‘10,000 Followers’

Welcome to the 10,000 Followers page.

In June of 2011, my Twitter account, @Writers_Cafe, achieved the ‘10,000 Followers’ mark, so I celebrated with a contest that was really four contests in one.  Participants were invited to enter any one, or more, or even all the contests.  Each contest has a First, Second and Third prize winner, and there is a Grand Prize winner.  This page has all the entries into that contest.

I hope you enjoy reading all the stories that were submitted.  It was difficult picking the best ones!  Congratulations to the winners, each of whom received a book for their efforts!

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Alphabet Stories

The First Place Winner of the Alphabet Stories Contest is Melanie Macek of Victoria, Texas, with her winning entry: Drought and Guadalcanal

Richard looked out the window at the clear, blue sky.
Sixty percent chance of rain according to the news.
To look at the cloudless sky, one would never know it.
Under the window, the cat grabbed for his feet.
Velour paws tickled his toes and he gently pushed them away.
“Why don’t you take care of the mice eating all the dog food?”
Xena simply meowed in response, rolling over for a belly rub.
Yucca plants and cacti withered in the severe drought.
Zero measurable rain fall in over fourteen months.
Authorities had a ban on any kind of fire; official or otherwise.
Better safe than sorry was their current, droning motto.
California was in no better shape.
Deserts were dry but he’d never seen it this bad before.
Eighty years he’d lived in the southwest and he couldn’t remember a time this dry.
Four of those years had been spent in the Marine corp.
Guadalcanal.
He was lucky to have made it back alive from that one.
Intelligence his unit received had almost gotten him killed before they stepped on shore.
Japanese soldiers waited for them everywhere.
Kamikaze planes constantly buzzed overhead.
Leagues of ocean expanse separated his unit from their now burning transport home.
Men died all around him.
No air support arrived; the ground unit left unprotected.
Only two survived from his unit; himself and Porter.
Poor lad survived Guadalcanal only to die a few months later.
“Quit daydreaming Richard” he mused; “the plants won’t water themselves”.
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The Second Place Winner of the Alphabet Stories Contest is Denise Wyant of Hagerstown, Maryland, with her winning entry: Flat Tire

Racing down the winding, narrow trail, I looked over my shoulder to check the position of my nearest competitor.
Score! She was dragging her bike over a fallen oak tree that completely blocked the trail.
Time to put the hammer down and increase the gap,” I panted.
Uneven, damp, moss-covered boulders were strewn haphazardly along the next section of the course so I knew I would need every advantage I could get.
Veering sharply to the left, I narrowly missed a jagged rock edge that could have easily sliced my leg wide open and ended my race.
While I wanted to zoom through this section, the terrain just wouldn’t allow it.
X-ray vision would be a huge asset to mountain bikers racing through these dense woods and granite rock gardens.
You have got to be kidding – I can’t have a flat!” I groaned at hearing the air hiss from my front tire.
Zefal pump in hand, I got off my bike and peered down at the damage.
A short, squat wood gnome, reminiscent of the Travelocity gnome, appeared out of a rotten tree stump next to me.
Broke down, are ya?” he queried.
Clearly you aren’t a rock scientist,” I huffed while shaking my head.
Didn’t claim to be, missy,” he bent over to examine the rim.
Ever changed a tire before in under, say, two minutes?” I crossed my fingers.
Frankly I can’t say that I have, but maybe I can work some magic for ya, yes?”
Glancing back, I made sure no one was close enough to see my illegal helper.
Hands formed from the soil and decorated with leaves punched up through the earth and manipulated my bike with surprising dexterity.
I could have jumped for joy seeing the tire be fixed perfectly in mere seconds.
Juiced, I threw my leg over the bike, secured my feet in the clipless pedals, and shouted a heart-felt thanks to my new friend.
Kindred spirits we are,” his eyes twinkled mysteriously.
Lost in thought at his cryptic comment, I never heard the other riders approaching.
Muscles bursting into action, I managed to insert myself behind the lead rider.
Next straightway, I was so going to pass her.
Orange flags signaled the finish line was only five hundred yards ahead.
Pride fueling my legs, I surged around her at the last possible moment.
Quite a win, thanks in large part to my magical friend.
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The Third Place Winner of the Alphabet Stories Contest is Alison Moyer, and her great story, Frightening Confrontation: An Alphabet Story

