Married To The Sea by Leif Gregersen – 1ST PLACE!


A brisk breeze pushed through the hatchway, cooling her sunburned cheeks. Saltwater lapped at the hull. A mariner’s lullaby. She smiled, pondering her perfect life. No people. No stress. Just the occasional storm, and sojourns to the mainland for provisions. Just as her tired eyes closed, violent knocking and shouting erupted on her starboard side…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

The 60-year-old Dellarae had been to nearly every port in the world, and she loved her sailors, perhaps even a little more than she should have. Dellarae had a fondness for those that had bedded down with her, experiencing her warmth and comforts in her cabins while storms and rough seas raged outside. Of all the men that had tasted of her comforts, there was one above them: Warren. Captain Warren Milley. He was so incredibly handsome, always looking the professional in his uniform, his commander’s hat and dark blue turtleneck sweater. She loved the smell of his pipe, how his dark hair was tinged just slightly with grey. She loved how he put his hands on her, guided her through dark times. Yes, there was no denying it, there had been many hard times too.

Once in the South China Sea, when pirates had decided they deserved what she had to offer without paying for it, she had to teach them some respect. Another time, violent storms off the coast of South America nearly had put an abrupt end to her useful life of service, along with the 43 souls that were on board. This time, the old girl, adorned in her best, her once brilliant white and red, seemed to be just drifting through life. She had served long and hard and her end was at hand. She knew this to be true and had prepared herself for it. But inside of Dellarae’s heart was a strong desire to keep going, to make it home one last time, to lay everything to rest.

Dellarae was alone this time, perhaps for the first time since her creator had launched her into the world in another century, another place. At that time it seemed so many were celebrating the great victory over the impossible that her creation was, using only the finest of champagne. Those early years were so wonderful, so full of glory and adventure. Now, as she travelled, a brisk breeze pushed through her hatchway, cooling her red flaky skin. She could almost feel the water lapping at the hull, a perfect mariner’s lullaby.

Despite that there were no sailors to man her, no Captain to steer her, Dellarae felt drawn Westward. Halifax harbour, that place where she had been made, was not more than a day’s sail from where she was, and she knew she could make it. She longed for Warren’s touch, but it was most important that someone, anyone took her back. It didn’t seem the same without the teeming life on her deck, without the loud throb of her twin diesel engines, but she was moving. She may not have control of what moved her, she may not even be moving under her own power, but Halifax was close, and she was going to be home soon, going to rest after so many exhausting adventures.

It was just a small flash of light off in the distance. At first, it didn’t seem as though it actually happened. Before she heard the sound of the gun firing, a huge explosion and 100-foot splash of water appeared 50 yards in front of her bow. “I need to get home; I want to get home.” Dellarae thought to herself, almost in a state of panic, and fought with all she had to change direction. There had been a time like this in the South Pacific once when a young sailor returned from liberty with a local woman and they brought out half of their ancient navy to bring her back. Dellarae had outwitted them; she would outwit these marauders, whoever they may be.

Another shot flashed out from far away. “What did I do? Why are they trying to keep me from my home?” Now she felt the explosion go off right beside her, and it felt like it tore out a part of her, like it disemboweled her. The smell of her own body torn open reminded her of a fire that had claimed the life of her beloved Captain Milley. No one saw the tears that ran down the side of her hull after they buried him at sea.

Now she was taking on water and the ships from far away were moving closer. She realized now what this assault meant. These were Canadian waters; she had become too old and too useless to anyone to be used for anything but as a towed target for Navy ships. Realizing this, the “Old Red Lady” as her men used to call her, stopped trying to struggle.

More flashes came, more explosions, Dellarae started to sink and, in a final act of defiance, she stopped still, making herself an easy target for a naval gun that tore her superstructure apart. Deep down through hundreds of feet she went, but still her soul lived, still her spirit went on.

“I’ll never let them raise me up again.” Dellarae thought to herself. “I’ll never for a thousand years let anyone learn the secret.” The secret was why she stopped struggling, it was why she wanted to be blown to bits to conceal her last hope at being wanted, being needed. Deep in her hull, many years ago, Captain Milley had carefully moulded and welded over $14 million dollars in gold to an inner wall of her hull, and now it was Dellarae who would choose when it could be retrieved and who she would bless with the luck to find it.

Death Wish by LeAnne Burgess – 1ST PLACE!


A heavy blanket of snow illuminated the night while cold flakes pecked at her chapped cheeks. As she took another deep breath, her ears winced at the broken silence. Shivering continuously now, she trudged through the drifts, avoiding obscure stumps and black, low-hanging branches. The item she dragged behind her left a noticeable trail but she knew it would be deeply buried by the storm come morning…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

It was getting harder to walk. The wind was a bully, shoving her backwards. The snow, a white whirlwind of a magician, tried to trick her. The mesh bag grew heavier as she dragged it across the hummocks. Her goal was just ahead. Alyssa didn’t have to see it to know that the dying tree was there. She glanced behind her and saw the trail of red; sparkling, in the moon light. She knew it would be covered over by morning. A part of her wanted a few sprinkles to remain, but that wasn’t part of “The Plan.” She had to stick to the rules. She had given her word. She had to keep it. A memory tugged at her, but she tucked it away.

