WRITTEN IN BLOOD AND INK – Joint 3rd Place

Jolie McCarthy @jolie_mccartyjm

Jolie is a current graduate student at New York University, working on a Master’s degree in the history of women and gender. She translates her historic interests in feminism, violence, memory, and the military into her fiction. In particular, she loves writing young adult fantasy. You can find her on Twitter at @jolie_mccarty, and blogging at jrmccarty.wordpress.com.

 

Willow was six when she watched her first execution. She couldn’t remember the crimes of the man who died or the face of the Watcher who killed him. She could, however, recall with perfect clarity the warmth of her father’s arm as he held her tight against him. The wind was howling loud enough that she couldn’t make out words, just the movement of the Watcher’s lips from where she stood, separated by the sturdy gates of Idyllwild. Although her father turned her face to the side, his calloused fingers gentle against her wind-red cheeks, she pulled free to watch. Her brother Kellan, thin and fragile, clutched their mother’s side, his face buried in the tattered grey of her coat.

Just past the blue-threaded fence, the black-dressed Watcher raised a white staff, and tapped the man opposite him on the forehead, almost like a blessing. The man crumpled to the ground, not unlike the leaves that Willow had chased that autumn. Willow peered at the man through the gates, her brown eyes straining, and wondered if it had hurt. After all the fuss, all the whispers and the half-shouts and the tears when the man was dragged out the gates, she thought death would be much scarier. Two Watchers dragged his body to a waiting hole, the trails left by his limp legs dark against the clean snow.

Eight years later, she stood in nearly the same place, pulling her father back from the fence. Kellan restrained his other side. Her father pulled as if it wouldn’t matter if both his children were broken in the process, the veins standing firm on the sides of his neck. Still, he was tight-lipped and silent. Her mother, Elisa, stood opposite them. She put her fingers to her lips and blew them a kiss. The Watcher tapped her in that same mock-blessing, and she folded to the ground. It took the space of three heartbeats. By the third, Willow had lost not just a mother, but a father.

 

CREEPER – Joint 3rd Place

Ellie Lock @ellielockx3rd June 2017 016

This is me fishing and retaining an air of mystery. Other hobbies include fleeing the cold hand of Death and hoovering up Lego when no one’s looking.

 

The leaves crackled as Daisy nudged the dying plant under her bed. The last link to Mum. It was her and Vance now, the rockstar with the golden Winnebago.  He was in the bathroom playing air guitar, waiting for the fake tan to dry.

Another leaf fell.

November rain hammered on the Winnebago like one of Vance’s endless drum solos. Daisy pushed back a sparkly curtain and watched the rain sheeting across the car park. The only other vehicle was Bella’s pink campervan. Vance’s personal assistant was perched behind the wheel as usual, waiting for the next instruction from a rock god. She raised a pale hand at the sight of Daisy. Daisy dropped the curtain. She hated Bella more than anyone else on the planet. The world’s oldest groupie had tried to get rid of Mum ever since she got the job dogsbodying for Vance. Mum was cool about it, she said Vance’s talent was like a magnet for the lonely.  

“We should try and understand each other,” Mum said.

The only thing Daisy hadn’t understood about Mum was why she liked Vance so much. Now it was too late to ask.

Vance burst out of the toilet, bathed in bottled sunshine. He had a golden towel, a golden tan, golden hair. Even his eyeballs were yellow.

“Hey, Daisy, Dazzler D, Strange Daze!”

“Hi Vance,” said Daisy.

His arms dropped. “You could call me Dad. Or Dadster…  Daddington of Dadland?”

“I’ve got a Dad,” said Daisy.

Vance brought his hands to his mouth like he was praying.  “That’s cool, that’s cool. Baby steps.”

“You playing tonight?” said Daisy.

“Too right,” Vance grinned. Even his teeth were yellow.

“So I’ll just… sit here doing nothing again, shall I?” said Daisy.

“Dazzler, you know you’re invited to every gig I play,” said Vance, “but just in case, I got a surprise for you.”

“Not that rubbish magician again?” said Daisy.

“No, no, I think he got the message. This time Colin’s coming round.”

Colin. The kid who loved plants more than people. Bella’s son.

 

IONA AND THE SILVER LINING Joint 3rd Place

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Emma Umpleby @EmmaUmpleby

Emma has been thinking about writing for a long time, but this year has finally started writing down the story that’s been rattling around the back of her head for over a decade. She plays roller derby, and lives in Yorkshire with a lopsided, eccentric dog.

Birds scattered in a confusion of feathers, tugging Iona’s attention skywards. A dark smudge spiralled down through the sky, and she couldn’t look away. It was too human. There was no bright burst of parachute to stop the figure hurtling to earth. She was about to watch someone die.

But the crunch of bone into rock didn’t come. Defying logic, and gravity, the form slowed and drifted lazily towards the heather strewn ground. Iona’s heart started to settle. The figure floated behind a hill, perhaps aiming for a soft landing in the loch on the far side. Had it really been a person? A breeze twisted Iona’s curls high in the air, flinging hair into her mouth. She chewed it, wondering.

