A complete story in 500 words?
Is it possible?
The winning story of the WriteToDone Contest (read it below) shows what a talented writer can do with 500 words.
The contest was judged by the WTD team, Mary Jaksch, Editor-in-Chief and Vinita Zutshi, Associate Editor, together with Head Judge, Dr. John Yeoman of the Writer’s Village.
The judges considered the following questions and awarded points from 0 – 5 for each.
- Were the guidelines followed (a maximum of 500 words of fiction)?
- Was the title enticing and appropriate for the story?
- Were spelling, punctuation and grammar correct (consistent British or American English?)
- Were the opening and closing skillful?
- Quality of writing: Was the writing natural and tight? Did it avoid cliches? Did it have flow and demonstrate deep structure?
- Did the story have a twist?
- Were protagonists characterized well?
- Was there strong conflict within the story?
It was interesting to see that all of us judges came up with very similar scores. In particular, we were all delighted with the overall winner.
And the winner is …
by Scott Sharpe
I’m stacking hay bales in the loft, sweating whiskey, when my old one-eyed rooster begins to raise sand. I stumble down the ladder and out to the yard.
Hemingway is all plumed up like a gamecock, swaggering and bobbing his head, scratching and crowing. The hens have gathered the chicks into the safety of the coop, but they’re already settling, their frantic cackling giving way to a throaty purring. Downy feathers drift on hot, close air – one such landing on my boot as I watch the goings on.
The rooster is on the far side of the yard, still strutting and glancing toward the woods then the coop, his single eye watchful.
Looking up through the chicken wire, I watch a gray fox slink into the shadows of the cedars. He turns his head, looking back this way just the once, before disappearing into the gloom. Even from this distance I can tell he don’t have a bird in his teeth.
Walking round the yard, I look down where fox tried to get past the wire. I can see he’d dug and stuck his nose under the fence. Something in the dirt gleams dark and wet. Fox’s blood is spattered just inside the fence and out toward the woods, fading drops chasing his retreat. Hemingway got the best of him – thumped his nose hard. I reckon that fox won’t have a taste for poultry for some time.
I understand the losing.
Hemingway lost his eye in a scrap with another rooster, one intent on disrupting the harmony of the yard. Though he suffered a loss, Hemingway thrashed that other bird with such finality it seemed to give up on living. Next evening a hawk got it when it refused to shelter with the others, accepting its fate without a fuss.
I reckon men-folk ain’t all that different from roosters when you get down to the gristle. Defeat don’t sit well with man or cockerel. Some rise to it.
But here’s a difference between Hemingway and myself I don’t much care to ponder; he’s protected his own twice now and at great cost, while I’d not saved my own child.
Under low skies, I’d stood whiskey-useless on the riverbank as Violet sank beneath the crushing black water. The law said I wasn’t to blame. Abigail disagreed. She’d gone back to her mama the same day we put our girl in the ground. I think she had the right of it. Can’t say why I didn’t go into the river, but it was my duty and I’d failed. That’s the sowing and the reaping of it.
Since then I’ve just been waiting for a hawk to take me. Take me and fly far away.
But watching Hemingway now, I finally recognize that sometimes sacrifice is required for them we love. Sometimes we have to pluck up the courage no matter the cost.
Time I head to the river.
Ain’t never too late for redemption.
Congratulations, Scott! You will receive $500 as the winner of the WritetoDone Flash Fiction Contest, January 2015!
Here are the Head Judge’s comments:
Dr. John Yeoman: “This powerful, emotive story is brilliantly written. It grips the reader from the first line. The quirky syntax elegantly characterizes the old man without a need for further description. Conflict is inherent in the background story of the fighting rooster. “
The first runner-up is Andrew Dorris with The Runner.
By Andrew Dorris
Something was wrong. At first The Runner pretended there wasn’t, but now there was no denying it. His running, his precious gift, ordinarily so effortless, such a beautiful, pure, harmonic thing was today, grotesquely out of tune. Today he wasn’t gliding along with an easy grace as usual. Today his legs felt like foreign objects made of stone, each stride more unbearable than the last, a labor much harder than it should be.
Why on today, of all days, had his body chosen to betray him?
He knew why. Pride. His running ability had been celebrated among his people for as long as he could remember. And of late he too had started believing his own legend. Everyone said that he had no limits. What foolishness that turned out to be. What would they say of him after today?