She closed her eyes…step…pull…step…pull…step—

So cold. So tired. So sleepy.

“It’s okay. Let go. Just for a minute.” Fatigue whispered.

She obeyed. The heavy bag dropped. She followed, pillowing her head on it.

She felt herself drifting in that half-awake, half-asleep state.

A scream pierced the air.


She bolted upright. Within seconds her mother’s instinct kicked in, leaving her wide awake and terrified.

She ripped the heavy ski mask off, cupped her hands to her mouth, and screamed back.

“Scotty!” She listened.

The wind wailed.

Her son’s voice was silent.

She waited, hands cupping her ears, straining to hear. If only the wind would calm down.

And then, it did. Suddenly, the world around her was eerily silent. The kind of silence that only comes in winter, when the blanket of snow muffles earthly sounds.

She pursed her lips, released what her son called her “mile high” whistle. It was their security signal. A pre-arranged trilogy of notes.  She whistled, he responded with his own trilogy. No matter what. She had taught him the same way parents on the mainland might teach their children a password to protect them from stranger danger.


What next?

She turned in a circle, paused, and then turned again.

“Reality check.” She whispered. “It wasn’t Scotty.”

She slipped the ski mask over her face, tucked her fingers into her mittens, and then bent down to pick up the rope. The burden was heavier than ever. She stared ahead. Her goal was in sight. She forced herself to quick-step the rest of the way.

Her destination was their used Christmas tree, “planted” in the ice that covered Lake Michigan between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace. It was one of many trees that functioned as markers along the ice bridge.

Upon hearing about it, the first question most people asked was, “Do you have a death wish?”

It was a valid concern. People had died out here. The ice bridge, like life, held surprises but no guarantees.

Today, the ice was solid underfoot. There were no cracks, no slushy areas, and no holes. The Christmas tree stump was dark, the limbs turning brown. Like all living things, it was dying. Memories flooded her mind.

“Mommy, what is Make-a-Wish?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“At the hospital. Some of the other kids were talking about it.”

Her little boy—one of the kids—a terminally ill eight year old, who would never see his ninth birthday.

“Make-a-Wish is a special group that helps give terminally ill children a last wish.”

“Children like me, right?” His chocolate brown eyes were wide and serious. She brushed her hand over the stubble of blond hair that remained.

“Yes. Is there something you want?”

“There is.”

He told her his wish and together they set up “The Plan.”

Kneeling by the tree she began to fulfill her son’s last wish. The mesh bag had been filled with three items: the first, a mixture of white sand, mixed with red Christmas sugar. It was this combination that had left a trail behind in the snow.

“Not too much sugar, Mommy. We don’t want fat fish.” His eyes sparkled with the idea of fat fish and she could only laugh with him.

“Right. No fat fish.”

Next, a heavy Ziploc bag. She opened it, and scattered the contents under the tree, as instructed.

“I want to be a like a present, under the tree, not a memory buried in the ground.”

She reached into the bag for the final item—a bottle of bubbles.

“No balloons, Mommy. We don’t want to hurt the birds or other animals that might find them.”

She blew bubbles into the cold air. They froze and hovered, then settled on the snow.

It was time for the last rule; the hardest.

Tears built up; a huge iceberg lodged in her throat. She stood up, tucked the empty mesh bag in her pocket.

One last thing to do.

She blew a kiss into the air. “Good-bye baby boy. Mommy loves you.”

A whisper of wind caressed her cheek—a butterfly kiss?

A Guest for Dinner by Gail A. Laursen – 1ST PLACE!


The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

Desiccated corn stalks snapped in the chilly evening breeze and brittle leaves rustled underfoot as Priscilla ran down one row, then another. She’d lost her bearings again and hoped her mother would soon ring the dinner bell.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar gray tree with clawing bare branches loomed before her. She gazed up it at its broad trunk and noticed odd markings outlining what appeared to be a door. As she stared, the door opened, throwing a pale light from the mysterious portal.

It was terribly impolite to snoop but Priscilla could not help peering inside the tiny opening. A kinked stairway, fashioned from the bows and bends of the massive tree’s roots, wound away, down into the depths. Jerking her head from the door, Priscilla took another look at the dun landscape. No road, no hut, no fence, no guiding markers of any kind; only lines of wind-thrashed corn stalks stretching away in all directions.

An enticing aroma drew Priscilla’s attention back to the door, where warm air rose from the depths. As if she needed more prompting, a tempest wind shrieked, rattling the tree limbs, and whipping the corn stalks into a frenzy.

Priscilla stepped over the threshold, but had descended only to the second stair when the door behind her swished closed. She turned back but its outline had vanished. She felt for the door’s edge, scratching at crevices, alternately pushing and pulling until she finally frustrated herself in vain effort. It was then she realized that darkness was not absolute. Turning, she saw a dim blue glow coming from the foot of the stairs. Then, the taunting smell of roasting nuts assailed her senses and a griping belly urged her forward.

At the base of the stairs, tunnels ran away in several directions. The light, which had drawn her, came from no candle, but luminous mushrooms. They grew in the tunnels, illuminating with a faint watery glimmer that made Priscilla shiver, despite the warmth.