Reality hit the moment Lorraine stepped out into the street.
Sun was blazing so hot that she instantly began to sweat.
Truth was she would have been sweating on a cold day in January.
Uselessly, she wiped her brow.
Vengeance was the only thing on her mind.
“Where are you going?” her boss Dave asked with a worried frown.
“X-ray today at the hospital,” she lied.
“You hurt yourself?”
“Zipped down the stairs too fast and tripped.”
“Anything I can do?”
Besides leave me alone?
“Can’t think of a thing.”
“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”
Ever think of minding your own business?
“Fortunately, the injury is not that severe.”
“Guess I’ll catch you later then.”
Hope not.
“I’ll see you back at the office later this afternoon.”
Jumping in her car as soon as Dave went back inside, Lorraine peeled out of the parking lot and headed toward her house.
Kicking herself for being so fearful, she cursed the traffic that slowed her progress.
Life buzzed on around her as if everything were normal.
Minutes droned on like hours as she desperately tried to make her way home.
Nineteen minutes after leaving the office she unlocked her door with shaking hands.
Oblivious to all around her, she barged through the door and headed for the kitchen.
“Please, let’s just go and get this over with”.
Quietly, her husband stood up from his place at the table, and together they went to confront Mrs. Hodgkins about her geriatric garage band that had kept them up all night one too many times.

Honorable Mentions – Alphabet Stories (in no particular order)

Invisible, by Geri Holland

“Rum and Coke, please” the old woman asked the barman.
Surely he’d heard. No, he was serving the nubile young woman who’d just arrived.
“Time was when I’d have been noticed first”, she grumbled to no one in particular.
Unhappy at being overlooked yet again she rapped her fingers on the bar for attention.
Visibly shaking she asked again louder, but politely, “I’ve been waiting to be served”.
“Wait your turn” but it was to no-one in particular.
“X Factor needed here to get attention” she said snidely. “Pardon” was the response.
“Yes” the woman thought at last as she saw the barman approach, only to see a figure behind squeeze past and take her place.
Zounds! this was getting ridiculous. “Can no-one see me here”.
About to give up in disgust she turned resigned.
But something inside her snapped, she wasn’t going to let this go, why should she.
Crushed now between two burly fellows who’d just arrived she tried to work her way back to the bar.
“Damn”, twisting her body round she tried to squeeze through.
Extra staff were now manning the bar area and the old woman had hope.
Frantic now to be seen and heard and get some respect, she waved her arm erratically.
Great someone was actually looking in her direction.
“Help” she squealed as someone dug their elbow in her back and she lost the eye of the barman.
In a moment of anguish she shouted above the din, “I just want a drink”.
“Just” her voice faded in defeat. She found herself being swamped by the pressing bodies surrounding her.
Keeping her place was a struggle as everyone seemed to ignore her presence.
“Let me in, over here”, she cried, but to no avail. “How much longer do I have to wait”.
“May I get it for you”. She found a polite young man asking, seemingly the only one to notice her.
“No thank you”, she said brusquely. “I should be able to get this myself, surely”, she was irked.
“OK”, he said smiling, understanding. But he soon had the attention of the barmaid.
“Please” he nodded, deferring towards the old woman and at last one of the bar staff asked her pleasure.
Quickly she took her chance, but realized it was true, old meant being invisible.
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Squirrel Logic, by Jabberon

Rain is never a good sign for a small dog who loves to hunt.

Squirrels tend to remain protected by the foliage of the trees during a storm.

To hunt squirrels, the quarry must be on the ground.

“Up the tree” is an impossible suggestion to the canine.

Very slowly, like the clouds parting as the rain stops, I move to the base of a nearby chestnut.

When the sun slips from behind the cover, squirrels appear and I kn ow them each by name.

Xavier, Maude and Pete.

“You will not escape me today,” I say.

Zeal has no place if not in a dog seeking small game so I wait.

