Thanks to everybody who entered the Collective Inkwell Creative Fiction Contest! You wrote some great stories. Judging them was difficult, which is why we enlisted the help of two other bloggers to help score them. We each read the stories and graded them on a scale of 1-10 and took the top three numbers to determine our winners.
Like I said, picking the best of the great was tough! Many of the scores were close and a point or two separated winners from the rest - it was close!
Thank you to everybody who entered. We are very impressed with the creativity of our readers! Thank you for entering and for making this contest so much fun to hold! Given the feedback, this will not be the last such contest here.
Here are the winners and their stories. We’ll be in touch with you this week to discuss your prizes (detailed below)
- First Prize: A Thesis Premium WordPress Theme pimped out by David Wright. Chris Pearson’s Thesis Theme from DIYthemes.com is hands down the BEST WordPress theme out there. From SEO-optimized back end to endless customization options to a million other things, which we’ll get into in a future post, Thesis rocks! Heck, its our theme of choice here at Collective Inkwell – and also at BloggerDad and WriterDad. Thesis retails at $87, but you’ll get your very own copy for free! Additionally, you will receive a custom header for your site as well as some basic modifications for color and design. In order to win the custom theme, you MUST have your own hosted WordPress blog. You are also responsible for uploading and maintaining your theme after delivery. We will help out with customization and the initial Thesis setup, though. Maintaining the theme’s updates and future design modifications will be your responsibility. Don’t worry, though, as you will receive your own personal Thesis license and access to the incredibly helpful Thesis support forums.
- Second and Third Prizes: Your choice of a custom banner or Twitter background page drawn by David Wright or custom writing or editing from Sean Platt of your choice (including About Page, Services Page, guest post, SEO optimized post, general piece of ghostwriting – anything less than a thousand words).
How could she have known that crossing the street would mean so much? She hadn’t seen the man sitting outside the café in the sunshine. But as soon as she saw him, she knew she had to go to him.
In the Saturday afternoon heat, the pavements were busy, crowded with tourists and residents alike. She hated the city in the summer. So did he.
“What are you doing here?” she asked nervously.
“Looking for you.” He gestured to the white metal seat. “Why don’t you sit down?”
“I shouldn’t,” she replied, glancing around.
He sighed. “No-one is taking any notice of you. Sit. Please. We need to talk.”
She moved round to perch on the edge of the chair, clutching her bag to her stomach. The little wrought iron table between them was bare, with a small umbrella that cast a cooling shadow over him but left the glare on her. Her fair skin would burn soon. She knew he was staring at her, even though she couldn’t bear to look at him. Instead, she watched the waitress, hurrying between the tables, taking orders faster than the poor girl could serve.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said and she pressed her lips together. “Don’t be like this. Look, I know you want to talk to me. You crossed the street.”
She sighed and looked across the table. His tweed jacket looked so odd amongst the cotton and linens of the other patrons. He hadn’t changed, hair still long, tied back in a ponytail, small round glasses. Those eyes. She shivered.
“I didn’t see you actually. And then when I did, I only came to tell you to leave me alone.” She watched him fold his arms.
“You need me.”
A pain behind her temples began to thud with her heartbeat. Not again.
“I don’t, I don’t need you anymore. It’s different now. I’m… life is better now.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh please. You said that that last time. ‘I don’t want you to help me,’ you said. ‘I can do this by myself’ you said. Then look what happened.”
She scowled. “What happened?”
He pointed at her left hand. “That.”
The wedding ring glinted in the sunlight. “You’re just jealous.”
“Jealous!” his head tipped back and he laughed bitterly. “No. No Katie. Not jealous.” He dropped his face back towards her, eyes burning. “Furious.”
“Please don’t cause a scene. I’m happy now, really, I don’t need you any more.” She swallowed hard, noticing the other people looking at her disapprovingly.
The moment was broken by an inappropriately cheerful melody coming from her hand bag. She hurriedly pulled out the mobile phone and looked at the number displayed on the front.
“Checking up on you is he?”
She took the call, turning away from him.
“Darling, are you alright?” her husband’s voice sounded tinny. “You’ve been gone ages.”
“The shop… ran out of milk,” she lied. “I had to come further into town.”
“Katie, are you ok?”
She shut her eyes, drew in a breath. Her chest was tight. “I’m fine,” she finally answered.
“It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
“Don’t lie to me, godammit. I saw the signs. Damn. Where are you?”
Her companion lent across the table. “End the call,” he ordered.
“Katie? Where are you?”
“End the call.”
Shaking, she pressed the button and her husband’s voice cut off.
“Good.” He sat back in the chair. “Now, let’s talk about what you are going to do.”
She turned off the phone before the second call could begin the ring tone, and dropped it back into her bag. “That’s nice of you,” she muttered. “You’re making it sound like I have a choice.”
He pushed the glasses back up his nose. “You do. Leave him now, or later.”
“I don’t want to leave him!” she hissed across the table. The couple at the table next to them were stealing sideways glances at her. She reddened.
“But you know you have to. Otherwise, it will be worse for him and you.”