Scurrying, scuffling noises and the murmur of voices drifted out from tunnels, which all looked identical. One tunnel, however, appeared somewhat larger and well-trodden. Priscilla crawled inside it, moving stealthily forward, peering behind her every so often to ensure she was alone. Ahead of her, sounds of merry-making grew but it was the fragrance of stewing food that drew her on.

She rounded a bend and a large hall opened up before her. Drawing quickly back into shadow, Priscilla peered into the vast room lit by the combined glow of an immense cooking hearth and the same luminescent mushrooms that lit the tunnels. Strange creatures were gathered, looking very much like her mother’s garden gnomes, except for their squinty little eyes and long, bulbous noses, which twitched as they spoke, with great enthusiasm, among themselves. Their cupped ears were enormous, too, and waggled ridiculously when they gestured with stubby arms.

Priscilla was reminded of moles, the bane of her father who claimed they ruined his crops. She had believed him, too, until she learned that moles didn’t eat corn. Then, his rigorous efforts to eradicate them seemed pointless, even cruel.

She sniffed the aromas emanating from the hearth and her stomach growled. Immediately, the room fell silent. All heads turned, squinty eyes peering in her direction. A chill of fear raised goose-flesh across Priscilla’s forearms. Then, one of the Mole-Gnomes hobbled forward, his grey beard dragging on the hard-packed earth. His eyes, a mere glimmer of black, peered vaguely up into the tunnel. His nose trembled and his ears flicked nervously.

“Come, Child, we have been expecting you.” He spoke slowly, mouthing the tricky human words with great care.

Perhaps it was curiosity, or perhaps rising hunger compelled her to behave so rashly, but Priscilla climbed down from the tunnel to stand amid the Mole-Gnomes. Some drew close, peering up at her, sniffing, ears vibrating. Others seemed ill at ease, mothers drawing children protectively to their sides as she rose to stand, towering over them.

Though she could not sit at their tables, nor upon their teensy chairs, they made room for her near the hearth, considering her comfort by laying out sacks of nuts covered with mats made with tightly woven stands of dried corn stalk.

Priscilla smirked, wondering what her father would make of these Mole-Gnomes.

To Priscilla’s dismay, the creatures remained timid — even fearful — as evidenced by their tweaking ears and quivering proboscises, so Priscilla did her very best to put them at ease. She moved slowly, fearing to trample or otherwise molest them, and she spoke softly, aware that even her hushed voice echoed loudly around the high-domed chamber.

Three women brought her drink; some dandelion juice in their largest kettle. She accepted it graciously, her pinky finger raised decorously as she tipped the small gourd and tasted the unfortunately bittersweet liquid. Once she had drunk the juice, though, the Mole-Gnomes cheered, and from that point on, their previous enthusiasm returned.

One of the Mole-Gnomes produced a reed flute and played a lilting Gnomish tune. Dancing broke out and laughter punctuated their chittering conversations.

Then, quite unexpectedly, their faces began to spin. Priscilla blinked, trying to stop the room’s disquieting motion. One of the young males, his ears and arms quaking, offered Priscilla a platter. She accepted the tiny disk, astonished to see bright-yellow kernels of corn amidst the mash. “But, I thought you didn’t eat corn?” Priscilla slurred her words and frowned, perplexed as much by her slurring as the corn.

“We don’t, Child.” The elder Mole-Gnome, dark eyes glittering and nose trembling eagerly, cooed to Priscilla as she succumbed to the tainted juice.

Nora’s Perfect Day by Meredith Morckel – 1ST PLACE!


Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, “There’s something I need to tell you…”

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

When their wedding guests weren’t looking, John stole a crumpled red tablecloth out of a laundry cart, grabbed Nora, and pulled her outside. The smiling full moon angled its shine at them like a spotlight, guiding them down the pier to the beach. They said nothing, just smiled every time they made eye contact. The tide was high, reaching out for their bare toes. They found the softest sand in the dunes and spread the tablecloth among the bouquets of beach grass.

Nora started to kneel on the cloth but John hoisted her back up. He mimed turning an invisible doorknob and opening an invisible door. He lifted Nora into his arms and carried her across an imaginary threshold. John gently set her down and leaned over to kiss her. His red tie swung out and tickled her nose. She giggled and batted at it like a kitten swiping at yarn.

“Did you have a good day?” John asked. His light brown eyes and equally light brown hair matched the color of the sand around them.

The moonlight reflected off of Nora’s pearl teeth when she smiled. “It was perfect,” she said. “Perfect.”

“Was it?” John drew his long fingers through Nora’s red hair. “One hundred percent?”

Nora outlined his lips with the palm of her thumb. “We’re at my favorite place in the world. We ate my favorite food and danced to my favorite music.” She tapped her chin with a forefinger, pretending to be deep in thought. “Oh, yes, and I married my favorite man.”

He grinned at her and brushed their noses together. “The perfect day.”

“Yes. The perfect day.”

“Well, thank God. It’s about damn time.” John rolled his eyes back so far that they disappeared into his skull before they snapped back into place. “Do you know how many of your days I had to go through before I found the perfect one? I’ve been at this for a lifetime!”

