lark Ellington asked Nic Amati to marry her, they were in second grade. After a brutal round of teasing from his friends (girls weren’t supposed to propose, that was a boy’s job), Nic agreed. A small ceremony was held on the tetherball court that day at recess, the bride in a simple plaid jumper, the groom in a Kool-Aid stained oxford shirt. Lark even had a handful of dandelions to complete her look. Philip McCrady claimed that, by the power vested in him, they were now husband and wife and Nic should kiss his bride.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Victoria! I knew I was forgetting one!

Charlie said...

Cathryn stepped into the entrance of the bar moments before the heavens opened up. Hearing the familiar warning of thunder caused her to rush to her meeting which she was already early for. Several young students rushed by her in a mad dash for shelter, laughing the entire way. Being a college town, the younger crowd with their carefree attitude was a welcomed relief from the seriousness of her visit. Standing safely under the awning, she paused to watch the downpour clean the cobblestone street. She needed to be sure she wasn’t followed.

Flemmily said...

This has to be the worst date imaginable. I seethed, staring straight ahead. Well, maybe not. My inner devil’s advocate cautioned. The worst date imaginable probably would include violence, sexual assault, or at the very least some sort of gross-out bodily functions. This one’s weird, but harmless.
My date’s eyes bore into the side of my face. I could feel them there, staring at me. Like they had been for The. Entire. Date. Unblinkingly, constantly, staring at me.

Suzanne Young said...

This was the place. After two weeks and fourteen applications, someone had finally called me for an interview. Thank God, because my dad’s never-ending pockets had suddenly dried up. Apparently giving up your summer to live with your father didn’t entitle you to unlimited cash flow. Please. Lately I couldn’t even get him to buy me a latte. This was quickly becoming the worst summer of my life.

Snarky Writer said...

Before that year, I’d had no idea that psychological illnesses could be magically induced. There was no reason that I should have known that, despite my abilities, but later I felt like an idiot for not figuring it out. My friends tell me I should give myself a break; I was a bit distracted, what with the delirium and the hallucinations, not to mention trying to survive my freshman year at Supernature Technical Institute, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Swati said...

My head is pounding as I shut my apartment door. Every limb, every muscle, every nerve in my body is filled with adrenaline, ready to spring. My mom looks up anxiously; she’s been playing with my two year old daughter on the living room floor. She flew in last night from New York, right after I called her. I have just moved out of the townhome I shared with my soon-to-be ex-husband in an hour, taking only my clothes, my daughter’s clothes, and some toys. I am broke, though I’ve been making a six-figure income for many years. All I want to do is fall into bed and wake up to different circumstances. Instead, I will be in court tomorrow, explaining why I’ve moved out in the midst of a divorce, without the judge’s permission, without my husband’s knowledge. Verbal hatred has given way to verbal threats, which is an end game I do not want to play in.

Jeanette said...

The hallucinations came at night, when the pain was most intense. Apocalyptic horsemen, psychedelic rabbits, sometimes a belly dancer or a tramp. So when the black, hooded figure slipped in the door at midnight, Judge Henry Stone closed his eyes and made nary a sound.

Melanie Avila said...

Greg bolted upright in bed. Screams echoed from down the hall. He fumbled for his glasses and, with a glance at his sleeping wife, ran towards the shouts. It was coming from Becca’s room, his oldest daughter. Sweat beaded on his forehead, trickled down his spine. A faint light from the bathroom illuminated the carpeted hallway that lead to her closed door. He reached for the doorknob and burst into the room. Moonlight shone through the curtains and bounced off the bare back of a man bent over his daughter. His arms pinned her upper body beneath him and her legs flailed as she bucked on the mattress.

Christopher Ing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liz fenwick said...

The car coughed, lurched and died. The trailer’s momentum nudged it further along the dark lane. Maddie’s fingers clenched the wheel and her chest tightened. The moonlit sky silhouetted the twisted trees. Their tortured shapes rose from the hedges, forming a tunnel which seemed to enclose the car. “Shit.” She thumped the steering wheel.

CC said...

(this is YA)

My best friend, William Ottern – Ott to most everyone he knows -- forbade me to come here today. That’s what he said. Forbade. “I forbade you to go, Carson Flynn, you fucker. I forbade you. The Wilkes Club is filled with nothing but assholes and you know this. Don’t act like you don’t know this,” were his exact words.

Izabella said...

My fate was undeniable; I only had two years to live, but then? Then I’d become something I didn’t understand, something I feared. But the changes within me were unquestionable. Could I be anything other than the monster I was destined to be? Would I retain an ounce of humanity? The wound from Dimitri’s neck was bleeding and I could smell the sweet luscious bouquet of ambrosia from across the room, it stung my nose and the pain in my throat flared while my mouth watered instinctively. I licked my lips. No, I couldn’t deny what I was; it was only a matter of time…

Kate said...

Aubrey Reed had been thinking about exposure her entire life. She grew up with the knowledge that one mistake could destroy an image, no matter how carefully developed. She knew a momentary error in focus could destroy an hour, a week, or a lifetime of effort. Living with the Reed family required a different kind of perspective, a focus on protecting the family above all else, and Aubrey took her responsibilities seriously. When it came to exposure of any kind, she was determined to not make mistakes.

fatcaster said...

Sam, our Golden Retriever, whined and barked. My wife Gayle often said that he knew when I called from the road--he never barked if the phone rang and it was someone else. Then, always, after her eager hello, her questions. Where are you? How are you? How’s the weather? Is it bad enough out there tonight to hurt you and the truck? You’ll pull over if it gets worse or if you need to sleep, won’t you? Do you miss me? When are you coming home? You’ve been away for five weeks. Sam just walks around the house looking for you. Do you miss me?

At times I missed her more than I could say at a public phone. At times I didn’t want to go home and I hated my selfishness, staying out there, having a pretty good time of it while she was left to worry: does he love trucking more than he loves me? I hoped she would never ask. I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t want to tell the truth.

Sam barked again and Gayle said, “You’re gone. You’re always gone.”

Audrianna said...

America Adams was more than fashionably late. However, this was not unusual for the famous-actor-turned-senator’s daughter. People waited on her, without complaint – not the other way around.

Jan Markley said...

In a flash of feathers Yin bolted through the cat door with a dead bird in her jaws. I trailed her, in hot pursuit, as she ran down the stairs to the basement where she left the bird for me as a gift. Her whiskers stretched into a cat smile. The same look I get when she throws up a hairball in my shoes. She purred at her accomplishment and I petted her. I thought the only way Yin would be able to catch a bird was if it fell out of its nest and into her mouth. Better clean it up before Jane sees it. Images of my sister crying over her dead frog last summer flashed through my brain.

Ryan Thomas Riddle said...

In that long ago era of prepubescent wanderlust, you snuck out into the Manila wilderness, while I remained imprisoned in our apartment, our mother’s fortress of trepidation. You explored all the places forbidden by our mother—or should I say Nanay instead. Mostly, you enjoyed being as far away from me as you could, and I suspect it was because you knew that I, the youngest, was the favorite son. Occasionally, on the rarest of occasions, you’d let me venture with you into the strange, spooky streets of the city. Nanay would feign as if she didn’t notice. “Watch out for him sometimes,” she instructed me after one of your tussles with a neighbor boy. At the farthest edges, at least by my childhood perceptions of distance, was where you often explored, thong slippers slapping against the sidewalks, tromping through dilapidated sections like a conquistador. One day, we didn’t go too far from our Broadway apartment, which has since been turned into an apartelle for wayward balkibayan, and ended up in the Roxas district. Not really a slum but a subdivision, hardly precarious, although I doubt very much that I’d be caught hanging around there now. Five and twelve were our ages then. Shirley, our yaya, snitched. You remember her dontcha? Vinegar exuded out or her mouth every time she spoke, and white chalk from the dried, cheap deodorant she used caked her armpits. Funny thing is that she still smells like vinegar and still uses the same generic deodorant. You made jokes about her, but you hung on her apron strings when no one was around. That Shirley. Nanay went nuclear, to say the least, hurling you into our bedroom, unsheathing her velvet maroon slipper from her foot, and striking with the force of an atomic blast on your ass. I, on the other hand, got to stand outside the door, listening to your shrieks and mumbled apologies through snot and tears, and staring at my bare feet soiled with sidewalk ash. Timorousness yawned inside me as I waited and waited and waited. Finally, you came out cupping both cheeks, and Nanay coiled her fingers around my arm, nails in flesh, towing me like a becalmed ship into the room. Her slender velvet maroon slipper was a carp carcass on a dry sea of green shag. To my memory, this was the first time that I’d disappointed our mother. Moment gave way to infinity as she stood there, hands behind her back, speaking about nonsensical things to herself, at first, and then to me, as if touched from somewhere deep in her own past. “When I was a little girl, there was no money for toys and games. My sisters and I lost our only doll. Papa was mad. He refused to buy us another one. So I let your father buy toys for you. I want you to have the things I never had,” she said in a low register. The atomic bomb I anticipated never dropped. Instead she knelt, wiped the salty tears from my cheeks and said, “You’re going to be somebody someday and your brother is risking everything. Am I wasting my time on you, Jaxon? Do you want to be nothing?” I answered, “No.”

SomedayAuthor said...

Lydia hated the love prophecies. If given a choice she preferred to deliver news of disease, death, and destruction, topics which pleased her. Luckily, visions featuring mayhem and madness were far more prevalent, given the current state of the Roman Empire. Yet Apollo’s first rays had barely touched Mount Parnassos when bitter frustration arrived, standing in front of her encased in a pretty, spoiled, and petulant ten year old girl. Lydia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. It had been strongly suggested to her on several occasions that eye rolling was not acceptable behavior from an oracle. Especially not from the Oracle at Delphi, The Oracle. She thought, for the millionth time, of something she would rather be doing than sitting here, indulging…what was the girl’s name again? Oh yes, Berenice.

Erin Nolan said...

There are no limits to the amount of physical discomfort girls my age are willing to endure in the name of looking hot. We’ll gladly suffer the nosebleeds and broken ankles that come with 10-inch stiletto heels if they’ll lengthen our silhouette. We’ll put chemicals in our hair whose aroma alone could kill a whole test lab of bunnies just to achieve Playboy Bunny Blonde. And don’t even think about asking us to wear a drab raincoat when we’re going out on a typically drizzly London night. We don’t want to waste our precious drink money on tipping the coat check girl. Besides, the whole reason we spent the entire afternoon wrapping our bodies in toilet paper is that we want everyone to see it on us. ...Okay, maybe that last example mostly just applies to me.

John said...

