fiction, Homeschool Life

Announcing the Winners of the 5000 Words Creative Writing Contest

It was during my 5000 Words Writing Class that I first heard the news about my brain tumor. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to focus during the weeks leading up to my surgery. I let some things go, like this announcement.

The stories that follow were written by my students, all of whom receive/endure a workshop critique and (are supposed to!) thoroughly revise their work. The final drafts are posted to WordPress, and students vote for the winners anonymously.

Our literature selection was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. If you are at all familiar with Crane’s extravagant use of imagery, you’ll see he left his mark on my students. I couldn’t be more delighted. I, too, found myself writing Crane-ish posts like this one.

For the first time, we had a tie for 1st place. The Steyer sisters wowed everyone, and 2nd place went to Rachel Carpenter. Congratulations! Click on the titles to read the winning stories.

1st Place TIE: Love and War & The Unknown

“Love and War” by Katelyn Steyer (10th grade)

Here’s what Katelyn had to say: Reading is a favorite hobby of mine. Every time I open a new story I begin a new adventure, entering a different world full of exciting tales waiting to be unfolded as the pages turn. This year I got to experience the brutality of war through the eyes of Henry in the novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I was inspired by Crane’s descriptive and beautiful writing to create a war story of my own. And I hope you’ll enjoy reading my story Love and War as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

“The Unknown” by Ella Steyer (8th grade)

Ella is fourteen years old and the second oldest of six kids. She has participated in soccer since she was young. Another hobby of hers would be reading, but before she started the 5000 Words Writing Class, she’d never been interested in creating the stories. Now, however, she thrives to better her writing with each piece and could even see herself making a career with it in the future.

2nd Place “The Path” by Rachel Carpenter (11th grade)

Ultimately, all fifteen students were winners because they bettered themselves as writers and learned to be more discriminating readers. I am grateful to my students for their many kind words and gestures.

 And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
― Sylvia Plath

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1:17

 

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fiction

Fiction: The Colonel’s Last Wish

In the bombed-out shell of a Starbucks cafe, he sat at a buckling and tilted table. What the colonel wouldn’t give for a green-smocked barista right now. A US Army truck painted over with his familiar insignia passed by, likely headed to the dump. Halfheartedly, he returned salute, then covered his nose. The dead Americans stank.

A familiar voice whispered, “You have one more wish.”

“I know.” He was afraid to say more. He’d already been tricked into wasting two wishes.

***

“I wish we had more recruits,” The colonel had mumbled. To himself. Barely aware of the vaporous and negligently-clad genie behind him. All he did was tap the kettle spout on the relic that had mysteriously appeared on the desk. No one saw who left it. The colonel’s words were barely out when a crowd of youths showed up, eager to don the newest nuclear plastique vests and pay the highest price.

Next, it wasn’t even a wish, just wishful thinking. “Oh, that they’d all fall– every major city…” The new recruits departed in unison, waited till all were ready. A thousand magic-controlled minds depressed the igniters… boom.

Thankfully, the colonel was in the underground bunker when it happened, else he might have wished himself dead. Everything good was gone. How could he tell the genie he wanted it back, just, sans Americans? What did he want with cornfields and rural towns of gun-toting Republicans? The colonel wanted the cities, the nightlife. The Starbucks. The pretty young baristas.

But these genies, they were black souls. They sneaked up on you and gave you exactly what you asked for, not what you wanted.

All the colonel wanted was a cup of espresso. “Can I wish for more wishes?”

“You know the answer to that.”

He spat at the genie’s feet.

 

 

fiction

Last Touch

A tire spun, the one not furrowed by speed and thrust. Smoke wheezed from the buckled steel hood. Engine guts, half-erupted and splattered with oil, steamed in glossy, iridescent blackness. Beside his twitching foot lay an unwrapped breakfast sandwich. The smells of sausage, cologne, and sharp copper ghosted the car, floated out the broken windows, past the craggy blades. If his eyes worked, they would still see McDonald’s in his rear-view mirror. They had looked, in fact, cost him precious reaction time. That, plus a novice driver’s penchant for overzealous turning.

A deer in the road. Nothing had ever been so surprising. A deer. Right there. Where a second before had been open road.

He took the wheel too hard over and flipped the Subaru his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Dumb luck his side hit the pole. The last thing John saw was wood grain, dark and deep like the lines on his mother’s eyes. And some rusty staples. A triangle-shaped scrap still clinging to one. He had time to recognize Death. First his skull hit the glass window, then the telephone pole.

John’s focus had been behind him, on McDonald’s drive-through. Even as he fished in the bag for the breakfast sandwich, he glanced behind and conjured her. Emma had said, “For you,” kissed it, and dropped it in the bag. “Pay me later.” She winked. The feathery touch of her hand as they passed the bag would be the last physical thrill John would know. As he gazed dreamily in his rear-view mirror, it was her face he saw, her lips against the paper wrapping.

John couldn’t wait to devour that sandwich. But when the unbending glass and wood splinters entered him, it was Death who laughed and opened his arms for a sweet embrace.

This flash fiction was inspired by the weekly Microcosms prompt/contest.

 

fiction

Fiction: Tight Flight

I pressed the call button. Pinned to my window seat by the slumped behemoth of a man, it was the only thing I could do. His flesh oozed beyond the arm rest, assaulting my left thigh with an intimate, maddening pressure. His body heat passed through his polyester pants, through my jeans and ignited a wick of claustrophobia. Wasn’t there a weight restriction on standard seats? If he could afford sustenance to maintain nether regions the size of Russia, he could afford a first-class seat that would contain them.