A plump squirrel, unknown to me, slides down the trunk.

Beautiful lunch, I think, and easier to swallow since it has not been named.

Creamed or grilled, roasted or raw.

Definitely delicious.

Effortlessly, the target of my appetite leaps to the grass.

Fervor begins.

Going high over a rose bush, I head off said lunch as it scurries up the vineyard fence.

Hapless is the attempt for squirrel logic is often the opposite.

It’s tail is furry on my tongue; it’s teeth sharp against my nose.

Just as it begins to use it tiny rodent paws for combat, my jaws deceive me and unclench.

Kindly judge me not for my low pain-threshold.

Little, needle-sharp claws can abate any glory.

My diet seems to be destined to dull, kitchen quarry.

No matter.

Only those who try ever succeed.

Perhaps tomorrow will bring success.

Quietly, I retreat to the dry food in my dish to contemplate, once again, the logic of small things.
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Writer’s Prompt Stories

The First Place Winner of the Writer’s Prompt Contest is Sue Barsby of Nottingham, England with her great story, Martha’s Book

Dear Rachel

I wanted to explain why I’m leaving you this book. It belonged to your Aunt Martha and I’ve spent many hours since she died leafing through its pages. It sums up all that I loved about my youngest daughter.

Martha was always different in character to your father and Aunt Elizabeth. The others took after their father – quiet, serious, undemanding. Martha was born screaming, always fussing, wouldn’t settle. She was a curious and creative child, always exploring, asking questions. She hated school, refused to do chores and picked quarrels with us all.

She left home at 17 leaving us a note. Apart from a few postcards, we didn’t hear from her for 3 years. All these are tucked into the front of the book. She traveled about trying different things, shop work, typing jobs, waitressing. When she eventually got in touch she was living in South London and spent the next few years doing much of the same – a series of low level jobs, no fixed commitments. But it sounded like she was having fun – it was the end of the 60s and she was heavily involved in her “local scene”.

Your grandfather was disappointed in her, I knew that. He didn’t talk of her very often but when he did his face would cloud over.

In her 30s, she settled down with John, running a boarding house for single women who had come to London. The book is their record of lodgers. It contains names – character sketches sometimes – and lists when they held the rent over for a month or lent money. But there are separate entries for the top floor rooms. It’s those I want to tell you about.

Abortion was made legal in the UK in 1967. As a result, many girls traveled from all over the world to use the clinics. It was mainly the middle class, educated families who could afford to send their pregnant daughters to London. They were expected to land, go to the clinic, have the procedure, return to the airport, often waiting overnight before flying home.

John worked for a private taxi firm and would do the “clinic run” from the airport. He and Martha saved the top floor rooms for overnight stays by these girls, giving them a meal and a bed before taking them back to Heathrow. She marked down the details of everyone who stayed.

I visited them one Christmas and found the house full of cards from previous tenants and these women. I had to walk round the block to stop her from seeing me cry.

I hope you find the book interesting and that you understand how much it represents Martha’s spirit. It has given me a lot of comfort these last years and, as Martha had no children of her own, I’m giving it to you. Your generous nature, style and intelligence all remind me of her and I have no doubt that you are an equally wonderful woman.

My love always,

Grandma
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The Second Place Winner of the Writer’s Prompt Contest is Melanie Macek of Victoria, Texas with her great story, Venganza

As I flip through the last book pulled from the local history shelf, the librarian announces “fifteen minutes before the library closes, please return all books to the counter”.  I hope the bed and breakfast I’m staying at doesn’t lock me out again.  I sit at a round table in the spherical addition to the building where the genealogy and local history books are kept. Stretching, I can’t seem to get the kinks out; so ready to sleep in my own bed again. Shelves upon shelves of old tax rolls and Civil War soldiers’ widows payments stare back at me as I scan the titles from my position. A three volume set sits among them chronicling the local merchants who helped build the town, volume two currently in front of me.

Local legend speculates that the town founder was killed by his best friend, Cruz.  He renamed the town Venganza, or revenge. No one has found concrete proof that Martin was murdered. I have ruffled a few feathers with my research. Over the last few days I have received anonymous threats to drop my research or suffer the consequences. I can’t give up. I promised my grandmother I would come back and find out the truth. Lights flicker; ten minutes. 