She massaged her temples, the headache tightening a band around her forehead. “But I love him, and he loves me.”
“Love? Don’t be so childish!” he spat. “You think you can love like they do?”
“Yes!” she felt tears coming and hated herself all the more for it.
The neighbouring couple dropped money on the table and left hastily. She sank in the chair, knowing that others were staring. He merely laughed at them.
She watched him, looking at the people around them with such disdain. Anger, like a solar flare erupted in her chest.
“How dare you come back!” She fired at him. “I was doing just fine! Why can’t you
leave me alone to live my life!”
“Because you’re not one of them,” he replied calmly, patiently, as if she were a child. “And you never will be. Now I ask you again, will you leave him now? Or let this drag out and become… tiresome?”
“I don’t have to leave him,” she replied fiercely. “I don’t have to do what you tell me any more!”
The mocking amusement on his face dissolved into anger, and his eyes fixed her with such intensity she could almost feel them pressing into her like rapier points. “Yes you do,” he replied, voice measured. “Otherwise it will get very difficult for you. Do I have to remind you how difficult I can make things for you Katie?”
She twisted the handle of her bag nervously, summoning the courage to stand up to him for the first time in her life. “I refuse to let you do this to me again.”
He shook his head sadly. “So be it,” he sighed and touched the table lightly with his index finger.
Its metal legs rattled on the pavement as hundreds of spiders burst up through the wrought iron spirals, spilling out like blood rushing from a wound. She screamed and leapt back, knocking her chair over. Then she was running, tears streaming down her face as she hurtled herself into the crowd, his laughter ricocheting off the buildings.
Faces blurred past her, protests, shoves, people swearing as she careered into them. She fell, pulled her shoes off and then got up to run again, the concrete hot beneath her feet. His laughter echoed all the while as the soft surging sound of a thousand spiders swarmed into the street behind her.
She hit a person that didn’t move aside. Hands grabbed her arms and she struggled, began to scream.
“Katie!” Tom’s voice penetrated her terror and his face came into focus in front of her. He was holding her, shaking her gently. “It’s me, Tom!”
Sobbing, she threw herself into his embrace and felt his arms wrap around her.
“It’s ok, I’m here,” he said softly and for a moment, she felt safer. But then she sensed a presence behind her and twisted to see the man in his tweed jacket walking effortlessly through the crowd as it parted naturally around him.
“Go away!” she screamed at him, but he ignored her.
“Christ,” Tom said, turning her back to face him. “Katie, can you see him again?”
“He’s there!” she gasped, with the voice she had as a child in the night, waking from the terrors.
“No darling, he’s not.” He held her at arms length. “Look at me.” She forced herself to look at her husband, his warm brown eyes. “He’s not there Katie. He’s not real. Now we’re going to go home, and you’re going to take your meds, and we’re going to call the doctor, ok?”
Meds? Yes… the tablets, they would make him go away, how could she have been so careless? She nodded and allowed him to steer her through the crowded street, burying her head in his shoulder as they walked.
“You can’t keep running from me Katie,” a voice called from far behind. “You’re not one of them. You can’t deny what you are forever!”
She squeezed her eyes shut, focused on the scent of Tom’s aftershave. She only opened them again when his arm moved suddenly. He swept something from the back of his neck and onto the pavement. A blood red spider scurried away.
The Last Word
How could she have known that simply crossing the street would mean so much? Sirina used the edge of the sidewalk like a tightrope. Her heels hung down while her toes clung on. Through the window all she could make out were rows of shelves like forgotten soldiers. Above the expanse of dull glass, red letters declared, ‘Closing Down’. A car spun past. Warm air stirred against her caramel thighs Cuban-style. Instinctively, her arms turned into wings to stop her tipping over. It was time to move. Sirina placed one foot firmly in front of the other.
She pushed on the glass door. A feeble tinkle announced her entrance. Lines of shelves were as dark and empty as the interior. A young girl, out of her depth, was mirrored in the shop window. Sirina stared at where she had come from. Turning her back on the sunshine she faced the gloom and ran her fingers along a shelf. It was cool and smooth. Nerve-endings flickered. An obstacle blocked her progress. With Braille-like delicacy she felt around the edges. She looked down. It lay, like it had, from the beginning.
The girl lifted it up. The light from behind illuminated the script. Words hung like floating islands. Her finger traced each letter then came to rest on the colorful marlin. The book was compact with just enough substance to rest on a lap. Creamy pages fanned releasing a mustiness testifying to its endurance. A saffron sleeve covered the book like a robe and the swirls and strands of ‘Ernest Hemingway’ leapt alongside the marlin.
Without hesitation the young girl slid the book under her blouse. It nestled beneath her heart. She turned towards the light. A final tinkle and her green eyes challenged the brightness. Cuban sunshine won and she squinted before once again crossing the street. Her ribs felt the sharpness. Each pierce reminded her. She had to deliver the book.