Nora kept a smile on her face but scrunched her eyebrows together in a frown. “You found a perfect day? What do you mean?”

John stood up, rested his hands on his lower back and arched it until his spine cracked. “Do you realize how busy my schedule is? I have a dozen Souls waiting for me in my office. My boss will probably cut my pay in half!”

Nora rose to her feet. “John? What are you talking about?”

“I had the record! For three thousand years I’ve been the only one to find my Soul’s perfect day on the very first try. But then you came along. Never satisfied. Lady, you were exhausting.”

John started circling the tablecloth, glaring at Nora. The footprints in his wake were five times bigger than any man’s. “I thought I found it when I took you on your first date with John. You were almost there when I kissed you on the top of that Ferris wheel.”

When he passed by, Nora stepped backwards towards the ocean. “Honey, you’re not making any sense. Let’s just go back inside, ok?” She wrapped her fists around the skirt of her dress to keep them from trembling.

John clasped his hands together and swung them over his shoulder. “This is my favorite part!” he laughed. “I’ve been looking forward to this forever!” He cleared his throat and his face became serious. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

The salt-heavy breeze tugged Nora’s hair out of its braid. Boiling ocean water wrapped around her ankles and burned her skin. Nora saw blisters bloom across her feet. At that same moment the straps of her dress broke. The left one snapped and wilted, and then the right. The gown became so heavy that Nora couldn’t keep it from sliding off her body.

“What, John?” she gasped. The sand gradually became blood-red. Every inch of Nora’s body began to sweat. “What do you need to tell me?”

His sneer reminded Nora of a hyena. “I am not John,” he said. “This is not your wedding day. It is your memory of it. Before we lock the Souls up, we have them relive a perfect day.”

Nora opened her mouth but suddenly her throat felt like it was full of shards of glass.

“It’s like when you give a child a toy and then immediately take it away. She cries and begs for it. She would have been happier if she never had the toy in the first place.” John’s hyena grin widened until the corners of his lips touched his earlobes. “The pain that the loss causes isn’t worth the joy of having it. That’s how we make Hell more…hellish. We give you a perfect day and then take it away.”

Nora couldn’t feel herself anymore.

“That’s what Hell really is,” John whispered. “The permanent loss of a perfect day.”

The shards of glass spread to the rest of her body and cut her until she became like the sand. The wails of her fellow cellmates joined hers.

John, whistling happily, strolled down the beach to his next appointment.

The Harvest by Linda Walker – 1ST PLACE


The fruit vendor smiled at her through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm breeze and salty air. During casual banter with his customers, he seemed to remember the smallest details, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. The girl had been coming to his stand daily for as long as she could remember. As she turned to leave, she patted his hand and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”

Still smiling, he replied, “No, you won’t…”

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

Spring was finally winning. The chill of winter grudgingly gave way to a warm breeze that raced me from the lower docks to the open-air market at village center. I ran toward Mr. Everbent’s fruit-stand, my daily trade weighing heavy in the satchel slung across my body. I’d been coming here for as long as I could remember. Each morning, after I helped my mother lay out her sewing handy work in the tiny stall she rented on the other side of the market, he would give me a small list of things to gather. In turn, he would fill my satchel with produce at the end of the day. Today was no different. I waited patiently as he smiled through sightless eyes, long grayed over by too many years spent in the salty sea air. His customers adored listening to his tales of a life at sea as much as I did.

Mr. Everbent could recount the smallest of details and make you believe that you had been there. When he spoke of hunger my belly would grumble. If he told a tale about a break in the weather after a particularly bad storm, the sun felt a bit brighter.

I slipped under his counter and, after his last two customers wandered off, he leaned toward me and asked, “Did you get everything on the list, Jewels?”

“Yes, Sir.” I riffled the pages in the small ledger book he insisted I keep. It contained everything I had ever gathered for him.

He held his hands together, palms up. I stowed my ledger then placed the items in his hands one at a time, letting him identify each piece. It was our special game and he wouldn’t set anything in his wooden box until I had described each item again and again.

“Those will do nicely,” he said afterward, and patted my face. “I would like to ask one last thing from you before I send you on your way tonight, Moppet.”

“Anything,” I replied, eager to stay longer.

“An eyelash from each eye so that I may carry them in this locket and think of you fondly.”

“That’s easy! I thought you would send me back to the shore,” I said with relief, plucking out the lashes and slipping them into the tiny silver locket he had pulled from his pocket.

Mr. Everbent slipped the chain over his head and tucked it under his shirt. “I shall treasure it always, Jewels. Now, help me load your satchel with all the fruit you can carry tonight.”

“It’s too much,” I cried.

“Nonsense.” He clasped me to his chest tightly and said in a choked voice, “It will never be enough, I’m afraid. But you have listened well and you are smart. You will understand.”

I hefted my satchel over my head and told Mr. Everbent that I’d see him on the morrow.

“No, you won’t,” he said. His milky eyes darted around restlessly.

“Don’t be silly,” I called out as I hurried to meet my mother. “I’ve gathered everything on the list. We’ll need to start a new one tomorrow!”

My mother was overjoyed at the fruit seller’s generosity and said something about blessings for old fools and children before I fell asleep that night.