A scream bounced off the boulders and echoed around the valley. A human scream. A girl’s scream. Iona dug her boots into the dirt and sprinted towards the sound.

She stumbled and wove through the whipping bracken, her mind racing ahead of her feet, imagining and fighting not to imagine what she was going to find. She wanted to stop, to run the other way. But the falling figure was real, and needed help.

Fingers were poking up through reeds at the edge of the loch. Iona splashed towards them, bile churning her stomach, and water crept over the tops of her boots. The fingers moved and Iona leapt backwards. Her feet slid from under her, and she splashed onto her backside. She hauled herself up with wobbly arms, and dashed towards the hand.

A girl was floating, legs submerged, in knee deep water. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth flapped open, but her chest was fluttering with breath. Iona’s stomach clenched with relief. She grabbed the girl’s wrists and as she hauled her onto drier land the movement seemed to nudge her into consciousness.

‘Urrr. Mmhhhff’ she said.

She opened her eyes, and their sharp green stood out against her warm copper skin.

‘Why aren’t you dead?’ Iona asked, then winced. That sounded harsh. ‘Not that I want you to be dead, but, just, you know, you fell from really high.’

 

JAZ AND THE MYSTERIOUS TABLET: FARAWAY WORLD – Joint 1st Place

Deb Drick @DebDrickdeb 7-17

Deb Drick is a mother of three and grandmother of seven. She is having the time of her life learning all about writing novels, and began writing for middle grade audiences to encourage her grandchildren to read.

When Deb isn’t working as Executive Director of G1NBC Livingston County, she loves to garden and travel with her husband of 26 years.

Facebook: Deborah Drick

blog: DebDrick.blog

 

The last thing I did before my life stopped being super lame was try to beat Old Man Thompson in a game of chess.

Again.                                                  

I moved my queen four spaces, figuring the calm look on his wrinkled face meant he didn’t have a clue this twelve-year-old was about to own him.

I was wrong.

Even though I’ve been playing him every week since I was six, I’ve never beaten him. Ever. Not once. But I kept trying because chess makes me feel like I’m on an adventure and solving a mystery – even if the mystery was something like The Case of What Was Mr. Thompson Going to Do with His Knight.

Also, it was a whole lot more interesting than pretty much everything else in my life.

He had hardly waited for me to let go of my queen before his gnarled fingers dragged his bishop three spaces away from my king. Leaning back with his arms resting across his middle, his eyes crinkled as he smirked at me. “Check mate.”

I sighed.  “I never saw that coming.”

“Must have been you was distracted thinkin’ ‘bout headin’ off to middle school in a few weeks,” Mr. Thompson said, putting the many chess pieces he had captured back on their original squares. “It’s bound to be on your mind some.”

I wrinkled my nose as I returned the few measly pieces I had taken. “I heard in seventh grade there’s double homework every night.”

He shook his head, chuckling. “You really oughta keep an open mind, Jaz. Maybe it ends up better than you’re thinkin’ it will.”

 

RED BLUFF – Joint 1st Place

Oscar Allen @caddajaoscar pic

Oscar was born on southbound I35, deep in the heart of Texas. He grew up eating breakfast tacos and listening to Willie. He’s currently sojourning in the corn fields of the Midwest, while his wife, who’s much smarter than he is, works on her PhD. They have a cranky, old dog and an insane tortie. When Oscar isn’t watching board game reviews on Youtube or losing the board games to his wife, he’s working on his second contemporary fantasy novel set in Texas.

Carolina died in the middle of the street. She didn’t even have time to feel the warm night fade. One moment, she stood on the grime-soaked concrete. The next, she was a thousand pieces skittering across the road like the embers of a cigarette butt.
 
Crouching in the shadowy spiderwort next to the strange house, she tried to ease her breath. Nothing stirred in the early morning neighborhood but the ceaseless rumble of condenser units. The spiderwort leaves danced as sweat dropped from her nose and the matted tips of her hair.
 
Carolina glimpsed the orange glow of the park lights, obscured by the shrubs lining the street. She knew the misplaced shrine, hidden in the middle of this old, Houston suburb, meant safety. First she had to cross the street, pass the broken obelisk, and enter the mysterious, octagonal chamber, hung with dark Rothkos. She estimated the distance at a hundred yards.
 
The condenser unit behind her went still.
 
That burned chlorine smell filled her nostrils again. Her arm hairs stood on end and static tingled across her skin. The only warning that an invisible Squalor Hound was approaching.
 
This one had tracked her from the remains of the cab, where she left the driver among the crumpled metal and pebbled glass.
 
Carolina lunged across the yard and into the street. The lights shining on the broken obelisk went dark. The streetlight on the corner fizzled and porch lights all down the street blinked out one at a time. Silent and sporadic.
 
She paused, for the length of a breath, to watch the stars pulse in a cloudless sky. Carolina didn’t think she would ever see them again.
 
Mira las estrellas, Papa used to say. Look at the stars.