Eloise believed, for most of her life, that curses were storms born in the blood, building
for years until they found a body, a harbor to call home. So she was not surprised that on the
night her grandson was to be born, the storm outside reflected this turmoil, sending gusts that
shook the windows and blowing large white snowflakes down Harrison Street. She looked
outside and saw that the roads were still manageable, but would not be for much longer. Still, she had seen the street look worse. She tucked a small vial into the pocket of her cardigan and
left her room.

Sara K said...

West Montgomery High School was located in a small town called Montgomery Hills, Ontario. It was one of three high schools in the school district, with the other two being located two hours away in opposite directions. The medium sized brick building was located near the arena, a popular destination of students throughout the day; theory was that about one eighth of them went to said arena to eat lunch. About one thousand students were condemned to go to school at West Montgomery High; of them, about one quarter didn't attend all of their classes on any given day, one fifth were involved in school sports, and only one sixteenth picked up the school newspaper. I was determined to change the newspaper fraction. Being the editor, it was now my job to do everything in my power to get people to read it.

David Kubicek said...

The general store smelled of chocolate. The floorboards were scuffed and worn, and they creaked when walked upon. It was the first sunny day in a week, so Mr. Anderson had propped open the door. Wendy gazed into a kaleidoscope, which rustled softly as she turned it. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders in golden swirls, and her eyes were the color of a prairie midnight.

GM said...

The day I first met the genie began as the worst day at work ever, not counting the time I’d waltzed into office wearing a transparent shirt without a slip underneath it. That had been an accident, of course.

Larry said...

Col. Lamon drew shallow, irregular breaths as he lay near death. President Lincoln’s private diary rested on his chest. He had not opened it, even once, since the President delivered it to him just before the assassination. Only Lincoln knew what it contained, and he never intended for its entries to live on after he was gone.

Cat Hellisen said...

A melange of citrus and almond scent hits me as I open the tiny back door of the restaurant.
Phantasm's kitchen is full of Alice and the tongue-curling sweetness of his art. It's not that the kitchen is all that small - although it is narrow - it's that Alice has presence. He pretends to ignore me as he shifts the pouch of his belly and leans forward, slow and graceful, to fiddle with a turret on a sugar and marchpane subtlety miniature of the Palace.

Jo said...

God! Tweakers! I fucking hate them. This one has been scratching at the door like some kind of furtive mouse for about fifteen minutes. Lest you have any romantic notions regarding long-time speed freaks, let me educate you. Yeah his skin is almost translucent. Yeah he seems ethereal. Yeah he can’t take direct sunlight but he’s way beyond the beautiful-people phase. He does resemble a vampire. But not one of the shiny, sparkly, movie ones. He looks as if he’s been moldering in a grave for a few months and just crawled out of it. I catch a whiff of dirty clothes and the b.o. which seems to cover him like an oil slick. I take another sip of my coffee and stare at him through the peephole. His bulbous eyes are magnified by the fish eye lens and his raw nostrils are so close I can count the hairs. I can hear the squeak of his shoes against the concrete hallway and the sound catches in my ears and sends a shiver up my back like someone is clawing at a blackboard. Half of me wants to throw the door open and stomp him into to the earth, the other half wants to slink back into my bedroom, crank the music, and pretend I can’t hear the timid knocks. But on the other hand… he looks like the type who’ll pay maybe double what a quarter is worth…probably wouldn’t notice if I weighed it out light. Some college idiot. I could sell him some of the shit quarter I got recently, and then have enough money to score another half of the crunchy peanut butter stuff from Ted tomorrow.

Boxedwhinery said...

Somewhere, tucked deep inside in some murky, hidden recess I didn’t want to think about, I suspected I didn't actually feel bad about striking Claire with my car. Not that I’d hit her hard or anything. Seriously, it had been just a tap; the woman hadn’t even fallen down. It was a shame, though. Because, really, if anyone deserved to get knocked onto their ass it was Claire. Still, it wasn’t right and I knew I probably shouldn’t have done it. Or, that’s what I felt it was best to tell the police officer. After all, given what happened last time I tangled with cops, I've learned it’s usually a bad idea to reveal one’s inner murkiness.

miridunn said...

Her mother told her a bed was for three things: loving, sleeping, and birthing babies. She had not warned her that a bed is also for holding new babies, cold and blue, against an aching breast, moving them from the safeness of the womb to the frigid air they will never learn to breathe. She did not warn her that in her bloodied bed she would witness the worst kind of death – the death of her soul; the loss of her children. But now she knew -- for the third time.

julieduck said...

Swell. That’s what it felt like my body was doing after many beers. Beers before wine. I think I had a tequila shooter… maybe three? Now I was in the back seat of a car. It sounded like the muffler had been chopped off. A lawn mower.

Livia said...

Maybe James wanted her dead. The thought didn't occur to Kyra until she was already coiled into a crouch, ready to spring off the narrow sixth floor ledge. She supposed it was a distant possibility, but she did not let the thought interrupt her jump. She was in no danger here.

Steve Axelrod said...

I’m going to be executed on the fourth of November, so I have less than two weeks to tell my side of story. You know Susan Bishop’s version of what happened, if you watch Oprah or read People Magazine. Susan got the cover six months ago: long blond hair all tousled, wearing a halter top and blue jeans, make-up perfect, standing on a beach somewhere. The headline said: “He Dragged Me Through Hell”. Maybe you thought to yourself-- for a girl who’s been dragged through hell, she cleans up pretty good. Maybe you thought to yourself – I bet she gets special treatment down there. Maybe you were on to something. Maybe you were a lot smarter than I was.

Fae Sutherland said...

When she saw him step into the club, Blanca had only one thought - She didn’t care what they said, a man like that was the right kind of wrong. She watched him, leaning forward with her chin propped in her hand, as he made his way through the crowded little club to a free table. Oh lord, the way he moved ought to be given a warning label for poor, hapless girls like her. Long, lanky motions, leading with his hips and his broad shoulders rolling like he couldn’t just take a step with his feet, he took it with his whole body. He’d have some kind of exotic name, she imagined. With his strong nose and those heavy brows and the shock of black hair that went all rakish at his temple, he’d be named Nikolai or Antonio or something appropriately foreign.

“I think I just came.”

Natalia Maldonado said...

Hi Nathan,
This may seem like a dumb question since you did say works in progress but, just to make sure I'm reading it right, the ms doesn't have to be completed? If an incomplete ms wins a critique, we could submit it at a later date for your feedback?

Sorry, I'm just so used to seeing contests that only accept finished works. I'm still in the revising stage and had already figured I won't be entering anything for at least a few months. Would love to enter this, though!

Nathan Bransford said...

natalia-

Any first paragraph.

V said...

Freja decided that she preferred being a detainer instead of detainee. She contemplated the hard bench, scarred walls, and the swearing pacing people. The last time she had been a detainee, her holding cells and surrounds had smelled of antiseptic and fake flowers instead of sweat, fear and recycled air. Freja also concluded that she liked the seemingly universal phenomenon of graffiti as opposed to the soothing landscapes and still-lifes found in medical facilities. The molded-for-maxium-discomfort seating and the too-bright lighting was a small price to pay for the knowledge that she had done nothing wrong and would be released to continue on her way once a few simple questions had been answered. Plus, the wide variety of curses in an even greater number of languages had entertainment value -- of a sort.

Helen said...

Cam’s world had collapsed early on a Tuesday, when he was orphaned at nineteen years old. He had never forgotten the hopelessness he’d felt as the scientists scoured for the lost spaceship, only for the discovery to come to late. It was the same sensation that had twisted his gut now as he watched the news. “KELZARION MISSING!” stated the red-coloured ticker that ran across the bottom of the screen. “ALL CONTACT LOST.”

Clive Martyn said...

“Sorry William,” Alexander said quietly through the gate, a familiar look of concern on his face. Most of the crowd had left now, leaving me alone by the factory entrance surrounded by dark and shuttered windows.
“How is Dorothea?” he asked.
I had practiced the lie so often that the reply came out without a pause. “She is better, thank you Alexander. She is feeling stronger.”
“How will she take the news?”
“I don’t know,” I said quietly, fearful the fact that the factory had closed would finish her off.

Chris Pasley said...

The day I entered Quarantine was the best day of my life. A few months behind most of the other kids from middle school, but not the last from my homeroom, thank God. That disgrace went to Bobby Harper, whose parents had been feeding him testosterone blockers like hard candy for two years. When he finally did make it into Quarantine he was a year behind and a head too short.

Natalia Maldonado said...

The first thing that hit her was the smell of tobacco in the air, the way it crept into her head and stayed there, heavy with a memory she didn’t have. The smoke had stained the walls beige and the corners yellow. The carpet, soft and even at some point, was stiff from stains that’d been left to dry long ago. Sofi walked through the living room, toes peeking through her sandals and perked upwards to avoid making contact with the floor. When she got to the kitchen counter she dropped her purse on top of it and sneezed so hard it hurt her throat.

ClothDragon said...

Ricia looked up, listening for the repetition of the small sound she’d heard, but the house was silent. Should she find some music or get used to the quiet? Newly from a house that had never been empty, she decided to experience the quiet a little longer to get used to living alone.

Essie Fox said...

It had such a peculiar affect on me. It made me feel nervous, that clicking mechanical whirr, almost like a clock being wound – or a spell. I froze on the very last stair, both hands clutching onto the newel post. I stared straight ahead at the hall’s mirrored console where someone had left a tall silk hat, and seeing as no gentlemen lived in our house, I guessed that Mama was receiving a guest. But, if that was the case, why was the parlour door not closed? And, where was ‘the sign’, the black velvet ribbon she always left tied around the brass knob, whenever she entertained clients at home – the warning for me to stay in my room.

Mercy Loomis said...

"Turn left at the next intersection."
Amanda Bairns nodded muzzily, struggling against the haze. The streetlights made warm puddles of brilliance against the pavement, their orange glow blotting out the clear night sky. The fog was all in her head, then. She blinked hard, as if that would help. Her hands turned the steering wheel of their own volition.

Lauren said...

The high-pitched whirring faded as the climate control system shut down, only to be replaced by another distraction, this time hot-poker pain that lanced up the side of his neck and rattled along the base of his skull. But the young man strapped into the reclined metal chair could do nothing about it. Not with the test in progress.

Sarah W said...

"How do I feel about my mother?"

Becky Mushko said...

I generally don’t let it be known that animals tell me things. “Folks think you’re teched if you go around saying things like that,” my great-aunt Myrie once told me. She also has the gift, although her gift is not like mine. Sometimes, I think my gift is more a curse than anything else, for it separates me from other people if they know. I keep quiet, so most of the kids at school don’t even notice I’m around. I always sit by myself in the back of the bus. But I notice them. And I know more about them than they can imagine.

wishy the writer said...