With the crow of the cock I heard my mother moving about our one bedroom cottage preparing for a new day. I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I could hear the crackling of the freshly stoked fire but I could not see its orange tongues flicking about in the hearth.

“Mother?” I called out, rubbing my eyes again.

“Yes?” I heard my mother from across the room.

“Mother, I cannot see you!” I said, growing frantic.

Instantly my mother’s weight was next to mine on my small cot.

“Jewels?” she spoke softly as her hands turned my face.

“Mother?” I asked, trying to keep the panic from my voice.

“God in heaven, child!” she shrieked. “Your bright blue eyes have gone cloudy over night! Can you not see me?” She tugged roughly at my eyelids, forcing my head back on my neck.

“Ouch!”I reared away from her work-roughened fingers. “I can’t see anything!” I wailed.

Mother was up in an instant saying she must call for the physician.

I felt about my surrounding area, hoping if I touched something familiar it would bring back a familiar sight in return. My satchel hung over the bed post and I recalled all the items I’d carried in it yesterday; the beautiful robin’s egg still wrapped in a nest, the bit of black coral, as black as a raven’s eyes, the tuft of wool from a newly born lamb. Slowly, I reached up and felt my eyes. Did my lashes feel differently? My heart began to race.

I recalled my conversation with Mr. Everbent from the day before. Instantly, I was filled with dread as I pulled the tiny ledger from my satchel.

“Mother, the doctor cannot help.” I sobbed. “Only someone who can gather, preferably with keen eyesight and time to spare, can help me.”


A tiny boat bobbed along the shoreline, heading west from the island. The old man gazed out of bright blue eyes at the beauty of the sea. He sent up a silent prayer that his young friend could harvest the things she needed faster than he had.

A Minor Sacrifice? by Carrie Ott – 1ST PLACE!


The feet of her pajamas offered no protection as she trudged through the deep drifts. She had been crying throughout her ordeal and, when she lowered her head for protection from the wind, she almost missed a light piercing through the trees. As she instinctively turned in that direction, she heard a train whistle…

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

So windy…

The trip from Leningrad had been lengthy – the cold front sure took its time in getting her into the skies above Germany. She had been crying throughout her entire ordeal; no one had asked her if she wanted to leave home! Nice, cold Leningrad…but it was so far away now.

She lowered her head for protection from the whipping winds, hoping that she wouldn’t be swept even further away. Her crystalline body twirled and danced as she struggled. It was useless ñ other snowflakes bigger and stronger than her could do nothing to defy the chilly current driving them relentlessly through the dense pine branches. Amid the countless evergreen needles, she almost missed a light piercing through the trees. Turning quickly toward the flash, she heard a train whistle echo faintly in the distance.

For a moment, the wicked wind plastered her solidly against a cluster of branches and she was able to listen. What a long whistle! It seemed never-ending, and it grew louder by the second. Finally, the shrieking grew so loud it became unbearable and it seemed the pretty snowflake would be ripped to pieces by the sound.

The air vibrated angrily. Suddenly a streak of gleaming steel roared through the grove and shattered the earth in a huge explosion of fire and heat. The fierce current ripped her from her branch and sucked her toward the flame. She could feel her delicate lacey pattern melting, dripping away.

For a moment, all existence seemed to pause. Only the fading echo of the bomb’s explosion proved that time still continued. Suddenly, the ground near the missile’s crater sprang to life and filled the air with claps of thunder from the barrels of frozen guns. The sentiment was returned from the stand of trees on the eastern horizon.

The little snowflake stumbled over the cold corpses of countless victims as the bullets screamed around her. Bodies riddled with bullets slumped helplessly into the heavy drifts of snow while comrades, powerless to help, simply soldiered on. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the commotion ended.

She floated lazily over the horrific scene, which had painted her glistening brothers the color of blood. A soldier clad in muddy green and brown coughed quietly. His chest heaved and his blood sent waves of heat wafting into the air. She dared not approach him for fear of melting her gorgeous frozen dress.

The wind caught her up suddenly and brushed her across his hand, chapped and discolored with the cold. His fingers clenched a crumpled piece of paper tenaciously, as if he were grasping hold of his own life. She hovered hesitantly. His blood was leaving him; his fingers weakened and slowly relaxed. She saw in his hand a picture, crumpled and torn and covered in mud. A happy woman held the reins of a chestnut horse as a small girl gripped the saddle happily.

The snowflake glanced quickly at the soldier, the picture of his family, then back at the soldier. Would they sell the chestnut horse to pay for his funeral? Would someone find him at all, in this wasteland? She knew what to do, yet she faltered.

Is it greed, to want to live? Selfishness? It was decided then, in the blink of an eye. She lifted herself into the cold night air and drifted silently toward his ragged breathing. She quietly fell and alighted on his lips, chapped with thirst and cold. Immediately, flaming heat consumed her body, melting her lace and her shining crown. She knew she could not mend his wounds, but at least she could satisfy his thirst. The water from her veins poured into his mouth. One, single drop was all she could manage. As his final breath of life steamed from him, one single drop from the corner of his eye was all he could manage, too. But dying with the relief of pure mountain water on his parched lips – that was more bearable.