First-class’s seat tray could not be put down, for obvious reasons, so First-class had the plastic cup wedged between his legs, which he spread well into my section, as defined by the invisible, but no less real and authoritative line that extended from the end of his seat into the seats in front of us. First-class let out an animal grunt, snapped his gargantuan legs closed, cracking the plastic cup and spilling soda all over the seat and floor. His head lolled, unfortunately toward me, and there remained. Eyes closed. Mouth open.

The seat belt sign was on, so I guessed that explained the absence of the blue-clad flight angel who should appear instantaneously, lean over the seat and ask in hushed, soothing tones, “Can I help you?”

Not like I hadn’t tried to rouse the sleeping leviathan myself. When that didn’t work I pressed the button. Seven times. It was moderately aerobic because I’m short and the ceiling buttons were just beyond my reach. Weren’t flight attendants handsomely paid to defy turbulence and saunter the tiny, lurching aisles like runway models?

Ten minutes later, still, no attendant.

First-class roused and swung the arm rest up, unleashing the full scope of his girth. I all but vanished.

This flash won community pick in Microcosms and was loosely inspired by my friend, Nancy.

fiction, Poetry

Christmas. Finished.

 

On linen and straw

lay a birth and a death.

God hedged by flesh

shepherds, magi.

It pleases us to imagine

God just born, vulnerable

delivery’s slick dross clings

the ache of mortality.

It’s comfortable: God

on bovine-scented straw

held in woman’s arms

and a lowly one at that.

It’s Christmas: a keening deity

swaddled. Bound

by a choice to come

die. One day. A black Friday.

Not Black Friday savings

markdowns, slashed prices.

But marked, slashed, battered

He saved us.

It’s God:

carrying His death and ours

to a far-off hill, an infinite burden.

A mustard seed must die

For a tree to thrive.

Centuries’ old tradition

…finished.

In linen and blood

hangs a birth and a death

God hedged by flesh

Crucified.

fiction

Journey to Bethlehem

The woman winced. Again. Her breath took on a raggedness. Her words broke through clenched teeth.

“How much farther?”

“Not much, Woman.”

He’d been mentally referring to her as woman since he found out. It helped. The woman was pregnant. The woman had a special touch from God. He was not to abandon the woman.

Woman was not an insult. But they’d agreed: it was how he loved her, saying her name. Softly. Over and over. He hadn’t said her name since he found out. Not once. If the insult cut her she didn’t let on, else she was fixed on riding out the pain.

Even after the dream Joseph couldn’t bring himself to think her name. The angel commanded: he was not to leave. In cases… like this, a quiet separation was a gift, was merciful. Some men, pious men, would have stoned her. Fashioned of jealousy and pride as he was, Joseph figured the plan was to break him first, before the inaugural wails of the infant-God made landfall. There was one reasonable expectation a man may have of his virgin wife. One.

And…in a gesture of unparalleled irony, He had them travelling. Now. He didn’t know who was punished worse: the pained one, or the witness. Every so often there was a sharp intake of breath. “Like being run through with a serrated blade,” she said, when he asked what it felt like. That was when he dropped their gear and let her ride on the back of the beast.

Never before had the donkey held anything but freight. Something told Joseph, maybe it was the lingering echo of the dream, but it told him in no uncertain terms: the beast would not buck her. The gear would be replaced. Innumerable gifts would be brought. As Joseph held the tether and trod the parched and crenulated ground, an alien certainty overtook him. A waking dream: the woman’s name was still beautiful, would always be beautiful.

A needling anxiety to get to their destination settled upon him, as if the world behind them fell away with each step, and was falling faster and faster. To Bethlehem they marched, because of the census. Caesar and his arbitrary decrees. Like sand grains they were blown with no discernible purpose to a city he no longer called home. But the unborn child would enter the world, either here in the open plain or in Bethlehem, if they could make it.

*Thanks to Michael for the heads up on this fun Christmas challenge. Michael’s son wrote a lovely little poem, and being the homeschool mom I am, I dig that. Though I have been known to write poetry, it’s usually when I’m angry. I hope the folks at Mindescapes.net don’t mind I used their image to create a flash piece. Want to join? Go to Mindescapes Christmas Challenge 2017.

fiction, Personal Journey

The Present, Returned

In the Grand Canyon there is a geologic gap called the Great Unconformity. No fossils exist below this schism. Her timeline has such an unconformity: before age twenty-one, anything that took up physical space and could in theory become a fossil—lost as if by fire. Except the items she chanced to give away beforehand. Those returned to her like lost pet dogs on a hundred-mile pilgrimage.

One such item was a stuffed bear, a present she gave her boyfriend on Valentines Day, 1984.  When after three years they broke up, he kept the bear. When he left for culinary school in New York, the bear did too. Then to Ohio where the boyfriend scored a “real” job, the bear came. In an apartment whose only furniture was a mattress, the bear reclined like a king. Other furniture appeared. First a TV on a milk crate, then a card table and chairs. A phone. Condiments in the refrigerator.

Seven years after she gave that bear, they met again. The boy, the girl, the bear. The man, the woman, the bear. It looked as new as the day she gave it.

It would still look new today, but she caved into their son’s adorable chubby fingers reaching, his wide, loving eyes wanting nothing more than to squeeze that royal softness to his chest. The baby boy gummed the black felt right off the bear’s nose as he lay with it in his crib, then in his bed. One day, she noticed her son hadn’t touched the bear for a while, had moved on to other soft things. She rescued the nameless bear, used sharpie to fill in its nose, set it on her headboard.

#cnf