I walked in on my pregnant wife having sex with another man in my own bed, but she’s making me get therapy. She told me that, somehow, her cheating was a frantic attempt to save our marriage. She was acting out. And so, what she did was understandable, if not justifiable. “Morally wrong, sure,” Erica said, “but not crazy.” I guess she meant the same couldn’t be said for me. Because I didn’t act. When I saw Erica’s heels up on the bare shoulders of some guy I didn’t even know, she said I should have raged, stabbed the guy, or at least pulled him off of her. She said I should have been tormented by questions of who this guy was, why she was doing this, just what they were doing. I should have displayed some kind of horror. But I didn’t do anything. I just closed the bedroom door, went in the kitchen and made myself a turkey and cheddar sandwich.

Melissa said...

A call at two in the morning was never a good thing. “Justine, sweetie, wake up.” And now I was getting one. It was dark. Not early morning, crack of dawn dark. More like middle of the night, what-is-my-mother-doing-there-standing-over-me-in-her-pajamas dark. I couldn’t see her face, but the clock told me it was 2:13am. This wasn’t going to be good.

Diana said...

In his mind, Sheriff Frank Hunter knew that he was going to see a murder scene. But the newly minted sheriff, a man whose law enforcement experience began with a favorable election tally just months earlier, was not prepared for the blood.

Suzan Isik said...

To the world, my grandfather had been a dangerous and cunning pirate from whom so many ran screaming. To us, his family, he was our idol and Storms after him struggled to live up to his reputation. That earned us a lot of enemies over the years, and some untrustworthy allies. It happened to be one of those untrustworthy allies that I found myself following that night.

Alli said...

Bright sparks flared in front of her eyes as she sprinted from the dark depths of the cave, her panicked scream piercing the unnatural stillness of the Amazon. Fear consumed every part of her being as she clawed at her trekking pants and t-shirt in a desperate attempt to shed the terror that threatened to suffocate her. Finally breaking free of the darkness she ran head first into the dappled light of the fecund jungle, giant rubber leaves and thick vines smashed and whipped against her sensitive skin. As the events unfolded one thought consistently ran through her mind, it’s really hard to remain calm when undies are riding up my bum.

Bane of Anubis said...

10:12. Forty-five minutes to go. Kevin turned his attention from the clock on the nightstand to the wrapped package balanced on his stomach. The red bow was frayed. The yellow paper had lost its luster and a section was ripped where his parents had removed the original name tag. It had the shape of a hardback book – his brother had liked reading – but it didn’t weigh enough.

Cory Clubb said...

Being blind in one eye makes life kind of difficult for me. Go-ahead close your right eye, have a look around. This is what I deal with everyday, a permanent blind spot. My name is Evan and no, I’m not a pirate or some kind of disfigured mutant freak. Think of it like a discolored marble rolling around in my head in place of my eye, vision is dead. But it’s not my fault you see. It happened when I was born. I blame the delivery doctor at birth. Apparently he or she pushed a little too hard when I was being brought into this world. POP. And there it went. Gross huh?

stacey said...

Owen Matthews was a liar. He had spent his adult life picking apart the testimony of old women, twisting their words to benefit his seedy clients. As an attorney, he climbed over the top of his partners to scrape the bottom of the evolutionary chain--those with more money than morals. Proud and an unrepentant bully, Owen refused to notice the slight panic in his gait when he entered the courtroom lately. Those things don't matter. Only winning mattered.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I remember the first time I met Kumari. She smelled of gunmetal, blood and death.
I hated her.

The Sesquipedalian said...

It seemed like such an insignificant thing, a single bead of moisture, no bigger than a teardrop. I might have gone my way without even noticing it, if not for a wayward shaft of light that managed to creep through a crack around the poorly fitted door and pierce the gloom, striking the dark droplet, transforming it into a shimmering garnet. Such a tiny distraction, yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Everything else in the room faded, merging into indistinct shadows, as I watched that bright, solitary gem plummet to the ground. A second and third immediately followed, leaving a trio of deep scarlet circles on the earthen floor. After that I lost count. As the isolated droplets converged into a steady tide, I reluctantly turned my gaze to the fountain’s source: a familiar face, pale and gaunt. Looking at it made me shudder. I would never get used to this.

Alessa Ellefson said...

A shift in the energies inside the house warned the Watcher to stay low. Frowning, he peered across the street at the brick and stone house Bertrand had assigned him to surveil. The wind picked up, making the brown-leaved bushes in front of him tremble and shake. A raindrop fell on his weathered cheek but he didn't budge; he was used to the damp weather that prevailed in Belgium.

Jeanette Harvey said...

Thanks for offering this opportunity, Nathan! Here’s an excerpt from my current YA work in progress…

“Are you ready for your mug shot, Tori?”

A tanned arm shoves a camera phone in my face, capturing a close-up as I traipse my way up the marble steps to the grand foyer of the Paradise Crown—Orange County’s hottest new hotel. I recognize the arm and the haughty voice that accompanies it all too well. It belongs to none other than Rose Vilan, the overachieving, snake-eyed sophomore who I believe relocated from New York to California with the sole purpose of making my life a living hell.

Katie said...

Kissing nerds and loners is not my idea of fun. But still, I do it - probably too much. It’s just that once I discovered that kissing for me is different, and can get me things - like gossip, secrets, and best of all - good grades, it’s made it kinda hard to quit.

Nathan, I decided my entry should probably be two paragraphs, so I've cut it. sorry.

K. Andrew Smith said...

They were dead. All of them. Percy lay next to their bodies, what was left of them. The acid ate away their uniforms first, then made its way through their flesh and bones. He tried to avoid looking to the sides. The smell--an acrid odor combining burnt flesh and the mustiness of wet dirt--was bad enough; he didn't need to see them.

LovesSam said...

The acrid smell of freshly spilled blood swims in the air around me, the sound of skin tearing rings in my ears. I can hear someone screaming and the intense pain and loss in that scream, chills me to my bones. It’s only a second later that I realize the sound is coming from my mouth. Confusion washes over me, but I can’t clear the fog in my mind. But I do know this; something is wrong, very wrong. I know that something dreadful has happened. A flash of vivid images play a slideshow across my eyelids and the enormity of the situation hits me and I want to go back. Back to when the fog took control of my mind, blurring out my memories. But it is too late; nothing can be changed. For the first time in my life, I wish things could be different.

annerallen said...

Brianna’s mom will die soon. Maybe tomorrow. She’s a bulge-bellied skeleton now—pregnant with death. Brianna’s in denial, but the signs are there. It’s so stupid. We’ve finally got food, since the rains came. I made salad today from nasturtiums and dandelions—and snails cooked in fat from the possum Jason killed last Sunday. Plenty for everyone. We always feed the skinnies first, anyway. But Mrs. Whitfield won’t eat.

Rebecca Knight said...

How many days has it been now? How many days since Christopher died?
Lady White raised her eyes, the light from the lone window making her squint. Her face was sallow and thin, the flesh hanging off her cheekbones. He was still with her, what was left of him. His pale arm stretched over the stones of the tower floor, as if he were reaching for her, even in death. She shied away. A large strip of flesh was missing from his forearm, muscle laid bare; the wound rank with decay.

Anonymous said...

Henry pulled the trigger of the handheld drill and pressed the tip of the small twirling bit into the crown of the baseball bat’s barrel. Clamps held the bat horizontally steady atop an abused workbench scarred with nicks, dents, gouges. After finishing the pilot hole Henry switched bits, replacing the starter with a spade designed to cut a half-inch-wide cylindrical chamber. He plunged the spinning spade into the bat, using the pilot as a guide to stay centered. Slowly the hole opened as Henry revved the drill’s motor and worked the spade in and out of the forming void, the heart of the ash barrel surrendering into sawdust. As he worked to create the opening he’d fill with a foreign substance in order to lighten the bat for faster swings, quicker cuts, he wished his shop was equipped with a tool capable of hollowing out his own insides. His body stripped, innards scraped out, he’d search carefully for a better kind stuffing he could use to refill himself.

KatieBren said...

The boy was dead.
It was rather obvious, considering the way his shirt was soaked with his blood, little pools of it gathered around his arms and neck, where the skin had been torn away. His hands were half-curled into fists, the hands of the man he would never become, with the thick nails and fingers of late adolescence. His senior class ring was covered in too much blood for it to shine in the sun; hers lay on the battered table in the corner, glimmering weakly in the sunrise, not covered in the blood that stained her hands. He had tried to defend himself, but it had been useless.

Julie said...

I spent the last four weeks living in the past. Two years of her life erased, to keep her alive- to keep my secrets concealed. What I could do was like a magic delete button, peeling back lines from a story before anyone had a chance to read it- anyone except me. I couldn’t erase my memories. Not the vision of her gasping for air- her arms and legs black and blue with bruises. Or the first time I kissed her- cheeks wet with tears and her eyes so open, so in-love. There was no going back for me. I was stuck loving her, even if I traveled as far back as I can remember- it wouldn’t change anything. But she doesn’t love me anymore- I erased us.

Richmond Writer said...

Every living thing had taken refuge from the heat in whatever shade it could find, that is except the woman walking up the road. She wore a low waisted dress and carried her hat and satchel. The straight dress did little to disguise her female shape. Instead it reminded Harvey of a stick of wood whose knots and bends begged to be carved, molded, by a man’s hands until the curving flow of the chestnut grain was revealed. Whatever she wanted she must want it pretty bad to hike up that harsh road wearing the impractical shoes that went with the dress. He walked down the porch steps, into the sun that beaded his brow, and met her at the gate.

Pam Harris said...

It wasn’t that Alicia was ugly. There were aspects of her that appealed to the opposite sex. Like her lips. She always got compliments on her lips. They were full enough for girls to smirk with envy, but never got in the way of finishing certain tasks. And her ass. Sometimes she would pass a store window and pause to nod at it with admiration—in awe of her centralized perfection. It completed her like a parenthesis, and gave men the confidence to stare at it without a shade of guilt. And to think, she used to smuggle this bait with a jacket strategically tied around her waist.

TJ Bennett said...

Death had courted me most of my life, but I was not prepared to make his formal acquaintance just yet. That is why, when I spied from the bow of my pitching lifeboat a soaring tower silhouetted in the distance, I clutched at the image as though it were a talisman against my fate. “Land ho!” The wind snatched my words away before any of the beleaguered passengers sharing my lifeboat could hear.

Anna said...

When Kaeton Jenkins Dougherty finished the cigarette, that’s when he’d get back in the car. What he decided, as he lit one more.