Sirina walked and walked. She walked towards a small white building on a green mound surrounded by two shades of blue. Peppery heat made her lick her lips and she tasted the sea. It reminded her of the fish her father caught. Shining ovals laid flat against burning coals while pale yellow butter sizzled over silvery flesh. There was no smell of cooking and the door was closed. Serina knew it wouldn’t be locked. All she had to do was turn the handle. A window allowed her to glimpse the other side.
Her father sat on a chair. Behind him was the turquoise sea. A man stood beside the chair. His dark suit was an offence to the sea and the sky and the sun. It absorbed all the colors of joy. The same way he absorbed every tree and every fish. The pain beneath her heart told her to be silent. It was as if her father placed his rough fingers to her lips. Silence called the fish.
Crouching down, she pulled out the book. For the first time the girl saw the back cover. Beneath golden shards of sunlight a fisherman sat in his tiny boat. The sea was calm and he waited. Sirina waited. Shadows fell. She listened to the whisper of the sea. Darkness came. The moon’s allure made the sea heave. The door opened and shut.
In the moonlight, her father still sat on the chair. The lines were free of dried fish. The pot was empty. She lowered herself to sit at her father’s feet and started to read, ‘He was an old man who fished alone…….’ She read and read guided by the moon and the stars. Her voice rose and fell with the swell of the sea. When she finished, Sirina put the last book in her father’s worn hands. He placed it on his lap.
Well, this is odd, he thought to himself. It was as if he was watching himself from behind, like a witness, not a participant. Everything seemed to revolve slowly around him; taxis and busses crawled by, pedestrians were mime artists moving through Jello, even the birds flew at half-speed.
The Witness tried to shout, “stop!” but he couldn’t. The Participant was so focused on his feet shuffling forward, he wouldn’t have heard anything anyway. Certainly not the truck slowly approaching the street corner.
He peered at the Participant. He looked sharp; his hair neatly cropped around his ears and collar. Square shoulders balanced the waist that was just starting to fill out from lack of regular exercise. Strong legs, encased in clean – probably new – jeans, looked like they would normally take long, confident strides. Not today.
The Participant stared at his feet. His shoes had the look of comfortably worn leather but closer inspection allowed one to see they were barely used. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his jeans.
The Witness couldn’t understand why the Participant wanted to disappear. He was an average but good – looking guy with gentle eyes that were currently avoiding the others on the busy sidewalk. He was well liked at work and just recently got a promotion. He had friends to hang out with on the weekends. So why the melancholy?
It was truly as though he had become a separate entity from himself, as he watched himself approach the curb.
The voice resounded in his ears, echoing like far-off thunder in the canyons of his thoughts.
Her voice woke him and the Witness crashed back into the Participant, halting his feet just before stepping into the street.
“Yes?” he mumbled.
“I wondered if you could help me?”
He looked at her, his brown eyes slowly focusing on her hazel ones as she came towards him down the other crosswalk.
“I can’t really manage these bags on my own. Do you mind?”
That’s when he saw the braces around her arms and supporting her weight. She was missing a leg.
“Uh… Sure…. I guess.”
She glanced at the truck passing to her left then laughed. Her laughter flowed through his thoughts like a soft rain filling the dried riverbeds of the canyons in his mind. His brow creased slightly at her laughter.
“Sorry, I just feel silly asking for help sometimes. I can usually manage on my own.”
He nodded mutely as he reached for the two bags dangling from her wrists. They were those reusable grocery bags everyone seemed to be carrying these days. He looked awkwardly at her absent leg.
“My name is Julie. What’s yours?”
“Michael,” he muttered. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “You can call me Mike, though. ‘Michael’ is for work.” This time, his voice had a little more life in it.
“Thanks again, Mike. I usually carry a backpack to the market, but today I needed more things. I ran out of everything this week! I thought I’d be able to manage these bags, since they seem so easy to throw over my shoulders, but they keep falling down my arms.”
“Sure, no problem.” Flowers were blooming in those dark, dreary canyons, bringing some color back into his barren landscape.
“Um, where to?” He asked, glancing again at her. This time it was her face that received the attention.
“Oh, not too far. Just down the block, in fact. I like being within walking distance of the market so I have a small studio apartment above that old shoe store. You know the one.”
No, he didn’t, but he went along anyway.
“So… Uh…” He tried to ask, but she beat him to it.
“I was hit by a truck. The doctors tried to save my leg, but it was too messed up. That was a couple of years ago, or so.”
The Witness stirred to life inside and whispered to the Participant, “You would have stepped in front of that truck if it hadn’t been for her.” Mike shuddered, wondering what had him so distracted before.
“I’m glad I could help you,” he said, smiling a little.
“Me, too,” she beamed back, smiling enough for both of them.
They reached her apartment door and as she grabbed her keys, she turned and looked at him.
“Would you like a drink? Some soda or tea? I also have bottled water. Please don’t say ‘no’, it’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ for your help.”
The canyons of his soul teemed with life as he answered in the affirmative.
Knowingly, she smiled brightly and turned to go inside.
The Witness, still awake, looked at that knowing smile, laughed softly to himself and wondered. How could she have known that simply crossing the street would mean so much.