Smarter Than You by Elysia Walton – 1ST PLACE!


Growing up on a fishing boat docked in this small northwest coastal town brought stares from townspeople and jeers from classmates. She desperately wanted to escape but, with competitors driving down charter prices, she knew her dad would never be able to afford a replacement. As she sliced open the belly of yet another Salmon, her eyes widened and she dropped her knife…

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

Brooke never liked her job, working for her father. If there was the possibility of it, she would leave him and his business to find a life somewhere else. But she knew she couldn’t leave him. The job was dangerous and her father would never find someone to replace her. They weren’t exactly assassins. More like arrangers. If somebody needed help getting rid of an unsavory person, Brooke and her father were the ones to call.

Most of their customers knew exactly where we would go. Actually, Brooke and her father demanded that they knew where we were going. If we ended up in the wrong place, the wrong person would end up dead. But Brooke and her father didn’t know what it was like to be the fish. To be the one hacked into while still alive, injected with a foreign object, sewn back up and released. Then, when you least expect it, bang! You’re dead and you have killed someone.

So many of my family have died like this. Just last weekend my little sister was swimming around the creek, minding her own business. Brooke leaked her stinky hand into the water and snatched little Sunny out. I never saw my sister again.

We live in fear that Brooke – stubby, chewed fingernails and greasy hair – will capture us. None of us want to die. But what do Brooke and her father care? Except for the fact that Brooke would rather not do it – probably just because she doesn’t get paid enough – they don’t. Her father doesn’t even do any of the fishing.

Friday is the one day of the week that we are careless for a bit. My babies and I venture a little farther out than normally comfortable. I wouldn’t go if it weren’t for the kids. They like to twirl around the rapids at The Rock. I just float off to the side until they are tired out. I know I should have been paying more attention, you don’t need to tell me that twice. But the sun was beating down just right – not too hot, not too cold. I dozed off. When I came back to it, my babies were gone. No bubbles of laughter and fun, no sand-note to let me know where they had gone. Nothing. Just gone. The sun was setting and I would soon have to return home. They weren’t in the rapids, not in the feeding hole – not even in the Crevice, which was a guilty “Dad-says-no” pleasure if I wasn’t paying attention.
“Willow! Paka! Rain!” No answers. If I could cry, the water would be spoiled with my tears. Brooke had stolen my babies and there was nothing that I could do about it.

As I tried to think of anywhere else they may have gone, a sound alerted me. Not a fish sound. Not a bear sound. I turned vertical to see what was above me and my eyes met those of a monster. A killer. Her black eyes, though young, had little wrinkles at their corners. Her lips tilted down in a heinous way. There was no escaping her and I knew it. Brooke’s hand reached down into the water to grab me. I couldn’t get away from her speedy movements, and was soon held to her chest. The pain of drowning was nothing like I had imagined. There was no water to alleviate the pain in my gills, no liquid to ease my dry eyes.

I was jostled as Brooke pinned my fins to the ground and searched for her knife in her black bag. I wasn’t dead but I was close. Brooke pulled the knife from her bag. The blood of my babies and family members set on the blade – stinking of death. As she lowered the knife towards me, I knew she wouldn’t expect what she would find. As she made that first cut, she stumbled back, dropping the knife. As briskly as I could, I heaved my middle section at her – hurtling at her the bomb she had implanted in me years before. The bomb that I had been so careful not to detonate. The little device drifted through the air towards Brooke. With a small tick, it smacked into her right shoulder and exploded.

I wriggled for a while before I could escape the pins, and flopped back into the river. My wounds, in time, would heal. Brooke could no longer wreak havoc on my little community. Brooke’s father’s business would fail without her help. If Brooke was smarter, she would have recognized the long, almost invisible cut that she had sewn in me years prior. When I had escaped, she had cussed so loud I was afraid my family’s innocence would be stolen by such foul language. Though I could never rest at what she had taken from me, at least it wouldn’t happen again. People like Brooke and her father were far and few. My little fish family would be okay.

A word of wisdom from an old, wise fish? Don’t mess with us, because we are smarter than you think.

SURVIVOR by Janelle McHugh – 1ST PLACE!


With blistered, salty skin and matted hair, they were down to their last sips of fresh water. A recreational day at sea had turned into a fight for continued existence. Slumped on the bow, searching for any hint of a breeze to soothe her burning face, her eyes widened when she noticed something fast approaching in the distance…

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I rarely get playmates. It’s no wonder either. I’m not the safest playground.

Today I was rowdy, fractious. Today I beached a whale and drove a group of small fishing boats into my harbor’s jagged rocks. It gave me a moment of pleasure. But only a moment. Humans break so easily.

Most days I just slosh around in my confines; see how high I can hurl myself up the rock faced cliffs, like a child playing ëtidal wave’ in its bathtub. It’s lonely, being Water. There is only so much I can do with myself. Wind won’t play with me anymore. She says my games are mean. I told her she was dull and that there are plenty more of the little creatures. She told me I was stupid. I tried to launch a nearby surfer at her with one of my waves. I missed.