T. Harrison said...

I pause on the sidewalk for a moment to light my cigarette, only slightly aware of the glares I receive from the Sunday morning worshippers trickling out of the church behind me. I squint against the bright, mid-morning sunlight and rub my eyes. My eyelashes feel stiff and brittle from sleeping in last night’s make up; which I can only assume is a complete wreck. I pull out my compact to survey the damage and discover that my lipstick is little more than a red stain on my bottom lip and my mascara a dark smudge around my eyes. I shrug as I snap my compact closed then take a long drag on my cigarette. The crisp, mentholated smoke minimizes my headache and helps me wake up a bit. Why bother faking the funk? I’m making the quintessential walk of shame. That much is made evident by my attire; large men’s dress shirt--sans cuff links--and break-neck stilettos. I’m sure I was wearing a dress when I stumbled into the South Jersey apartment of the man who belongs to this shirt; an expensive, vintage, Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress to be exact. I searched for at least twenty minutes but I couldn’t find it amongst the jumble of discarded clothing at the foot of his bed. My only option was to make my escape in the first thing I found that made me decent enough to step out onto the street. I’m thankful to at least have my underwear. There’s nothing worse than sitting bare-assed on a plastic subway seat. Who knows what sort of communicable diseases you can catch that way?

Sam Hranac said...

Strawberry Pop Tart in hand, Patrick Swift stepped out into the bracing spring air. He could hardly believe that finally, today, May 10, he was on his way to the “cattle call” interviews at Fairyland. He would have to remember this day.

Bill B. said...

In the dark pre-dawn mist, Chauncey guided the battered old Volvo station wagon to the empty curb on the western side of Madison Park. In a few hours, there would be no spaces, as city residents eager to bask in the summer sunshine flocked to the park in droves. Next to Chauncey, Tammy fidgeted in her seat with barely-suppressed nervous energy. Whether from the giant coffees they’d picked up at Dunkin’ Donuts or from the excitement of finally seeing her work come to fruition, he wasn't sure. She kept glancing back, as though someone might be following them. Since Chauncey couldn’t see anything out of the back of the wagon, for all he knew, perhaps someone was.

David Nowlin said...

Nikki Nyx came up on the PHX-247 slowly, from below, happy to find her just where she was
supposed to be, hanging there, motionless, in the black void of space and looking, for all the
System, like a ghost ship. Nikki knew enough physics to know that there was really no such thing
as a motionless ship, but out here, where nothing could be seen that was closer than the distant
stars, there was no frame of reference. Without that, the ship was motionless enough.

DCS said...

Michael Norton shivered in the rain and adjusted the collar of his jacket. Pioneer Square stood empty now. A few stragglers hurried toward the stadium. Mariners versus Orioles, he heard one fan say. Norton wasn’t sure he would recognize Chekhov. The memory of a brief encounter in a dark bar didn’t help. That time Chekhov wore a baseball cap and sunglasses. For security, he explained. Norton recalled enormous hands and a thick accent.

Scott said...

Night time is the hardest part of the day. After I’ve put Greg down and prepared his bottles for the next day, there is only quiet in the house. I hate it. There’s nothing standing between me and my thoughts. Its been six months since he was born and Susan died. Every moment I’m not making a traffic stop, doing paper work, taking care of the house or my son, my mind returns to October 15, 1987. Each second of that day is etched permanently into my brain. I can’t escape it.

Cassandra said...

Neither of us had spoken or moved from our chairs in hours. I squeezed my toes as hard as I could again; a trick Mom had taught me to hide my nervousness or embarrassment. Everyone could see you cry, but no one knew if you curled your toes.

Erastes said...

I suppose the clichéd beginning to this should be "It was on a day just like this..." but that's just in books. The truth is that the day couldn't have been more different. Today the hail hits the window in a tattoo of cold and up to now; it's been summer, hasn't it? I look back over what seems to be centuries of time--just a year, not much more--between the first day I saw him and today and I hardly recognise myself. And Alex? Oh Alex changed outwardly with the times and the fashion, donned the motley, but inside he was the same from the first moment to the very last. I certainly don't recognise me. How could I? Blue serge, black serge, bowler hat. I was the product of my youth - the jelly-baby man he accused me of being. Pre-fab Ed. A million of us; getting up, getting fed, getting on trains, getting to work, doing the hours and coming home. I was just like all the others. Or at least I thought I was. Until I met Alex.

SM Schmidt said...

Footsteps along the gravel path pierced the lingering, fragile silence in my ears. My sandal clad feet, turning purple and numb in the chill, were the responsible intruders. Stinging red tipped hands reached out to rest on the weathered, split rail fence, an anchor to keep my body from floating away to the verdant paradise, beckoning just beyond the simple wooden barrier. What a morning to sneak out! I smiled closing my eyes in thought. How refreshing the air felt after a long night spent in the cramped quarters of the stuffy cottage. The world around me so forbidden and terrible to everyone else, begged to be observed in these stolen moments.

Vijaya said...

I've always enjoyed these contests Nathan, but never entered them. After having met you at our SCBWI conference in Seattle, you're so much more real. Not just a cyber-guy. Oh, good grief, I should just write my entry.

********

I left my childhood dolls behind and became a woman the year Faisal thundered into our lives on his blood-red Honda.

***

Tahni Johnson said...

Life is a Nightmare, but then again, so am I. At the grocery store near my apartment, no one bothers me even though I’m wearing long sleeves, blue jeans, and winter gloves on a ninety-degree August night. I’m just another head-case to be aware of, yet overlooked anyway. Milk, bread, lettuce, tomatoes… once I gather all the edibles, I inch closer to the dreaded feminine products aisle.

djpaterson said...

It took five rings for John to realise the phone wasn’t part of his dream. The neon clock display proclaiming three a.m. was harsh, even though his eyes were barely open. He rolled and stretched for the phone, knocking the receiver from the base. Scrabbling for the handset, he managed to get hold of it before it slid to the floor.
‘If you’re not ringing to tell me I’m a lottery millionaire, piss off,’ the best answer he could muster after two hours sleep. He lay, waiting to find out why he had been woken, but could only hear the wheezing of his own chest and wondered if he was coming down with something. Typical, woken by a crank call to find out I’ve got the flu. I bloody hate Mondays.
‘Last chance, mate. I’ve got better things to do at this time of night.’
‘You’ve killed her,’ rasped a man’s voice. Not one John recognised.

Lou said...

Thirty or so friends and family stood solemnly on grass so dead it crackled. I pictured Clay as I’d seen him two days before: eyes caved in, mouth stiff with dried mud. And the way his father looked at me, the way they all looked at me, like I was a murderer. Or no, what was the phrase? Negligent homicide? Manslaughter? Boy slaughter? Whatever, I was guilty of it. In their minds, I was guilty of something.

Dara said...

They will not survive the night. Yukionna floated along the wind, blending in with the whirling snow as she watched her prey. Two men in straw coats and wide-brimmed bamboo hats stumbled along the narrow mountain pass, piles of wood strapped to their backs. She held back her laughter as she watched them fight against the winter winds. Their last memory would be of her icy breath against their skin as she took their pitiful lives.

Casey McCormick said...

I’m in a giant box full of walking, talking Candy Hearts, surrounded by pastel beings that wear expressions like “I WONDER,” “CUTIE,” and “HE’S MINE.” Oh wait, no—they’re just students at my high school.

robin said...

“My mom and dad met when they were thirteen. Everyone said it was love at first sight. They had me when my mom was seventeen. They were dead by twenty-one – how’s that for a life story?” I stopped, chewing on the eraser of my pencil. I suspected this wasn’t what they wanted when they asked for an essay on the ‘Defining Moment’ of my life so far.

P. Grier said...

So today I learned you can't go home again when your home is a now a meth lab. At least it isn't a grow house, though maybe there isn't all that much to be thankful for either way. The grass was overgrown, the ghastly pink paint my parents applied in 1975 peeling, and the back porch windows covered with cardboard, the place clearly didn't house a happy family. But then, thirty years ago, the structure didn't house much happiness, either. I was the result of a broken condom, and was never allowed to forget that. The third of three, my much smarter sister and athletic brother reminded me that I was the reason Dad left. With Mom constantly auditioning men to find a replacement, I learned more about sex than I ever wanted to know. The walls were thin.

Terra LeMay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kalika said...

It was nearly noon when Jace consented to regain full consciousness. He rolled out of bed, nearly unhinged his jaw with a monster yawn, and glanced out the window to locate his stalker.

Carol Anne said...

I’d never seen Tim stuck for words before. Until now. He looked at me, opened his mouth to say something, and then immediately shut it again. An awkward silence passed over the three of us, and I desperately hoped for some kind of diversion that would break the tension. A crying kid. A stuck car horn. An earthquake. Anything! But I wasn’t so lucky. Instead, I got to sit there, watching the grease stain grow on the paper napkin holding Lucy’s corn dog, wondering when I’d become such a bitch.

Tina Spear said...

From his vantage point on the mezzanine, Amaury Lessant gazed over the heads of the crowd in the nightclub. The sea of bodies swayed to the loud and monotonous techno rhythm. His skilled eye surveyed the bodies writhing against each other, looking for a female in need of company. Too many emotions slammed into his mind in this busy place, the reason he preferred his own company to that of the crowd. Blocking out the random feelings of the individuals on the dance floor was getting more and more difficult the longer he stayed.


Hi Nathan, I definitely do not want to be sent to that evil magister from True Blood --- however, feel free to refer me to that yummy vampire Eric (the Sherriff!) for punishment.

removed my earlier post -was too long.
Tina

Aimee States said...

I was a typical American teen.

I had certain ideas about reality.

I jumped off the bottom step of the school bus on Friday afternoon. The old banana belched smog in my face as it pulled away from the curb. The smoke billowed around me: it smelled like burnt rubber and hot metal. I imagined a pile of burning bodies and a chill ran down my arms. I didn't need daytime horror movies after the last fourteen nights of bad dreams. Yeah, I counted them.

Tere Kirkland said...

Blinding smoke chokes our tiny caravan. Its wooden walls haven’t caught yet, but they will, sending my home to the hereafter with Papa. I can live with losing my sweet Papa and our home in the same week, but not her, too. Not my violin. Orange light flickers off her smooth surface, right where I left her on my little bunk, the bow nearby. You should have loosened the bow when you were done playing, Mara, comes Alex's voice in my head. A fine time for such a warning, when I'm risking my skin. The blanket is still unburned. I snatch it from the soft mattress, holding my violin tight to my chest and wrapping the blanket close. I stumble sightless toward the door I'd left open while the flames eat away our beloved vardo. They'll eat me next if I don't get out of here.

markfreeman said...

The God dreamed. There will be nay-sayers, there always are, who will dispute this fact, but gods will, and often do, dream. What else could inspire their grand schemes, prodigious strategies, or their complex designs? Simply put, they dream.

PhilH said...