They would say he’d become too arrogant. And they would be right. He had thought himself invincible.
Sweat pouring from his brow; he could hear them closing in from behind, the snarling footfalls growing closer with each frightening moment. Could it be that they could smell his weakness? They wanted to catch him so very badly it seemed, and were willing today, his worst day, to push themselves to do it.
Well damn them.
He would fight.
He was still ahead of them wasn’t he? Perhaps he would hold them off yet. He always had in the past.
He willed himself to go faster, but his legs wouldn’t respond. Everything seemed wrong, his breath coming too fast, his chest pounding unnaturally. There was an odd, dizzy feeling in his head and dark spots began dancing before his eyes. Then suddenly the fear came, clenching at his gut. He realized he wasn’t going to hold out much longer. Today they were going to catch up with him.
Would it be so bad, for once, to just quit? Let them overtake him?
It would feel good . . . to just stop and lie down.
It would feel very good.
The snow felt delightful on his burning face.
A moment later the one who was closest behind bounded right over the top of his prostrate form, and then turned to come back. The two other wolves managed to stop in time. They each locked onto his now useless legs, began to tug, and were soon pulling him backwards down the trail. The lead wolf took him by the neck. When it shook its powerful head, he felt his skin ripping.
Oddly, he didn’t care. It didn’t hurt.
One of the others came around, pushed under the snow to get at his stomach. A ragged hole was made there. The Runner felt his warm life flowing out of it.
Soon, falling into wondrous, deep sleep, he was finally able to ignore the beasts altogether.
When he woke it was in a bright, warm, magical place. The sun was on his face and he was running. Effortlessly, harmoniously, blessedly, Running.
Here are comments from the Head Judge, Dr. Yeoman: “A fast-paced story, packed with tension, that instantly engages the reader in a question: what is ‘the runner?’ Who’s chasing him? And why is he terrified? The last line gives the answer and echoes the theme of the first, to give a satisfying sense of closure.”
The second runner up is John Coogan with his story Somewhere Else.
By John Coogan
When Dr. Kessler came out of our father’s hospital room, he had that perfectly blank look on his face that told me everything.
“If you want to say anything to your father, Phil,” he said to me, “now’s the time.”
My brother Dennis, seated in an uncomfortable looking plastic chair across the hall, walked over to me as the doctor walked off. “What’d he say?” he asked me.
“He said, it’s now or never.”
Den nodded, and we walked into our father’s room together. We were already too late. I saw that dad’s chest, which had been rising and falling so faintly, was not moving at all. A steady tone started to sound almost immediately. His face looked so peaceful, like he had merely fallen asleep, like the tone might wake him. It didn’t.
I turned to Den. “He’s gone,” I said. We walked out of the room as a nurse and some other man in scrubs walked briskly in.
Den and I were quiet for a few minutes. He was staring at the floor, and I was staring at him. “You’re angry with me,” he said.
“Well, yes,” I said, suddenly giving myself permission to be.
“And here we go,” he said. “The same old sad song about how you were adopted, and two years later, I came along, their ‘natural’ child. Can’t you just give it a rest?”
“It’s not just that, and you know it,” I retorted. “You leave fifteen years ago, we don’t see you at all, and now here you are.”
He looked up sharply. Now he looked annoyed. “It was leukemia,” he said. “I was diagnosed, and four weeks later I was dead. That’s my fault?” he asked accusingly.
“You still don’t get it,” I snapped. “When you died, as far as dad was concerned, he didn’t just lose one son, he lost both of us. I had to live with that.”
Now we both looked at the floor. There was an awkward silence for a minute or so. I felt my eyes fill with tears. I tried fighting them back, to no avail.
I finally looked up. He was already looking at me, and his eyes were shining wet as well. In a choked whisper, he said, “Well, dammit, I am sorry. I love you, Phil.”
“And I love you, Den. Sorry I didn’t get the chance to tell you that before.”
After a brief pause, he said, “I have to go now, somewhere else. I’ve been putting it off.”
“I know,” I said. “Goodbye, Den.”
We embraced then, a hug that seemed to go on for a very long time. Then we broke apart and did a clasp-handshake, just like we had always done as kids.
“Goodbye, Phil,” he said. With that, he turned and walked down the hall. It was a long hallway, yet after just two or three steps, I couldn’t see him anymore.
But maybe that was just the tears in my eyes.