I already won thirteen nominations in writing contests this year, three of which resulted in a first prize. It shouldn't surprise you that I'm hungry for more, nor that I am a tad disappointed when I think I had a good story but didn't get nominated with it.

Last month, I made the long list in the Furious Fiction contest with the story "Meeting the parents". It was my second nomination ever for a story written in English, the first nomination being a top 10 place in Sweek's MicroFiction contest with the story "The Empty Palace". I was pleasantly surprised, because I usually write in Dutch and I didn't like my submission for the September edition of Furious Fiction all that much.

Eager to make the long list, I wrote a story that I liked much more for the October edition. Unfortunately, it didn't make the cut. It's sufficient to read the stories that made the short list to know that the competition was fierce. For what it's worth, I'm sharing my entry for October, as well as the one I submitted in August. These are two stories I liked more than that one that made the long list.

October

Assignment: Write a story (in 500 words or less) that meets the following criteria:

  • Each story had to take place in a LIBRARY or BOOKSTORE
  • Each story had to include AT LEAST SIX of the following 20 words:
    • BROKEN; MUSIC; AROUND; MECHANICAL; SMELT; GRUBBY; GAME; COFFEE; BEIGE; HANDS; TWELVE; LETTERS; BACKPACK; NAMELESS; COWBOY; OPERATE; CUPID; TRAIN; PUNGENT; UNTOUCHED

Victor's Dilemma

Something is wrong in the Young Adult section of the School Library. Victor knows all the books by heart; he notices from afar that a stowaway has squeezed itself between Roth and Rowling. Curious about this anomaly, he walks through the bookcases, sliding his hands over the backs of the books on both sides of the row, a gesture he believes will avert all possible danger.

There it is, between Divergent and Harry Potter. With his index finger, he pulls the odd book off the shelf. There are only six letters on the cover: “ROVTIC”.

‘How strange,’ he says to himself, ‘That’s an anagram of my name.’

Fascinated, he opens the voluminous tome on its first page and starts to read:

“On that rainy day in October, a twelve-year-old boy named Victor discovered a mysterious book.”

That’s his name. He’s twelve years old. It’s raining outside, and the month is October. Is someone playing a joke on him? Is this part of some weird game? He blinks a couple of times and looks around the room. Reassured that no one is watching him, he continues reading:

“As soon as he opened the book, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that it would reveal the story of his life. Somehow, he knew that everything that would happen to him from that day on, was written down in this magical opus. Victor faced a dilemma. He was tempted to discover his future, but a little voice inside his head told him to close the book and live his life as it came, one day at a time.”

Confronted with this difficult choice, Victor suppresses his natural urge to turn the page. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for him to know his destiny? On the other hand, if he gave in to his curiosity, he would never again experience the excitement of surprise. That could be both a blessing and a curse.

He ponders and weighs, evaluating the pros and cons in his mind. Eventually, he makes to a decision: he closes the book and reopens it on its final page. He only wants to know how the story ends:

“After a long life, full of adventures that had surpassed his wildest dreams, Victor closed his eyes. In the presence of his loving family, he whispered with a broken, but convinced voice: ‘My life has been beautiful. If I could go back and redo everything, I would make the exact same choices.’ With this thought, he drew his last breath.”

That's all Victor needs to know. He closes the book and puts it back where he found it, never to see it again. He may not yet fully realize it, but it is the wisest decision he could make. Words in books fall short when compared to firsthand experience. To understand the secrets of existence that are hidden between the lines, Victor unknowingly comprehended that he would have to to write his own life story.

August

Assignment: Write a story (in 500 words or less) that includes, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want), one of which MUST appear in the first sentence of your story.

  • SHINY, SILVER
  • COLD AND GREASY
  • SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
  • SWEET AND PUNGENT
  • INK-STAINED
  • SHRILL, PIERCING

For the Love of Mother

The sheriff and his deputy were out on an errand when a stranger walked in, trailing his shiny, silver spurs over the floor. I was alone in the office, nervous as hell, not knowing how to address the man.
‘Ca-can I help you, sir?’ I stammered, ‘The sh-sheriff and the de-deputy aren’t here right now.’
The stranger ignored me at first, examining the “Wanted” posters on display. Much to my surprise, he tore one of the posters off the wall.
‘Wh-what are you doing?’ I asked.
The stranger pulled his gun and put its cold and greasy barrel to my head.
‘I know where the sheriff and the deputy are,’ he said, ‘My boys are keeping them busy as we speak.’
‘Do-don’t kill me, sir,’ I begged, ‘I’m harmless.’
‘I know you are,’ he replied, ‘Take a seat. We have to talk.’
I walked to the sheriff’s desk and sat down in the sheriff’s seat. The stranger took the other chair and put his scratched and weather-worn boots on the desk, his spurs leaving nasty marks on the tabletop.
‘You know who that is?’ he asked, pointing at the ink-stained poster with his gun.
I read what it said: ‘Loser “Lou” Jackson. Wanted for armed robbery. Reward: $500.00.’
‘So you can read,’ the stranger said, ‘Now prove that you have sharp eyes. Do you recognize the man on the poster?’
I took a closer look at the picture: ‘N-No, I can’t say I d-do.’
The stranger sighed: ‘That’s supposed to be me.’
‘Bu-but it doesn’t look anything like you,’ I uttered.
‘Exactly my point,’ the man —Lou— said, ‘That picture doesn’t do me justice!’
He put his gun and the poster on the table, produced a photograph from the inside pocket of his jacket, and showed it to me. It was unmistakably the image of the man sitting in front of me.
‘I want you to ask the sheriff to print new posters using this picture.’
He put his hand in another pocket and pulled out a stack of banknotes.
‘And have him raise the reward to a thousand dollars while he’s at it,’ Lou said.
‘Bu-but why?’ I asked.
Lou pointed to another poster on the wall: ‘Do you see that man, over there? That’s my brother, Winner “Ace” Jackson. There’s a thousand-dollar reward on his head. That’s double the prize on my head, while I have committed far worse crimes.’
‘O-O.K.,’ I said, ‘I’ll pass the message on to the sh-sheriff.’
I could smell the sweet and pungent scent of my own sweat, but I had to know: ‘Why is this s-so important to you?’
‘That’s none of your business,’ Lou replied, ‘but I’ll tell you anyway: I want my mother to love me as much as she loves my brother. That’s why!’
The silence that followed was broken by the shrill, piercing scream of a distant train whistle.
‘Now if you’ll excuse me,’ Lou said, ‘I have a train to rob.’