Bertie liked rolling in mud. Unlike you or I, however, he didn’t have to worry about what his mother would say when he arrived home. In fact, Bertie’s mother loved rolling in mud, and wished only for Bertie to do more of the same. This was because Bertie was the youngest in a family of four piglets. She didn’t have to wash his dirty laundry for him, because he didn’t wear any clothes. She didn’t have to worry about his walking mud into the carpets, or to put newspaper down for him, because Bertie’s family lived in a sty, and so didn’t have any carpets. This was particularly fortunate, as pigs don’t read newspapers either.

Suzanne said...

The bus kicked up so much dust as it drove into the stereotypical two-horse town of Mesa, New Mexico that it seemed simply to appear out of the dirt cloud. This bus, which would transport me from Mesa to Cheyenne, West Virginia, might as well have been my home for as much as Mesa or Cheyenne were.

RedHeadedQuilter said...

The case was packed full of papers -- old postcards, newspaper clippings and hand-written notebooks that looked like journals. "A little girl’s memory chest," she thought, observing the childish scrawl on the covers. There was lumpy bundle of cloth to one side and Lisa picked it up to inspect it. It seemed to weigh only a couple of pounds. She unwrapped the bundle and gasped when she saw a little hand, a tiny arm. Then she laughed at herself. "It’s just a doll, you idiot," she said aloud. Then she pulled the cloth away and saw the sunken eyes, the withered umbilical cord. She dropped the body into the suitcase and almost made it to the sink before she vomited.

Shoshana said...

I want to make something clear from the beginning--I am not a burnout, druggie, or smoker. Despite what you may have heard about my family, I have never stolen a car or discharged a firearm, and I pay all the required taxes on the tips I get bussing tables after school at Clarke's. In short, just because my last name is Chernov doesn't mean I don't have strong ethical standards.

Amanda Hannah said...

I stared at the clock on the wall for a second past what would be considered polite. Two o’clock. The ambush of questions was redundant. How was your childhood? Did you have a healthy relationship with your parents? Have you ever had trouble dealing with problems before? I was bored to tears, five seconds away from insisting I had frequent conversations with little green people so I could leave and go back to the dark hole I currently resided in. At least the slum they called my room afforded me moments of solitude.

Daniel Gardina said...

To look at the guy, you wouldn’t imagine he’d be the sort to try and kill himself--at least I didn’t think so. Alex’s first attempt to meet Old Grim occurred in the bathtub. He filled the would-be porcelain coffin with warm water, lay down, and drew a utility razor up his wrist three times. The third cut was the deepest. A bolt of pain shot through his body, causing him to drop the blade and kick open the drain. The escaping water pulled the steel down before he could carve up the other wrist. Luckily, the wounds hadn’t bled enough before his stepmom broke through the door. The worst part: This was my fault.

Danielle said...

Lady Phoebe Howard had been in and out of trouble all her life; but kidnapping was new ground, even for her. She grunted as her knees hit cold wet earth. The mud sucked to her legs, soaking the fine wool of her traveling dress. She inhaled sharply as a pain shot up her left arm, allowing the musty odor of damp rotting leaves to assail her nose. Cursing the ancient tree roots that conspired against her escape, she scrambled to her feet. The inky night combined with the dense canopy of trees to swallow every hint of her surroundings. It didn’t matter that she had never seen the highlands of Scotland before or that she had no clue where she was going. All that mattered was that she had to escape the brutes who had taken her. She kept moving forward until she heard a muted noise off in the distance. Lowing.

Yushan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathryn said...

Amy set her hand across the top of her sunglasses to reduce the glare. Her diamond ring slid to the side, resting on her pinky finger and she flicked it back into place. A woman she’d never seen before was sauntering across the playground of Spruce elementary school. Her hair was cut short and gelled so that it stood out from her head, the tips dyed black. She wore a gauze skirt over black tights, and Doc Marten boots laced up to mid calf. As she walked, her breasts bounced and swayed, barely contained by the thin fabric of her spandex shirt. “That woman’s not wearing a bra.” For a moment, Amy didn’t realize she’d spoken out loud.

Maghan said...

The two men winnowed the spotless lambs from the spotted, their bleating drowned by the screams of dueling fiddles and gnashing of ivories on an ill-tuned upright piano coming from the cottage nearby, and the men pinned the largest to the ground and carried it by its legs to the spit dug near an outdoor hearth as the music grew louder. They made quick work of butchering it, the bright spray of its life bleeding the earth red, then tied it to the spit and soon others drew near to get away from the music and warm themselves and toss their whisky into the fire and laugh as it flared. Some were more than a bit drunk, which explains the deafening music and the wasted whisky and why, when the bride’s uncle tripped and collapsed in the front drive and fell asleep where he lay, her brothers who had killed and butchered the lamb hoisted him in their great white arms and dropped him on the bed in the guest room where he slept soundly for the rest of the night.

sraasch said...

Fear had forgotten their island. A pathetic spit of land hovering more than a few dozen miles off the nearest coast, it was wrapped in an ethereal blanket of fog. The fog never lifted, never waned, never cleared, choking their days into gray-lighted dreams and making night cling to their skin with a sticky residue. Impenetrable, her uncles said. Protection.

Tiffany said...

I know little or nothing about souls. I was never led to believe we even have any. But if we do, they are two-part souls, for Werewolves are neither innately human nor wolf. We are always both, and the line in between is unclear even when you have crossed it.

Bryan B. said...

It would be so amazing if my parents, for once, wouldn’t up and move us to some other state. You know, searching out couches and spare bedrooms like a bunch of low-rent refugees. I mean, I’ve got no misconceptions about who we are. You can look at us rocking the Econoline made back in 19andforeverago and know we aren’t even close to being middle class, right? But still. It’s not like moving ever changed anything for us before.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I knew. I knew the moment I killed him what would happen but, at the same time, it was worth it. The second the bullet hit his skull, an image was snapped. As the bullet passed through his frontal lobe, the data was processed and the probability of his survival was calculated. In his parietal lobe, the likelihood was resolved as low and, as it exited through his occipital lobe, a document was developed. The chip in my head was scanned for my identity. His was scanned too. By the time the metal cracked through the back of his skull, a message was sent out to two recipients. My name fell onto a screen as if the characters were nothing more than letters strung together. Behind my name were the words “attempted murder,” and then he fell to the ground, his heart stopped beating, blood and brain matter spattered the ground behind him and beneath him. The screen added the word, “confirmed.”

Gehayi said...

It's always awkward to see old lovers, Tony Russell thought gloomily, staring across the barroom to the pub's door. Especially on the first of the year.

To be truthful, "lover" was precisely the wrong word for Gideon Tarrant. He was imaginative in bed (and in a lake, on top of a crypt, and, on one memorable occasion, on the flat portion of a roof of a country house), but love, Tony had long thought, was beyond Tarrant. He had had numerous lovers, both male and female, who were always chosen for their reluctance to gossip, their health and their prosperity. Generally, however, he only had one at a time, always intensely and never for very long. This was not a problem; Tarrant had a way of breaking things off with his lovers that hurt very little. He was also married to a conceited young woman who fancied herself a bluestocking and called herself Francesca Aemilia--though everyone in society knew that her real name was Fanny. Fanny Tarrant had very definite opinions about the way the world worked, and it was really a pity that she didn't cling to any of her notions long enough to discover that nearly all of them were either false outright or else were pretty fantasies rooted in air.

Bex and the Bookends said...

First para. Working title "Homecoming Headache."

I hit the floor--hard--and yelled in shock and pain. Lying still, I held my breath, listening for anyone outside who might have heard me. Part of me hoped someone was already rushing to help. The rest of me was ashamed and hoped no one had heard.

Jacque said...

The new princess of Kalum tripped over her skirt as she danced at her wedding feast. Recovering, she smiled wide and brayed like a donkey while the court forced smiles. As the music restarted from the terrace, the crown prince escorted her back to the center of the castle’s courtyard. Mordin watched with his boots up on the high table, wondering again what witchcraft she had used to capture his brother’s fancy. She was pretty enough, but a complete simpleton that required assistance at every interval, from choosing the right serving utensil to the workings of the court, and her country accent was atrocious.

Aidan Ryan said...

The well polished loafers tapped the thin, grey carpet of the thirty-second floor of the Fishbourne Law Offices in downtown Brussels. Charles, the man in the loafers, walked at a quick pace with his head down and his shoulders forward. He didn’t glance in either direction, despite the fact that the floor-to-ceiling glass windows on his left offered a stunning view of the city, packed with monuments, skyscrapers and other seats of power. Flying vehicles of all shapes and sizes zoomed past the window, and the high speed train stretched off to the south towards Paris. The European Union headquarters could be seen from here, and at night all of the tallest buildings were illuminated in a blinding neon display of myriad colors. Some guessed that this was done to mask the bright glow of the moon at night, a constant reminder to the Global Confederation of its failures. Charles had seen all this, but never really paid it any attention.

Maryann Miller said...

Stepping into the brisk, January wind, Tracy regretted wearing the skimpy black dress she'd danced in. The beaded shawl offered little protection against the waves of chilled air and the cold skittered up her bare legs like drunken spiders. Pale halos of light illuminated the border of hedges flanking the cement steps at the entrance to The Club. Beyond the artificial light an impenetrable darkness shrouded the area, and Tracy felt her resolve slip. She must be nuts going out to meet some man in the dead of night. Amber had reasoned her past the initial fears, building on the sense of adventure that had led them here initially, but now she wasn't so sure.

timdibulator said...

When I was a young boy, I was as honest as they came. I had no reason not to be. When somebody asked me a question, I’d tell them the answer. And when you look like me, folks ask a lot of questions. See, when I was born something didn’t happen like it should have and I came out with a full, good strong arm on my right side and just a little stubby elbow on my left. I didn’t mind it much though. I got along just fine. I was about eleven years old when I thought to make my old left stump a little more exciting. People would ask what happened to my arm, and instead of telling them I was born with it, why I’d tell them it got chewed off by a tiger, or blown up by an old land mine, or lopped off in a sword fight. For the most part, folks bought it too.

Callie James said...

The man wouldn’t talk with a bullet in his head, so as much as he hated it, Detective Jack Chambers had to sit nearly two hours waiting for him to wake. Listening to him moan and gurgle blood through a broken nose was certainly no picnic, but he dismissed compassion for logic and took another drag off his cigarette. He contemplated the murderer he’d tied to a tree after beating him half to death and wondered if he’d pushed the envelope during the last go-round. After a few more minutes, Vincent Monroe finally lifted his bloodied, swollen face and blinked, his bloodshot gaze centering on Jack.

Jill Christine said...