Flipping through the pages, I realize the page I’m looking for has been ripped from the binding. What I assume is red ink stains the remnants of the page in the book. A grim reminder of the veiled threats sent? A coincidence? No, not that. Too many other “coincidences” have surrounded my research.  The historical commission office suddenly closed for a “family emergency” at the exact same time as my appointment. The county clerk recalling they loaned the record books I need to another entity.

It’s a good possibility the cover-up goes past local offices and up to state level. I haven’t told anyone exactly what I’m researching, so it stands to reason the volumes have been tagged for notification. Every volume I’ve needed has been unavailable or altered. Should I bring the missing page to the attention of the librarian? I look over to the desk and see two assistants huddled in hushed conversation. I won’t bother. I’m sure they already know.

As I flip through the pages, a yellowed scrap of newspaper flutters to the desk in front of me. I see the two names in the article I know will seal the deal on my book. I close the volume not bothering to return it to the desk or the shelf.  Clutching my bag to my side, I hurry out the glass doors, the whoosh of them closing echoing the hushed tones of everyone around me. Unlocking the door to my car, I throw the bag in. It lands on the passenger’s seat with a thud. A sharp pain in my ribs makes me lean sideways in pain. It’s the last thing I remember.

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Writer’s Prompt, Designated Point of View

The Winner of the Writer’s Prompt, Designated Point of View Contest is Ardee-Ann Eichelmann of Little Rock, Arkansas, and her  great story: Archibald and the Cookout.

Archibald was excited, he could smell the burgers and dogs cooking on the grill, and then he saw the big man coming from the house, with steak, yes, that’s what he smelled was steak. Archibald did a back flip landing on the soft green grass below him. He just knew that one of those rib-eyes had his name on it.

Archibald nuzzled up to the big man as he was cooking on the grill. He watched him take a drink of cold beer and remembered that he too was thirsty so he went and gulped some cooling water from his little fountain.

As the big man cooked, the children played in the swimming pool and tried to splash water on Archibald. He did not like having water splashed on him so he stayed near the big woman as she carried food from the house to the picnic table. Archibald kept hoping for a little nibble to be tossed his way but nothing was forthcoming.

Finally, the big man was through cooking the burgers, hot dogs and ribeyes. Archibald ran in circles around him as he carried the meat to the table. He just knew that there was a bite of steak that would be coming his direction.

The family sat down to eat, said Grace and began to devour corn on the cob, potato salad, burgers, dogs and steak. Archibald waited patiently under the table for offerings. The first hand pointed his direction was from the boy who offered him some potato salad, Archibald turned up his nose as if he was offended at such a paltry offering. A few minutes later a bite of hot dog came from the big woman and not long after that a big bite of hamburger came from the little girl. Archibald was very happy with these gifts of food but he was still waiting somewhat impatiently for a bite of steak. He went to wait at the feet of the big man because he had seen that he had the biggest steak. No go, there was no steak forthcoming, then Archibald saw the boy trying to give him the potato salad again. That was too much. He came out from under the table and went to sit near the feet of the big woman hoping against hope that a bite of steak would come from her. Archibald even rolled over and did tricks in the grass hoping to get her attention when finally, here it came, the big woman tossed him a bite of steak and Archibald caught it in mid-air.

The big man raised his eyebrow at the big woman who merely blew him a kiss. The big man laughed and offered Archibald a whole hot dog all to himself. The fluffy dog would have rather had a rib-eye to himself but he was glad to get the hotdog. He went to his doghouse and gobbled down the hotdog feeling mighty pleased with the bounty he had acquired during the cookout.
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The Second Place Winner of the Writer’s Prompt, Designated Point of View Contest is Brian Donnelly, of Southbourne, Hants, England, and his  great story: Alone

Its lonely in here without the guys. That terrible zipper noise and bright light thing happened again five minutes ago and Tony No. 3 was taken. Now its just me, alone, rolling around in here.

