Out of the variety of flash competitions I enter each week, MicroBookends has always been one I have found difficult to write for. The demands of seamlessly using the bookends to start and finish the story combined with the photo prompt and the 100 word restriction (+/- 10 words) require very tight writing. Two weeks ago I finally won it, something which kept me smiling for a day or two and which also gave me the privilege of judging the stories entered last week.
The bookends were chosen in honour of the horror writer HP Lovecraft and I wrote my story very much with his voice in my head.
Bookends: Love ... Craft
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Love is a light that has faded from my life. The roads I have taken, dark and lonely. My journey, as I cast off friends like worn-out clothes, is one they cannot follow. It is obsession that has brought me here, to this place.
Will my words gain my admittance, my acceptance? Or will I be rejected and be sent back into the void?
I cling to my sanity, now wafer thin and leave my offering at these gates of perdition, my words, my other self. And wonder again at how I have been consumed by this craft.
Sadly the summer holidays have drawn to a close which means I must go back to school (to work) and the weekly competition run by Luminous Creatures has come to a close.
I loved taking part in this particular flash competition because it seemed to slot in so well with my holidays and was something that you could also see the end of. It also seemed to be a particular competition which liked my sometimes odd stories so that by the end I had achieved two wins and two second places out of the eight weeks (by oversight I missed entering one of these weeks so only entered seven stories). At the end of the eight weeks these results also meant that I was one of the Ultimate Winners - sharing the podium with three other writers FE Clark, Nancy Chenier and AV Laidlaw, all of whom are wonderful story tellers and who I compete against on other flash sites. Why not try this competition out for yourself next year?
My first story I have already published on this blog but the other three can be read below.
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phrase to include: 'do not speak of our magic'
Trial - 2nd Place
The skald had paused in his kenning, frozen by his Lord’s displeased eye. He briefly thought of the cross that hung around his neck in place of the hammer, but this was well-hidden; it couldn’t be that.
“You do not speak of our magic,” growled Jarl Ragnvald. “You make no mention of the Gods that rose with us, fought with us. They too must be honoured … or do you no longer believe in them?”
The hall had grown quiet, the warriors watching carefully. The bard shifted uneasily. He had recounted every battle, every foe forced to his knees, nothing had been missed out.
“Perhaps you need to reacquaint yourself with our Gods,” said Ragnvald. And he suddenly rose to his feet. “Come.”
The poet followed Ragnvald out into the gathering night. Storm clouds glowered overhead and he felt the first rain drops fall on his face as he scrabbled after the Jarl.
The stones loomed over him. He had seen them from a distance but never crossed their perimeter. For him it was now a mere pagan relic. He stepped between the stones and was immediately grabbed by rough hands.
“Tonight,” said Ragnvald. “You are going to hear a poem more beautiful than any words. Tonight you are going to hear the song of our Gods.”
Ragnvald shackled the poet to a stone altar, forced his gaze to the heavens.
“Thor is coming,” whispered the Jarl in his ear. “Can you hear his thunder? You think I have not heard of your conversion? Your worship of the crucified man? And still you sit at my hearth and expect my gold?”
The poet quailed beneath the man’s stare, a look that became demonic beneath the lightning’s blaze.
“But I am not a heartless man,” continued Ragnvald. “I will allow your own God to claim you, if he so chooses.”
The poet felt steel slice through his skin, burning his flesh with its tongue.
“And I will let you into a secret. I promised the Gods a sacrifice if I was victorious. And you are it.”
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phrase to be included: six crystal pillars
One Day - Second Place
The children walked excitedly through the city’s silent streets. Menna had whispered them a story of magic the night before; one told her by their grandma, one, she whispered, that was forbidden.
“Okay, then,” said Menna, once they’d reached the fields. “Now we join hands.”
The six grabbed hold of each other and watched the sky nervously. It was still dark, but a subtle shift in its density told them sunrise was on its way.
“Do you really think she’ll come?” asked Diana.
“If we get the words right.”
“And she’ll give us treasure?”
“Anything you wish. That’s what Grandma said.”
A gold dot appeared on the horizon.
“Now,” said Menna firmly. “Now!”
Slowly the children began to circle, singing the Song of Eleanor.
“Come Eleanor with your golden glove
Come take the hearts of those you love
Grant their wishes on this day
And let six crystal pillars guide your way.”
And whilst they sang, Grandma watched and waited.
As if on cue, the sky cracked and a dazzling sunbeam splintered, spearing the children with a flash. And when the light faded, the children had vanished, replaced by a circle of six crystal pillars. Other voices shouted now.
“Mother, what did you do?”
“Why do you think it was me?”
“Because once a witch, always a witch. And you never liked the children.”
“Ah, you have me there. All that screaming and shouting. Always pinching things. No pleases or thank yous.”
“Mother. We agreed you’d let us raise our children our way.”
“Ah yes. Let them express themselves. That’s your way isn’t it? Well, I’ve had enough of them expressing themselves. You should see the state of my garden … and the cat still hasn’t recovered.”
“Oh, alright. But can’t I have one day? Just one day, please? It’ll be so peaceful. You could put your feet up …”
“You could read a book.”
A pause. “One day, eh?”
“Yes, one day. Go on. It won’t do them any harm.”
Another pause. “One day then, Mother.”
She smiled guiltily. One whole day …
picture prompt above
phrase to be included: this creeping fear
Returned - Winner
Breath congealed and misted as the family emerged above ground. They clung to each other as they snaked their way through rotting roots and twisted vines, every step shedding the weight of soil that had clung to them for generations. Hope for life flared as they inhaled long-forgotten odours, felt dusk’s gentle caress. But even as they travelled, each found themselves fighting against this creeping fear that they would not be chosen. Who did Granny Bo want?
Singing voices called to them, guiding them to the gathering, leading them to the living. They mingled unseen as the glittering fire gifted warmth and roasting meat awoke hunger.
Maryann’s long-closed eyes caught sight of a puppy wriggling in the arms of its young owner.
“Do you want the puppy, child?” asked Granny.
Maryann remembered the soft body and warm breath of her own little dog. She smiled. “Yes please.”
“Do you want to live above or below?” asked Granny.
Maryann remembered the blue skies and the scent of jasmine. “Above,” she whispered, her eyes still on the puppy, her head swimming as the tide of her past rushed back to her.
“Then, my child,” said Granny, “choose who you will.”
And Maryann whirled amongst them, unrecognised even by the Bokur. She moved closer to the small girl, nearer and nearer, her eyes never off the pet in her arms. With a giggle she sank into soft flesh, young bones, her new home; all hers.
Maryann cradled the furry bundle, felt the lick of its tongue on her face, the fragile cage of its ribs, its heart, the echo of the drums that pulsed around her. She was happy, oh so happy. She pulled the puppy closer to her. Tighter. Tighter. Felt a crack, a whimper. Someone else’s tear rolled down her cheek. Maryann laughed.
“Time now, child,” said Granny, as the drums began to ease, sending her companion souls back into the abyss. “Time for you to go and play.”
Maryann grinned into the darkness and ran into her new family’s arms.
A writer - I think that says it all.