The man with half an ear shoved the tip of the hypodermic into my upper arm and pushed the plunger with his thumb, injecting a full syringe of God-knows-what into my bloodstream. My mind went distant as I began to black out, and I had time for one thought: I should be used to the sting of sharp points piercing my skin by now.

Charlie Pratt said...

He stood there naked, glistening. Squinting too, without the help of his thick glasses. His eyes, a watery blue-gray, were surrounded by a shrinking band of half-interested eyelashes, resting comfortably on plump, fleshy bags of disinterested skin. He had an auburn mustache, the brushy kind that tilted to the right, covering a pinkish mouth that had a tendency to hang limp and open, like a plastic grocery bag on a doorknob. This morning he was fresh, just out of a scalding shower where he’d planned to vigorously masturbate while fantasizing about the curvy girl at the 7-Eleven near the post office. Ava, Eva or something like that. After scrubbing his bushy armpits, right before his mid-shower urination, he decided against it. She’d seemed awfully sweet. Her voice was soothing, and he could imagine her with children. It made him feel guilty.

J. Matthew Saunders said...

Nothing broke the silence, no ticking clock, no rustling leaves, no din of traffic, not even, he realized, his own breathing.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Mike Denby had no idea that he would die that night. Though innocent of his actual fate, its means and moment, as he watched his daughter’s wedding, he still felt the lukewarm wash of doom lapping at his feet. His life had been long, eventful, successful. But grim fear and terrible loneliness wrapped around him like a lead chain, squeezed him to his core and made him feel he had always been this way. Nothing good had come of anything. It was like being buried under a roadbed.

Kim said...

They knew from experience that cutting someone’s tongue out wasn’t easy. This time, the man was dead, but it was still a bitch getting it out.

Daniel said...

I open the door to my shitty one-bedroom and am forced backwards by the palm of a massive hand. It pushes me all the way into a chair in the middle of the room. The man’s other hand is clutching a piece of thin yellow paper, the type used for summonses and warrants. I am, or was, an attorney, and I know that paper by sight. And I know that this time, my name is the one printed on the front.

Tiana Lei said...

Jared was one of those quirky kids who hated when high school got out for the summer, and couldn’t wait for the next year to begin. Like any young teen, he enjoyed the initial freedom of summer; however, he soon grew bored with it. He wasn’t exactly socially inept, at least, no more so than the average teenager. Jared could better be defined as … socially cautious. His parents could find no fault in this, so they didn’t resort to the usual “parenting” technique of forcing him to interact with his peers.

David R. Slayton said...

Hraefn ducked between two tents, trying to lose the pursuing watchman. Finding the gold medallion had been lucky. Then he was spotted, and his luck ran out. The watchman kept up his chase, barely slowed by his leather armor and wooden cudgel. Hraefn winced at the thought of that club connecting with his slender bones. An idea came and he smiled, biting his lower lip.

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

Malayka looked up from her copy of Rock Steady, a new music magazine featuring the latest in indie rock, after the driver brought the car to a stop. She’d gotten the feeling her aunt and uncle were pretentious when she met them, but 7486 Colonial Drive was proof. 7486 was a duplicate all of the other partially bricked houses in the overpriced neighborhood. She wondered about the people she’d barely met who lived behind the columns and picturesque bay windows. Not that she had much time for that with her brother C.J.’s loud voice in her ear.

Matt said...

My name is Charlie Wicks and there is a dead person in my kitchen. I haven't even had my breakfast yet, which is not to say that I eat breakfast as a routine or that I generally wake up in time for breakfast. The point is that it is almost noon, I've just woken up, and some inconveniencing individual is bleeding on my kitchen floor, obstructing my way to the cereal, which although is a traditional breakfast food, would have served as my lunch for today. It's an outrage, really.

Valerie said...

The day a girl first discovers her latent ninja skills is a memorable one. It’s right up there with her sweet sixteen and her first kiss. Not that I would know about those two. My sixteenth birthday is still a week away, and I haven’t had my first kiss yet. Well, not really. Cody, my best (and okay, only) friend and I tried it on Friday just so I wouldn’t be “sweet sixteen and never been kissed” but I don’t think that counts. Anyway, ninja skills. I have them. I think. Or else I’m totally losing my mind. Or both.

Rachel said...

Kate and Jane laughed, washing the dishes, sneaking in bites of cookie dough, while Lucie sat pensively alone, her arms resting on her pulled up knee. Lucie loved moments like this, feeling the late spring breeze drift gently through the open window, listening to the sounds of happy voices and dishes clinking from the kitchen. As they grew, she found it more satisfying to be with her sisters, so they held a girls' night in when their dad was coerced into dating. And as a formidable weakness for chocolate chip cookies seemed to run in the family, the girls generally favored a sugar-based dinner on such nights.

macaronipants said...

All I had to do was walk up to the coffin. That was all. I just had to get there and set the gardenia on the smooth brown wood. Grandma said gardenias were a proper funeral flower. As if there was such a thing. But my mind kept turning to daisies. The wild ones I’d found against all slushy odds and stuck into those cold white wreaths. Mama would have liked that. She’d told me once that daisies spoke in a kind of song, a humming that birds could feel in their hollow bones, drawing them close. She said I could feel it too if I tried, along the fine hairs of my arms and neck. That we all had a little bird in us somewhere.

dcamardo said...

The word “shooga” is orcish for pebble. It was also the name of a small runt of an orc who lived—as most orcs did—in Jejune Valley. To be an orc meant to be vile and disgusting. Dwarves used to joke that ancient wizards created orcs by smashing toads and boars together, which couldn’t have been true, because toads were too pretty and boars were too mild-mannered to be associated with orcs. As could be surmised, orcs were quite unpleasant, and Shooga was no different.

Judy said...

The dimly lit underground parking garage was nearly empty at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night. Dinah strode ahead, hands in the pockets of her second-hand jean jacket, glasses perched on her head behind thick dark bangs. Allyson followed, kicking a pebble over the concrete, a cigarette in her right hand. The upper level of the garage housed only five cars, probably all owned by boys stocking shelves at the grocery store.

Lynn Rush said...

“Run, or you will die as well.” Caleb hated to say such harsh words, but the girl wouldn’t move. Fear must have paralyzed her body.

He stared at her wide eyes. Was one of them brown?

“But—” She coughed. “I can’t run anymore.” She crumpled to the ground.

“You must. I cannot fight all of them alone.” He scanned the area. Pine trees towered overhead.

“But—”

“We need to get to the clearing. Help will meet us there.”

Pointing past him, she asked, “What were those things? They killed—” She drew in a hiccupped breath.

Caleb reached for her arm, but she jerked from his grasp and scooted away. Gravel stuck to her ivory legs. She looked at him as if he were one of the animals chasing her.

Honolulu Writer said...

It always ends the same. Stake, dust, oblivion. My name is Orion Masters and I slay vampires. I’ve been a slayer for twelve years, since I was fifteen. I’m good at my job and I like it. I’m not the only girl doin’ this sort of thing, but I’m the best. It always ends the same, but it doesn’t always begin the same. This job is different. I can feel it in my blood, in my bones. Call it a hunch, call it a premonition, but I know my life is going to change. As soon as this damn plane lands.

Thamuhacha said...

I sit here, upon my stool, and comb my hair before the mirror. Dawn is breaking through the window, but a candle still casts shadows on the wall. I feel crowds gathering on a distant ridge, and my sisters are keen to leave. They can wait. This day will be long enough.

John Peterson said...

It was her strange smile that caught Monica’s eye. She was an honest-to-god Mona Lisa in Arabic garb. Monica was sitting on the bench in front of the Golden Tomahawk. The amusement ride made a loud “whoosh” each time the passenger compartment passed behind her on its side-to-side swing. The howls of the excited riders added to the general cacophony echoing inside the cavernous space. Win Jr. was sitting beside her on the bench, playing with a handheld computer game. Stephanie had taken Hope with her to the ticket kiosk to purchase the wristbands that would give all of them unlimited access to the rides, leaving Monica and Win Jr. alone for a minute. If you were going to spend significant time at the amusement park in the Mall of America, the wristband was the only way to go.

Refined White Sugar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L. T. Host said...

Twenty-three years ago I left Three Rivers, Alabama as a black boy. I return today as a white man.

Anonymous said...

The weight of the sawed off shotgun in my hand was a great comfort as I made my way cautiously forward through the brush and foliage around the small clearing. It was early spring and the vegetation was still sparse from the hard winter they’d had in this part of Quebec. Even so, there was more than enough of it to provide cover for me, as long as the wind didn’t change and give my scent away to the creature. I could see it striding back and forth in front of the abandoned mine entrance less than thirty yards in front of me.

sesgaia said...

Jessie Archer’s voice, once resilient, now demands the physical coddling that ex-addicts and retired professional athletes require in order to achieve anything like normal function. For over two decades, (three, if you count the comeback attempts, which most fans don’t), Jessie’s voice was stronger than liquor and more satisfying than sex. Her sound entered your soul and resided between muscle and bone, a charged, electric comfort like no other. Addicting. Fulfilling and yet elusive, so that the listener returned again and again, infused by the music but not satiated, at least not once the song ended. Jessie’s songs didn’t last much longer than the time a teenage boy takes between the first kiss and the final release. But like that same boy’s physical memory of a girl’s body, the aural memory of Jessie’s voice was nearly as strong as the actual listening experience itself. Nearly, but not quite. Not quite. You just had to hear it again.

Nic said...

The weight of the sawed off shotgun in my hand was a great comfort as I made my way cautiously forward through the brush and foliage around the small clearing. It was early spring and the vegetation was still sparse from the hard winter they’d had in this part of Quebec. Even so, there was more than enough of it to provide cover for me as long as the wind didn’t change and give my scent away to the creature. I could see it striding back and forth in front of the abandoned mine entrance less than thirty yards in front of me.

Amanda said...

Anne Wolfford, the king of Vastania’s eldest child by birth and the Duchess of Dolomir by marriage, steered her horse onto the winding, pine-lined gravel lane. The heaving chestnut gelding rounded a bend and she caught site of Hansden Palace, her sprawling childhood home. A light, powdery snow fell over the maze of gothic spires and smoking chimneys that capped the fieldstone complex.

Hannah said...

Chris was sautéing onions when the doorbell rang. He didn’t usually sauté onions (actually he didn’t usually sauté anything at all, he’d never use such a pretentious expression. But stress does funny things to the mind and all he could think was "I’m sautéing onions and the police are at the door!") but Darren was naturally in no fit state to be let anywhere near the stove and it was time for dinner.

Rowenna said...