When I’m not sculling around on my sandy floor then I’m watching the humans. They never cease to amuse me, these little grubs. Beautifully stupid creatures. Why don’t they stay away from me? I’ve drenched enough of their harbor towns and capsized enough boats to give them good reason. Maybe they think the only dangers are my sharks’ wide grins or my whiplash currents.

But I shouldn’t complain. If they left I would be horridly bored.

The best days are the survivor days. When my ship toys tip over and everyone drowns but one. I had a survivor once. I remember the exact moment she hit my waves. Her eyes blinked shut from my salty water; she had hair that fanned out like a seaweed garden. It took her two minutes to reach the surface. In those two minutes she danced, fingers stretching, legs kicking, water logged clothing held her motionless beneath their weight.

I moved beneath her and nudged her toward the top. No sense in playing with a corpse. She thrashed and somehow made it look graceful; her coat fell off her shoulders like a caterpillar’s skin. As she moved her arms her iridescent purple top fluttered out like newly formed wings. She swam with purpose now. Free from her heavy burden, she reached air and sucked it in. She tread water, sometimes dropping beneath my waves when her legs gave out. I danced and pranced beneath her, gleefully planning the next few days.

She grabbed a chunk of ship bow that floated past, a pitifully weak thing. Water logged, like she was. I’d sunk enough ships to know that it would float just about as long as she would.

Her lips started cracking a few hours later. They were crusted with salt. I tried to splash my wave onto her face to cool her but she dodged my attempts. Then something annoying happened. A bottle floated by. Not one of those silly ones with messages in them but one with water, drinkable water. I’ve never seen a human move so fast. She drank almost all of it and I rumbled with amusement when most of it came right back up. Then she started to swim. I followed right alongside of her. She made it about thirty feet before I scooped her up with a wave and carried her back to her starting point. She started again, and again, and again. And each time I sent her right back to where she had started from. The only reason she didn’t cry is because it would’ve wasted water.

The second day her skin became textural, like the surface of coral. She cried. If I had lips I would’ve smirked.

Then I sank down to my floor and started to thrash about. Waves foamed and slammed into each other. I rushed upward, about sixty feet away from my survivor. I’m very good at making tidal waves. Her eyes went wide; cracked lips fell open in terror. She threw away her water bottle and kicked towards the shore. I spun around and around, I could feel my wave gaining power. Then a thought occurred to me. If the wave was sixty feet, didn’t that mean she would be carried sixty feet closer to the shore? I didn’t have time to stop it. It grabbed her and her bow chunk and threw them towards shore. I raced towards her, hoping to catch at her feet with a small current. But she hit the sand line and no matter how I jumped at her she was now firmly land bound.

She rolled to her knees, her limbs shook and she spat out sand like a viper spits venom. She was angry. I had the curious feeling of being noticed, like she was looking right at me. I didn’t like it and I tried to throw another wave at her.

With a surprising amount of enthusiasm she picked up a nearby rock and hurled it into me. I felt it when it hit my floor. She stood, limbs still shaking, her fist raised and she pointed at me.

I sank lower into myself, as if she would lose sight of something she couldn’t see in the first place. She staggered away and I decided not to play with humans for a bit.

Wind called me stupid again.

Lindsey’s Arctic Spring by Abe Ott – 1ST PLACE!


Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed…

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Lindsey snuggled her muffler a bit higher on her face. The cold was biting, life stealing if you didn’t have the right equipment. But Lindsey did. To her, the arctic night air was refreshing; clean and crisp, cooling and cleansing. She took a deep, languid breath, and even with the muffler, the sharp air flowed through her chest and filled her limbs with energy.

It was a welcome change from polluted city air. To Lindsey, her yearly vacation to the frozen north was a pilgrimage to purify herself of all of life’s built up detritus and toxins. If she could, she would live up here year in and out, but, well, a girl’s got to eat.

The land unfolded around her. Aurora borealis was quiet tonight, so the night sky was blue-black from snow drift to starlight. The full moon, hanging heavy and close, glimmered the frost and snow with its pale silver light.  Lindsey fancied she could even see the edge of the ice, where the glacier’s pantomime march down the mountain ended abruptly, a sheer cliff of blue-remembered white.

But she wasn’t there quite yet.

Lindsey hoisted her tripod back on her shoulder, and settled her pack, set off again. One foot after another. Her snow shoes crunched beneath her, breaking a thin crust, and settling an inch or so into the powder below. A sure sign, she knew, of the temperature dropping.

But mere cold would not deter her. She was equipped for that. She welcomed it. This year she would catch the glacier calving, and preserve the sight on film. Each year before, if she arrived later in the spring, she’d find great slabs of ancient ice, lying scattered on the valley floor. But if she arrived earlier, nothing but smooth valley snow and unspeaking glacial wall would welcome her view.

This year, she thought she’d timed it just right. The wan warmth of day and leeching chill of night would lever the children from the sheet, and she would be there, to catch it all on camera.

Day broke distant, an arctic aureole haloing the horizon. It found Lindsey on the glacier, tripod in place, tent erected. She wished she could film it from below, but the danger was too great. In her dream’s aperture she’d watched the slabs go tumbling, and there was no sure safety in that valley. But up here, she’d measured just right. Tripod set where the edge would be, close enough, she hoped, to watch the calves fall gracefully away. The tent planted up a bit higher, just in case.