And it all started out so well. When we first came out of the box there was a dozen of us, all different numbers sure but all part of the same happy family. We got tossed in here together and all jostled around catching up, joking, laughing, just hanging out, great fun, great times.

Then it began. We could hear muffled conversations outside. We heard that horrible zipper noise for the first time and then blinding bright light after the cool dark of the pocket. A great fleshy many fingered thing appeared, five fingers I think but really nobody stopped to count as it descended, we all headed for the corners of the pouch. Only there were not enough corners for all of us and it, the thing, grabbed Nick No. 9 and he was gone.

A few minutes later it happened again, this time Fred No. 4 was the unlucky one. Again the noise, the light, the five fingered monster. It was five fingers, Rick the range ball who had welcomed us all warmly when we first dropped in, surprised us now by bravely standing his ground and counting. He got lifted for his bravery but was dropped back to us, lucky Rick!

And now with Tony and Fred and Rick and all the others gone its just me Steve No. 6 left, with nowhere to hide. What’s to become of me, where is everybody gone? We have stopped moving now and again that familiar terrifying zipper noise. I scurry for the corner and hope the monster will miss me, I can see the fingers groping around probing all of the recesses. It brushes against me but passes on. I’m safe! Oh no, its coming back. This time it grips me firmly and I am lifted up and up and out into the blinding sunlight.

I am placed on a wooden peg, an inch off the ground. I hear “last one” being muttered and see an even bigger monster, a huge sweating thing glare down at me. The fingers were only a tiny part of it, its the biggest thing I have ever seen, its awful. The monster has a long gleaming stick in its hands with an enormous bulbous end on it. Is it going to hit me with that thing?

It is and it does and I shriek as I hurtle away from the tee and fly and fly and fly straight into ……………………..water, a lake it seems. The water is cool and soothing and I sink down back into the darkness and land softly on the bottom. And what do you know as I get accustomed to the dark, I see Rick and hey, lots of the other guys too. Alone no more.”
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The Third Place Winner of the Writer’s Prompt, Designated Point of View Contest is Cynthia Dawn Griffin or Smithsburg, Maryland, and her  great story: Doctor Me

Across Dr. Burke’s thick neck I sit, waiting in anticipation for my next victim. They come in all shapes and sizes as they parade in and out of the maze of alcoves that pass for a doctor’s office. I know the office by heart, but the poor fools who come to be victimized are like blind sheep as they are herded through the corral. Here comes one of those sterilized alcoves now the letters Exam 2 in bold black lettering. I can’t help but chuckle as Dr. Burke enters and addresses the newest sacrificial offering.

Here comes the boring part of how-are-you-today and blah blah blah. Who cares let’s get to the good part, but not quite yet more with the questions that lead to the inevitable ambiguous answers. Where does it hurt? How long has this been happening? What medication are you on? Oh and my personal favorite, how often do you exercise? Your heart says it all, so don’t bother lying Mr. Exam 2, but you’d be surprised the number that do.

Exam 2 is no acceptation. His expansive waist is a neon sign along with heavy breathing filling the tiny room. I scoff as he claims at-least-an-hour-plus-a-day answer. Is that an hour plus of thumb aerobics as you surf the television, or while you dead lift that cheeseburger from plate to face?

Oh wait, here it comes. The telling moment comes closer as I’m removed from Dr. Burke’s shoulders.  My ear pieces dig into the doctor’s canals as I become slathered in wax and a large hand moves my circular face towards Mr. Exam 2’s hairy chest. Contact is made and fleshy warmth heats my icy center, but the part I love the most echoes down the tubing like music as it vibrates all the way to the tips of my ears.

Lub-Dub-Lub…Dub-Lub-Dub-Lub…Dub-Lub-Dub-Lub… Uh oh, sounds like Mr. Exam 2 has a blockage. The pause between beats a downward spiral to an eventual code blue. Maybe he should have had just a burger with no cheese. More questions lead to stuttered answers and I’m back to being bored.

Done with the heart and here comes the lungs with the doctor’s mantra mixed with the sound of air swishing in and out. Long breath in. Breathe out. In. Out. And once more. Hairs from Mr. Exam 2’s back tickle my nose, but I ignore it as I soak up the tranquil sounds. Oh wait! Is that a touch of pneumonia I hear? This guy has some serious problems.