The rice fields and swamps that stretch along the Carolina lowlands are lonely places, but they are loneliest at the end of autumn. The barren country holds a man captive as the wind wicks the warmth from beneath even the thickest great coat, and he stands fixed and stripped. A leaden grey sky weighs heavy on his shoulders, and the flaxen fields do not seem substantial enough to hold his weight. Most startling, even as it surrounds a man and engulfs him, is the swift rapacity of such loneliness.

VinylAndMono said...

My mother always claimed I turned out the way I did because she watched "American Bandstand" every day while she was pregnant. In the summer of 1961, she had just quit her department store job and was staying home sewing nursery curtains when her younger sister Francine came to visit for a few weeks. Francine had nearly flunked out of college due to excessive attention to her social life, so my grandparents had sent her from Ohio to L.A. to see if my parents could straighten out her priorities. Francine never missed "Bandstand"; she loved the fashions and practicing her dance moves. My mother soon got hooked on the music and kept watching even after Francine went home.

AR Travis said...

The conduit overhead pulsed with wave-patterns of bluish-white plasma flowing through its confines of glowing crystal latticework. The power flowed its way from the crystalon generator far below to be distributed throughout my home city of Morakduum. Its illumination was mesmerizing even if it did disturb my vision from its normal heat sensitivity into the radiant spectrum. The light changed everything. The striations of stone around me that vibrated in differing layers of thickness and composition became amber, maroon, black and sparkling reflections of the plasma overhead. Carvings ran along the walls, accenting the normal layering of rock with pictures of ancestors long gone, battles fought and won or lost against a myriad of enemies, mythical or real. The fanciful artwork stretched the floor to ceiling of the cleansing chamber I stood in, trying to wash away the sins of my tainted soul.

florkincaid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracey said...

In the days since Faith had died with a stomach full of her mother’s sleeping pills, I had not been able to shake the feeling that someone was always watching me. My skin prickled constantly the way it does just before you look up to see a stranger staring at you from across a room, except when I looked up, no one was ever there. I had scratched my skin raw to distract myself from feeling like a fugitive, always looking over my shoulder, always fearing what I would see looking back.

Keith Schroeder said...

The knock at the door is so hard the glass rattles. We have few visitors, leaving one possibility: the steer are out. I can see my animals running down the side of the road, thousand pound bovines built of solid muscle, giving my insurance carrier indigestion.

Nikki Hootman said...

Samuel was in the hospital again, damn it.

He regained consciousness just as they one-two-three jerked him from the stretcher to the bed. Good lord, he’d been out for the entire ambulance ride.

"Sir, can you hear me? Do you know where you are?"

"Hospital." Even if he never set foot in here again (which, admittedly, seemed a tad optimistic) he’d never forget the telltale stench of ammonia, old people, and death.

Anita Saxena said...

A large gray ship is pinned against a range of black cliffs; it’s hull stained with streaks of red. The crew tosses heaps of finless shark carcasses over board. Portside, hundreds of orcas breach menacingly close, their black skin glistening with large swoops of white like war paint. Watching from a cliff top, I shiver in my pajamas.

Kat Sheridan said...

Passion killed Lily. Passion and Dashiell Tremayne. The words looped, repeated, keeping time with the thundering rhythm of the carriage wheels. Jessa stared out the window into a night black as the devil’s soul, Lily’s letter crumpled in her fist. She needed no light. She’d read Lily’s desperate last plea a hundred times already, until fury—and fear—finally prodded her into this mad journey.

Don said...

Emil faced his mother, Magda Hochová, for the first time in his life. The pub smelled of beer and sausage. Each time someone entered or left the pub, gusts of cold February air blew in from the Prague night. He was exhausted, away from the orphanage at an hour that he was usually in bed, but his exhilaration at the fact that he was finally meeting his mother kept him awake.

Moojit said...

It was Pip who found the silver locket first, but it should have been me. The next day, we nearly didn’t go out. The rain was heavy in the morning; thick grey water that streamed down Nan’s windows and took all the light out of the blue glass pots on the sills. Pip was in a really bad mood and I didn’t feel much better being stuck inside. We’d only been at Nan and Uncle John’s cottage for a few days and had run out of stuff to do. There was nothing on the TV, only the usual quiz programmes and chat shows.

Christina Kelly said...

Mari Saldona checked her teeth for lipstick before pocketing the compact mirror and bringing the microphone to her lips. She couldn’t wait to get this thing over with. Another dead junkie; who gives a crap? As soon as she could she was taking off these pumps that were two sizes too small and cutting off the circulation to her damn toes.

Refined White Sugar said...

The recorder pronounced itself with a faint tick, modest as a first flake of snow striking a window, undetectable by the irritated caller who was surely winding up some incredible invective, but noted, nearly subconsciously by the agent, Carter, whose fingers returned instinctively to the home keys midsentence and dutifully lined up like a firing squad, or its targets. His response was Pavlovian. Heart-rate: accelerated. Respiration: diaphragmatic. Perspiration: acute. He pulled the headset microphone further from his mouth that the inch or two he afforded himself might make his response unintelligible on tape and therefore inadmissible as evidence of his ineptitude at placating difficult callers like Mr. A. Crum who’d paid forty-nine dollars for a tub of California Colon intestinal cleanser that most assuredly was not producing the effect he’d expected. Carter attempted to calm himself by visualizing the sea, a forest, a sweeping, unpopulated gypsum desert where no one ever shit. Still, he was not fooled. He could sense the tremor in his voice without having yet issued a response. The shrillness was upon him like a contagion. Hope lied only in his capacity to be agreeable – to yes each of the customer’s concerns and objections until, exhausted and constipated, the customer finally spent himself and returned the receiver to the cradle – a call with which his supervisor could not possibly find issue.

Courtney said...

Collette Chaloupek rolled down the window of her four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee and stared across the street. The ice-cream shop on the corner called to her, taunting her with her knowledge of its ice-cold bounty.

Diane T said...

If you’re looking for one of those books where a loser ends up hitting the winning homer or scoring the winning goal, you should stop reading now. If I told you that I, Marcus Merton, nerd extraordinaire, was going to end up an athletic star, I’d not only be lying to you, I’d be fooling myself. Oh, and if you think I’m gonna end the story by beating up the school bully and leaving my nerd status behind, that’s not gonna happen either. First of all, when you’re a middle-school nerd, no one ever forgets it. Second of all, beating up the school bully is not the ninja way. The ninja way is about stealth and cunning, not brute force.

fatcaster said...

re: entry @9:02
Mea culpa and apologies -- I do know what a paragraph is. :)

jjdebenedictis said...

The woman glows against a studio backdrop as dark as a black hole. "In your dreams, you're beautiful and potent." Her eyes bore into yours through the camera. "You take anything you desire. You drag lesser spirits into orbit around you. You are perfect." The woman's skin has no more texture than rose petals, and her dark hair shines like satin. A cobalt dress stretches across bosom and cascades around one sleek, exposed thigh. "But even if you were perfect, time would steal it. Eventually you'd be ugly and uncool." Her eyes narrow. She turns, and a spotlight breathes light over three people so unworldly they make her look heavy and plain. "Not like these."

JillinPC said...

The house had been swallowed by mist. At least that’s what it looked like. The late autumn sky was dusky and bleak enhancing the shadows in the woods. Fog oozed over the forest floor, crawling out from among the birches and pines. It was eerie, like a spell had been broken; ghostly vapour the remains of a shattered enchantment. It’s only fog, Iona thought. But the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she shivered. Glancing over her shoulder she ran the rest of the way down the gravel lane and straight up the front porch steps half expecting some creature in hot pursuit. She pulled open the screen door and it banged behind her as her shoes clicked across the hardwood. “Mom?” she called up from the bottom of the stairs. The only sound was the thud of her book bag hitting the floor next to the coat rack. “Mom?” she shouted as she walked through the living room and into the kitchen tossing her sweatshirt onto a chair. Weird. . .no one was home. Iona couldn’t remember a day in eleven years her mother hadn’t been there after school. “Being your Mom is the most important job I’ll ever have,” Merdina loved to say. Iona would roll her eyes; she was sixteen for crying out loud. She didn’t need someone waiting for her after school. Even so, it was kind of nice having her there listening to gossip, helping with homework. It was comforting.

Anonymous said...

I never thought I would meet a girl like Irina when I returned to college. She sits across from me, the library table between us, while I highlight my Environmental Geography textbook in bright yellow. She watches each stroke of the highlighter pen, licking her lips.

Anna Claire said...

I could see Bitty through the front window of Teller’s. She sat at the soda fountain counter, pretending she was reading the bottle labels, but really she was watching Wyatt Harper through the mirror behind the counter. Wyatt sat behind her, at the best table in the back, with some of the other Haves. I sighed. Bitty can’t pull a poker face to save her life. Her mouth hung open a little as she stared at Wyatt, and if she’d been half aware of anything she’dve seen that one of her front buttons was undone, right over her chests.

Bettelynn said...

The last thing I wanted to be was a hero – it’s a ton of extra work. And to be a full-fledged guardian of the Universe, it seems ya got ta be a stinkin’ hero.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Mukoma stayed to see me stabbed by Brutus before he left to fight with the Mhere boys. He had already told me that he just wanted to hear my English, and to see if I had the right body language for it. He was not interested, for instance, in the prize-winning ceremony that would follow the big performance, nor did he care about meeting the teachers to discuss my progress. I don’t think when he left I had finished dying because before even Mark Anthony began making plans to address his fellow Romans, half the crowd had left the huge Muunga tree where we were gathered. The teacher who had directed the production signaled Mark Anthony, acted by Chari, to stop, and she walked to me and whispered, “Caesar, your brother.”

Richard Mabry said...

All around her, the machines and monitors of the ICU hummed and beeped, doctors and nurses moved in and out of rooms, and the hospital smell of equal parts antiseptic and despair hung heavy in the air, while she stood at Mark's side and hoped he'd die soon.

Tammy Sykes said...

The night was dark and cold as the woman made her way through the forest, carrying her newborn son who was only a few hours old. In the Scottish Highlands, the beauty of the scenery, with the forest-covered mountains, rolling green pastures, and multi-colored flower sprinkled meadows was breathtaking; however, despite the area’s natural beauty, this time of year provided gray, cloudy, and dismal days and the nights were pitch black. With only the light from the moon shining through the open spaces between the tree branches, she tried to remain focused, in hopes of reaching her destination safely. There was a fine mist falling from the sky above her, not too heavy but enough to cause the patches of dirt beneath her feet to start forming a mud-like covering, which she could feel soaking through the cloth that covered her feet and, ultimately, oozing up between her toes. Despite the cold, the dark, and the difficulty of the path, she continued to advance, her mind absorbed with various thoughts of fear and concern for her infant son.

The Greens Committee said...