Preparations complete, Lindsey walked to the present edge, her eyes out sharp for cracks. None showed themselves, and Lindsey stifled the thought: that perhaps she was again too early, or was this feted spring too cold? Instead, she took in the valley view, a spread of long, frosted arcs and diamond white. Blessedly, no sidewalks, no dirty tower buildings, and off in the distance, was that caribou? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it was better than the herd that could be seen from her city apartment’s line of sight.

The sun rolled along the distant horizon, and Lindsey stood taking it all in, smiling. This made the long hours worth it. This gave her hectic life meaning. This annual pilgrimage was what, each year, reclaimed her soul.

A rumbling interrupted her; it was her empty stomach, and dinner beckoned from her tent. She turned and trudged and made it almost there, when up above she spied them – cracks under transparent sheen, and beyond her tent, up the glacier, higher! Cracks that under icy sun grew wider! Shots rang out or so it seemed, as new cracks snapped into being. A moaning rumble from deep below shivered through Lindsey violently. A scream of fear fled her lips and Lindsey leaped behind it into a dead run.

To cross the gaping cracks was Lindsey’s goal but she did not make it. The ice shifted, tilted, angled against her desperate run. She fell to her knees and clawed the sun-slick surface. Against the odds she found a hold, and desperately hung on. Her camera gone, her tent tumbling by, Lindsey dangled over the valley floor. The ice slab shifted, sat itself, end down, and leaned over some more. Lindsey lost grip and went sliding, rocketing past the glacier’s edge and out thru open air. Her flight soon interrupted by a dune of snow, rushing up to meet her. It did its best and passed its test, and caught her oh so gently.

She lay there for a while, embedded in the snow. She spent her time productively, counting her fingers and her toes.

The great slab of ice hung there, and seemed to think it over till at last the rays of sun warmed its side and it resumed its fall.

And Lindsey got her wish and found her view – not bad at all! – from below, of the glacier calving.

Provisions by Susannah Carlson – 1ST PLACE!


She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll…

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Life for Emmy’s family had always been hard, but recent years had been the hardest, since the bank had taken their land. Emmy didn’t understand why a bank would take a family’s land like that, but it was a fact and facts ain’t fixable. Now they lived here in a two-room cabin in the old granite quarry in the middle of town. Papa made a deal so they could build there free and call themselves caretakers, but now they only had Mama’s little kitchen garden to rely on, a couple of chickens, and what Emmy and Papa could trap in the woods that ringed the quarry. In the summer they ate a lot of squirrel. As autumn came on like a nightmare’s cold sweat, Mama always managed to bring something home, too. There was no place for hogs or cattle. No place to keep animals big enough to be salted and smoked and jerked and cured, like they used to do, when the leaves turned yellow and skittered like mice across the rooftop.

Emmy didn’t go to school. Mama said everything she might ever need to know was right there with the family and in the Good Book, which they read together every day. Emmy liked the stories, the magic and adventure, but all the begetting made her mind wander, which always led to a swift rap on her knuckles from Mama’s wooden spoon. She learned from Papa how to set snares for cottontails and how to kill a squirrel with a sling shot (guns weren’t allowed in the middle of town), how to bait a trap and how to kill what was caught. He taught her how to gut and dress what she killed, too. She knew these things but she didn’t enjoy them. Few things died clean. Most of the time there was thrashing and screaming and blood, and sometimes you’d have to chase the poor thing down and kill it again. She didn’t like that part at all. It hurt her heart to watch life fade from frightened eyes.

She didn’t have a lot of toys. Her playthings were mostly sticks and branches, rocks and dirt. Her only playmate was the forest. She did have Lulu, though. Lulu had been her mother’s doll, and now Lulu was hers. Lulu’s hair had long since fallen out, leaving a series of holes across her porcelain pate, and her clothes had long since gone, but Emmy loved her anyhow. She dressed her in scraps from the rag pile Mama kept in a corner. She sewed them together herself.

Emmy was carefully sewing a stained scrap of silk into a bodice for her doll when her Papa called her out back where he had a lean-to shed up against the wall. “Mama’s going to town,” he said. Emmy knew the annual trip would fill the lean-to with meat for smoking. It was her job to gather up green wood, and she headed off into the forest to do so, a naked Lulu dangling from her hand.

High above the little shack, on the lip of the wooded quarry, she looked down and watched her mother return from town, bare-shouldered and empty-handed, and she knew the real work would soon begin. She worked hard and fast so she could be done in time. And she was. She and Papa were stacking the last of the new wood they’d gathered when her mother opened the back door and slipped out to join them, her bare feet insensitive to the rocks and burrs. “Get inside child.”

Emmy pulled Lulu from the spot where her pants gripped her belly and, cradling her doll against her chest, she went inside to answer soft knocking at their door. Her mother ran around the side of the lean-to and her father picked up his axe.

“I think your mama left her purse at the general store,” a woman’s voice said at the open front door.

“Oh,” Emmy’s voice was sweet and innocent. “That’s my Mama’s purse alright. She’s ’round back. You can bring it to her yourself.”