Now I’m back to my resting spot across Dr. Burke’s neck as I dangle, slip, slide and catch on all manner of objects while the good Doc fishes for pen and pad. Here comes the kill, poor little sheep. I chuckle, watching Mr. Exam 2’s eyes become bigger as the stack of prescriptions grow. Yeah, it’s a tough job what I do. Just give me a degree (and a good cleaning). Doctor me.

Honorable Mentions – Writer’s Prompt, Designated Point of View Contest

Room Number Five, by P.I. Barrington

Oh man, not again.  I get picked up and unwound from the pocket of the lab coat and hung around his neck, sideways no less, as if he never expects cardiac patients to show up in Room Number Five in the middle of the night.  If dangling across a sweat neck isn’t bad enough, sticking my ear buds into his tympanic orifices is sheer torture.  Chee, doesn’t this guy ever wash his ears?  He’s a doctor for Cripe’s sake!

And then there’s you, Patient.  Apparently, you never inhale completely unless specifically directed to do so.  I can tell by the way your entire body swells up as if breathing deeply is some Olympic challenge and you’re the sole representative for your nation.  I get shoved under your shirt (or whatever it is you call that fashion disaster) and hear your thump-thump-thump or double thump-thump or triple thump- thump depending on what shape your poor ticker is in by the time you get in here.  then, it’s around to your back, to listen to the raspy intake and outtake of air, and that’s if you don’t smoke!  I’ve heard doctors say that the pollution may get you first Mr. or Mrs. Marlboro!  Not that I condone smoking – ooh my aching ear buds having to listen to that rattle no hum (think U2 people).

Oh, did I mention the squeeze play of the blood pressure check?  You think it hurts your arm when they pull up that cuff so tight you fear you can’t breathe?  Well, imagine my experience!  Smashed against your inner arm waiting-waiting-waiting for your beats to start and stop and God help me if they can’t get s pulse!  It’s something akin to having your head squeezed in a vise; except I’m the one made of cold steel.  It’s small consolation that you’re getting squished, too.

Worst of all is the fact that you human beings are germ-ridden – I mean crawling with bacteria and other too-creepy-to-mention things I like to call “cooties.”  If it’s a busy night in the ER, forgetting to wipe my drum with alcohol swabs can be a nightmare for me, let alone what gets on you people!  Imagine it, cootie-thingies running rampant on sensitive, ticklish parts of your body!  Eeeww.

Yet, grumpy, tired and overworked medical personnel and their equipment still breathe a sigh of relief and a silent cheer when your test results come back okay.  Yeah, even me, your lowly stethoscope.

Oh no, not the ears again!

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Freestyle – Anything Goes

The First Place Winner of the Freestyle – Anything Goes Contest is Robert Marazas of Belvedere, New Jersey and his great story: Leaves

Under his breath he called her witch, packing his bags. He had to return to the city, away from this backwoods prison. He had endured the long summer, unable to concentrate, write, do anything. Her damned rituals, chantings, eerie silences, rubbed his nerves raw.

Leaves were falling in fury, banging against the cottage like buckshot, keeping him awake at night. Another night was approaching, her night of nights, Halloween. He wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t endure another day.

Calliope sat in her battered rocker, dressed in black, eyes turned inward. He stood in front of her, voice loud.

“We’re finished, do you hear me? I’m leaving. You’ll never see me again. Maybe your fantasies will keep you warm at night.”

“Goodbye, then,” she said in that phony, witchy drone he hated.

At the door he had to put down one suitcase. Angry, he yanked the door open. Wind gusted, flinging a single dead leaf into his face. He raged, crumbled the leaf and flung it to the floor.

Behind him, Calliope intoned, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

He laughed, striding to his car. The gloomy day was still. He crammed his luggage into the back seat and started the car. In his rear view mirror he saw Calliope in her doorway, raising her arms as if conducting an orchestra. He laughed again, wheels spitting gravel as he screeched from the driveway.