Kobe sat Ron down and made one final attempt to calm him in the trainer’s room. With his eyes darting around circularly, his hands were still shaking like he was at the reigns of a runaway stagecoach. “You can’t do that, brah! Jack is here for every game. You can’t go around smacking the fans. This isn’t freakin’ Chicago or Indy or the Sac or even Houston. This is my house, and you are lucky that you didn’t get arrested.” Suddenly there was a knock on the door followed by a booming voice announcing, “Mr. Artest, you’ll need to come with us.”

MeganRebekah said...

They wanted me to eat fire.
The cheerful yellow paper in my lap seemed to mock me with the sheer terror of its words. My index finger traced the printed letters, F-I-R-E. Like any good cuss word, it used four letters and packed a fierce punch.

TeeCee said...

The hand-written sign taped to the apartment door read "Please ring bell! Do NOT knock!" The NOT was underlined several times in hostile red ink. I pursed my lips and put one hand on the slick surface. Tense vibrations like hot water simmering on the stove coursed up my arm, followed by undercurrents of fear and deep purple pain. I pulled my hand away and debated with my inner wimp. One of my biggest problems was my tendency to let myself get sucked into other peoples’ emotional sinkholes. The flip side was that sinkholes were kind of my specialty.

Jessie Verino said...

Stran pulled the top off one of the little plastic containers of artificial cream and dumped the contents into his cup. “We have to stop him. Kill him. You know that, right?” The way he asked, so matter-of-fact, as if the answer held no more importance than if I liked sushi, made me oddly uncomfortable. His eyes looked clear, no gleam of madness in them, and I found it a little disturbing. You’d have to be a little insane to discuss killing the most powerful man on the planet, and Stran, well he projected the demeanor of a controller. Tried to show no emotion at all. Sometimes, like now, it was just damn eerie. Anyone who bothered to look him in the eye would see the calculating coldness of someone who knew what had to be done, but no emotional understanding of the passion behind the belief. I knew better.

Rick Daley said...

Over the river and halfway to the middle of nowhere stood a bean farm. Not just any bean farm, mind you, but the best tootin’ bean farm this side of the moon. The Toot-Toot family owned the farm, and with the help of a good team of hired hands, they grew and harvested its crop.

Johanna Harness said...

Sure, I can look back and see that Calyxa and my mother were just trying to protect me. There was an assassin on my ass and I didn’t fully understand that. "Someone is hunting original souls." I’m sure they said that. But to me the idea was still goofy. As a 16-year-old kid just trying to muddle through a set of bizarre circumstances, I rejected the idea that anyone would target me for a date, not to mention a date with death. What are the chances of something like that? I mean, what would you think if some authority figure told you an assassin from another world was after your soul? Because I’m thinking metaphor. I’m thinking the whole lecture is probably about abstinence somehow and they haven’t figured out the end of the object lesson. Adults so rarely just say what they mean. Who knew this would be the exception?

Deb Salisbury said...

Denton knelt and laid a white rose on the fresh dirt of the tiny grave.

Marsha Sigman said...

There is old magic in the written word that we have forgotten. A raw power that lies dormant behind those seemingly harmless black letters on sheets of pristine white paper. It waits to be unlocked. It waits for me. I am the key.

Terry Shames said...

“Eat the steak, then make the break,” The mantra kept running through my head, like some country and western song you can’t get out of your mind. Across from me Kurt Spurling savored a pious bite of salmon. His whole being oozed satisfaction, from his cool blue-gray eyes to the relaxed posture of his gym-chiseled body. I cut another morsel of my perfect, rare T-bone and slipped into my about-to-be-traitorous mouth.

christine said...

Nesayiel climbed up the stairs of the musty subway station at 6th and 23rd, her human form still foreign. Her reluctant allies led the way to the Underground, one of the newest hot-spots in Manhattan. And one frequented by the Dark Ones regularly.

Lizzy Mason said...

Dealing with noise may come with the territory when you sleep under a highway overpass, but I’d never get used to the blare of drivers honking their annoyance with the morning commute. I groaned in protest as I rolled over on the thin tarp that was the only barrier between me and the cement. Reaching back to pull my hood off my sleep-tangled hair, I kicked off the rough wool blanket from my legs and accidentally nudged the sleeping body next to me. “Damn it, Cass,” a deep voice grumbled and I flinched. “Don’t you ever sleep in?”

Anne said...

Today is a bare, lifeless day. Overcast and dreary sort of like my life at the moment. Oh, but I remember the vibrant days. The days of full blown color. And then there was him. The glances and long lingering looks. The quick kiss when someone could walk up at any moment and catch us. The long lingering kiss where I lost myself for just a moment but never wanting the moment to end. Those days I will never forget.

Kristi Stevens said...

I suppose I should have been freaked out when I was kidnapped and handcuffed to a cheap office chair. But it’s sort of an occupational hazard of having a superhero for a sister.I don’t exactly know how they nabbed me. I remember being relieved I’d finally finished my shift at Shop and Save, I remember reaching for the lock on my car door with my keys, and I remembered the tinny sound as they hit the asphalt. That's about it. The next thing I remember was coming to in an leaky interrogation room with moldy walls and a rusted steel door. All the interrogation rooms on T.V. had sleek two way mirrors and surveillance cameras on the ceiling. This windowless room was dank and cold and smelled like meat.

Jack said...

She was sure of only two things; her name was Robin, and this was not her life.

lucidkim said...

Until this happened, everything I knew about the justice system I learned from Matlock and Ally McBeal. Surprisingly enough, those sources aren't altogether accurate. My holding cell is made entirely of cinderblock...and I keep having flashes to those kinds of shows that zoom in and show you the germs and bugs that are really there. I think criminals have dirtier germs than other people.

Donna Gambale said...

It’s just a little pink box, Maddy thought, trying to calm the twist of her stomach as she opened the front door to her house. Covered by a Walgreens circular, triple-wrapped in plastic bags, and shoved in the very bottom of her gigantic purse, the pregnancy test box made her feel like a terrorist sneaking a bomb through an airport. She glanced at her reflection in the entranceway mirror. Did her face look flushed? Did she breathe too quickly? Everything about her said one thing: guilty.

----

Thanks!

natalie said...

In the highest room of the house, up the narrow, spiral staircase to the drafty tower room is where he slept. It was damp and chilly but the stairs were creaky and that made it safe. Up those stairs and inside the round, tiny room, beside the bed where he slept hung a coat on a hook. The coat was a thick, black wool with deep, cavernous, hidden pocket. And in the inside pocket, farthest to the left was the key.

Davin Malasarn said...

Dennis MacLaren diagnosed his heart attack at nine in the morning. All of his symptoms matched the description his neighbor Ly had given him a few months back: the tingling in his arm, the swollen pressure in his chest, the numbness under his chin. Pulling back his bed covers and stepping down onto the creaky floorboards, Dennis wondered if this would be the last time he experienced the sensation of waking up. He searched through the first aid kit he kept in the top drawer of the bedroom bureau, found a bottle of nitroglycerin pills, and swallowed one. Then, he went to take his shower.

DL Hammons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
judyhogan said...

They had left Cork an hour late, and the three-hour crossing had already become four when the ferry’s loud speakers announced that they had engine trouble and would need to dock in Tenby instead of Swansea. Penny had thought she’d be in the Swansea bus terminal by 6, and now it was after 7. July 2, but in the British Isles, when it was cold and rainy, it felt like winter in North Carolina. She’d gone into the loo, dragged all her warm clothes out of her shoulder bag, and put them on in layers. Then she’d stayed in the glassed in cabin, but she was still chilled. She hugged herself for warmth and watched the rain slashing across the deck, and then blowing back as if in some deliberate attempt to clean it by sloshing a river of water onto it.

Brit Mandelo said...

When sighted through a rifle scope, the world looked terribly precise. Moonlight glistened off every bead of dew on every blade of grass. For now there was nothing to see but those individual glittering droplets, spread out across the empty pasture. Somewhere in the surrounding forest, downwind, Zig waited. Listening for my mark didn't bring me much more than staring at the field. The woods were full of noises; bugs chirping and animals rustling. If I got a hook on Chamberlain or his prey's emotions with my other senses, they would have to be within a yard or two. He'd eat me alive at that range.

emf67 said...

Middle Grade

Riding a bicycle with flip flops on your feet is a lot harder than it looks.
My sister Kathy does it all the time, so maybe it’s just me. I can be sort of a spaz sometimes.

Kathy Maughan said...

They would remember her as an angel child: large dark eyes, long black hair, red lips and rosy cheeks and a laugh that sounded like a fast-running brook. It was as if she had always said, “Yes, Mommy,” when told it was time for bed, and “I love you, Daddy,” on the nights he was around to tuck her in. She had no siblings yet (though she would have had one in five and a half months), so there was no rivalry or teasing to contend with, just a sweet little girl who basked in her parents’ attention.

Jodi Meadows said...

Someone was in her house. Laine hesitated outside her front door, city cacophony a familiar white noise as she held her key motionless in the lock. She strained to hear odd sounds inside, but there were no thumping footfalls, no swearing at unfamiliar furniture. She couldn't *hear* anything unusual, but the pressure was different, like displacement in her chest. Probably leftover from inhaling magic all day, but if sensing intruders was one of the fine-print side effects of working at Delancy Research and Enchantment Corp., she wasn't going to complain.

Ash D. said...

Wow. So many awesome first paragraphs! And, Nathan, bless your heart for reading through all of them!

-----

When I sat down to begin my calculus homework, I never imagined that in less than an hour’s time, I would be making a decision to leave the country. Yes, I do hate calculus that much but, no, that’s not why I decided to leave. That would just be silly.

Francy said...

I sat in the car/an old green Dodge,the year is 1975, you are in the Artistinat/an art gallery near LaBelle, in Province Quebec. You are conducting business,trying to sell a painting of sunflowers to the curator of the place. It is winter and four feet of snow line the driveway. An artist's wife for seventeen years and still it is not appropriate for me to accompany you into the warmth of this appointment. My toes and fingers are becoming numb. Four children are huddled in the back seat,one other child is suckling at my breast up front. Time seems be be stopped/only the penetration of the cold can be felt.

Innocence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie said...

I watched in horror as Jason's body turned rigid and his chest thrust upward off the forest floor. His blood curdling scream echoed through the trees, causing everything around us to fall silent. What had I done? I hadn't expected this.

Mark Trainer said...

There are three sure-fire ways to get your ass kicked. One is to insult a guy's wife to his face, with her there. Another is to say something nasty about his race. (Whatever it might be, there's a name for it.) And the the third way is to do what I did.

Joanne Sher said...

Heavenly Father, my life is way too easy right now. Could you please make it more difficult-- a bit harder to cope with? A financial crisis would help, or maybe a life-threatening illness. You pick, Lord--I trust your judgment.

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