On the rutted road leading out, the wind picked up suddenly, roaring. Ground scattered leaves rose in monstrous waves. As he gaped in astonishment, stomping the brake, they crashed down. His windshield shattered. The engine thumped once and died. He shoved the door open. Mounds of leaves surrounded the car. He stood dumbly in disbelief. His tires were flat, leaves embedded in the rubber, driven into pockmarked dents on the hood and roof.

Wind died to a brisk breeze. Leaves stirred at his ankles. Something bit at his leg with a barely audible crunch. He leapt back, kicking leaves. They lifted in the breeze and hung poised in the air. Behind them thousands, tens of thousands skittered along the ground, marching toward him from three sides.

He ran back. Wind roared again, firing leaves. He ran faster. Through blurred vision he saw Calliope still standing in her doorway, arms raised, fingers dancing in the air. Then he was in a whirlwind of leaves. They slashed at him, tearing his clothes, nipping at his exposed skin, always with that faint sound of crunching. He batted at them, windmilling his arms. Those slamming against his face blinded him. He couldn’t see the cottage or Calliope. He zigzagged crazily, stumbling away from the door toward the unseen ditch at the back of the property.

His legs found air and he plunged into the ditch. Leaves rose and poured, covering him. Under the wind howl, the rising sound of crunching muffled his terrifying screams.

Calliope lowered her arms. Wind died. “Shouldn’t have done it.”

She slammed the door.
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The Second Place Winner of the Freestyle – Anything Goes Contest is Nadine Keels of Seattle, Washington and her great story: A Bona Fide Audience

“I hate one-sided conversations.”
Dallas snickers, flinching at the sound of telltale rattling in her hands. She throws a glance around her bedroom. Is this an inappropriate time to laugh? Her uncle once said that lonely folks talk to themselves.
“I’m not lonely,” Dallas argues with the empty room. “I wish people weren’t dumb.”
Dallas, Texas. Where her parents first met. Her father died on an operating table before she was born. Her mother relocated, affectionately calling her daughter “Dal Gal” while the girl was still young enough to crave picture books.
Her mother hasn’t called her that in years.
Dallas coughs against the painful nothingness in her throat. “So? Just a dumb nickname. I’d change my name to something pretty, if I was old enough.”
She’d change more, if she could. “Pick up the pace, Dallas,” a curvy girl in her gym class had scoffed one day. “You’re skinny as heck, running like a fat old fart.” But no matter how Dallas scrambles and puffs, she consistently lags behind most of her peers during laps and games in gym.
She almost would like to hang her math and geography grades over a few admired heads at school, to get even. “There goes Dallas, off to read books and play her trusty violin in the woods,” a comedic girl once jibed as Dallas emerged from pre-algebra class with a perfectly-scored test in one hand, her familiar black case in the other.
“It’s not a violin,” Dallas had murmured.
“Oh,” the other girl had sighed as she turned to walk off, “who cares?”
Dallas entombed her test paper in a wastebasket that day, but not before she took her routine after school trip to the empty orchestra room, where she regularly pours her determined, adolescent lifeblood into her instrument, making hours of her best intimate music, which no one ever hears.
Well, Mark heard some of the music one afternoon. Mark, who Dallas has always thought to be one of the most incredible boys in all existence, had been passing by the orchestra room and paused to poke his handsome head in. “Dallas?”
Dallas had jumped, stopped her music, and blushed. “You know my name?”
“Yeah. Kind-of a boy’s name,” Mark had said, shrugging before he disappeared.
Naturally, Mark now has a gorgeous girlfriend, Rose.
“So dumb,” Dallas whispers to her bedroom, more rattling in her hands as her shaky fingers fumble with the lid of a pill bottle.
A knock at her bedroom door makes her jolt. “Dal Gal?” she hears her mother’s voice in the hallway.
Dallas freezes. Sudden, burning tears shoot into her eyes. “M-Mom?”
“Our new neighbors are here for dinner. And their kids love music! Bring your viola, baby.”
Dallas motionlessly listens. Sure enough, she soon hears her mother addressing company downstairs.
An infinite minute passes. A few tears escape. And then a rattling bottle goes flying underneath Dallas’s bed.
She’ll go flush the pills later. Right now, humanity is waiting to hear her life.
.

The Third Place Winner of the Freestyle – Anything Goes Contest is Frederick Langridge of Burnley, Lancashire, England and his great story: Pages from Prince Albert’s Diary

18th May 1849
… The design work for the Crystal Palace is giving problems. If the ironwork is too thick it will be unsightly, but if it is too thin it might not be strong enough. And there is the weight of all the glass. Perhaps we can save weight by not painting it. I will put it to Paxton and Cubitt.
25th May
… Cubitt considers that leaving the ironwork unpainted would be unwise owing to the risk of rusting. Paxton agrees, saying that in any case a white framework is an essential decorative feature. I have to agree that a red-brown structure would be much less attractive. Cavor suggests that a light-weight paint mixture might present a good compromise. I agree. We should advertise for a suitable product.
7th June
… I received a letter from a Mr Abdul Boodanyan, a Persian gentleman who is offering to supply paint suitable for the framework of the Crystal Palace. He writes that it contains the same pigments as are used in the dying of traditional Persian ‘Flying Carpets.’ He claims that his preparation will actually reduce the weight of the ironwork it will be applied to. I will believe it when I see it. Perhaps I will invite Mr Boodanyan to give a practical demonstration of a flying carpet for the exhibition. I do not think he will accept. I do not think we shall trouble him for his paint.
11th June
… A representative from Chance Brothers of Birmingham called today. He brought the good news that his company will be able to supply glass for the Crystal Palace that is much lighter that that originally envisioned, but with equal strength. I do not need to explain how this development eases our problems.
28th June
… I have received a jar containing a sample of Mr Boodanyan’s paint. He regrets that, owing to prior arrangements he will be unable to attend the exhibition, but wishes us good fortune with the project. I have to say the paint does not appear any lighter in weight than other samples we are considering. I dare say there will be no harm in trying it out, now that we have it.
1st July
… We painted a couple of iron beams with Mr Boodanyan’s paint and left them to dry overnight in the yard. I am not impressed with the color which is scarcely white at all. I do not think it will be suitable. I think we will use MacPherson’s white paint which has a fine dense pigment and a much better finish.
2nd July
… The beams we painted and left to dry in the yard had vanished this morning. I will have to speak to Cubitt about the vigilance of his nightwatchmen. We cannot afford to have materials stolen so easily.
I gave the remains of Mr Boodanyan’s paint to young Selwyn Cavor. He seemed very keen to have it.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

And, last, but certainly not least, the Grand Prize Winner,
selected from the four First Prize Winners, is:

Robert Marazas of Belvedere, NJ
and his spooky story, ‘LEAVES

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Again, thanks to everyone who participated!

Happy Writing!

Julie

  1. basfordianthoughts

    Hi, my prize arrived today! Such a surprise and I’m quite overexcited. Thank you very much and wow! What great stories all the others are! I’m enjoying your blog and am recommending you to members of my new writing group so thanks very much for the help – it’s brilliant.
    Sue Barsby

    • Hi Sue, and Welcome!!
      I’m glad to see that your prize arrived safe and sound in England!
      Also, thanks for signing up for my blog, and for mentioning the contest in your blog! It kind of gives me shivers, knowing that my little contest generated international entrants! So cool!!!
      I enjoy doing the contests, and try to have a lot of winners so as to encourage writers. I’m all for encouragement! Everyone needs it and usually more often than they get it. So, I do what I can.
      Enjoy the book and have a great day,
      Julie

  2. I’m a bit overwhelmed. Some fine stories here. Thanks for choosing mine as Grand Prize Winner. Looking forward to the next contest and mingling with my fellow writers.

    • Hi Robert! Welcome!!
      Thanks for for the comment, and thanks for subscribing to my blog.
      It was a struggle to narrow down the winners – they were all so good!
      I hope you like the package that’s headed your way. All of the prizes were sent out on Wednesday so watch your mailbox.
      Thanks for entering!
      Have a great day,
      Julie

  1. Pingback: Winning, and an odd bit of litter | Melodrama and shears

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