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 …
The Old Man
by Scott Sharpe
Rust-orange scales litter the ground beneath the pine – sign of the squirrel’s search for the sweet seeds found tucked beneath the cone’s thorny lobes. The scales fall like heavy snowflakes, twirling and seesawing to the forest floor. As I raise my eyes to the bushy-tail sitting astride a pine limb, I’m thankful he’s ignorant of my presence and his certain death. He’ll feel no pain, for I don’t miss.
God’s truth, I haven’t wasted a shot since I was seven and the old man’s hard fist dropped me to the dirt. “Missed. That was my damn supper, boy.” He’d said it as if he were commenting on a gnat flitting about his face. I reckon that’s how he thought of me, a nuisance to swat aside, a trifling irritation.
I’d spit blood into the dirt. Risen.
True, that was the last time I’d missed, but it wasn’t the last time he had to straighten me out – or the first for that matter. It was as natural to him as breathing or drinking.
Now and again he had to straighten out my mama too. He’d take a willow cane to her backside with us watching. Mama didn’t say much, just cried a bit, real quiet-like. One evening, while he was out drinking and tomcatting about, she packed up and left – Greenville or Spartanburg most likely. Anywhere but here. She just looked at my sister and me then walked out the house, screen door slamming, her disappearing into the gloaming. I don’t blame her for hightailing, not truly.
The old man never mentioned her again.
With my mama gone, he mostly just straightened me out because I was there. Didn’t need much of a cause. By the time I was fourteen or thereabouts, it wasn’t nothing to me anymore, same as working a plow or splitting kindling. A chore. Long as he let Callie be, he could beat hell out of me much as he pleased.
My sister cooked and cleaned for him, all the while trying to make herself small so he wouldn’t notice her. He’d come in the door like a storm. “Where’s my supper? Damn stupid girl.”
After supper one evening, Callie was clearing the table. She was taking up his plate of gnawed squirrel bones, just staring straight ahead, like she wasn’t looking at nothing at all. No light left in her eyes. I looked down and saw his hand slide down her leg from beneath her skirt. She just stacked the dishes in the washtub. Walked to her room. The old man followed.
Sun’s just rising over the pine tops when I step out of the woods, the squirrel swinging at my belt. I stop behind the old hog pen, next to the unmarked grave with no stone, no cross, no epitaph. Untying the bushy-tail from my belt, I drop it onto the pile of rotting and rotted carcasses heaped atop the grave.
“Here’s your supper, old man. I didn’t miss.”
Congratulations, Scott! You will receive $500 as the winner of the WritetoDone Flash Fiction Contest, October 2014!
Here are the Head Judge’s comments:
Dr. John Yeoman: The Old Man is worthy of O. Henry. Despite its slow lyrical start, it has a restrained elegance of tone that’s matched by its teasingly ambiguous end. The ‘book end’ structure, and the use of the squirrels as emblems which play several roles, is very deft.
We also have two joint runners-up. Here are their entries. First up is Karen Banes with The Hardest Decision.
The Hardest Decision
By Karen Banes
My father woke up next to a mature but beautiful woman he was unable to identify this morning. Not for the first time. It’s happened a few times lately, and he thinks he needs to share with me every time.
Always an early riser, he called at dawn. Furtively while his ‘latest lady friend’ slept upstairs. He sounded both proud and scared.
“I should stay off the sauce,” he told me, which is certainly true.
He knows how unseemly this is. He knows it clashes with the morals of a bygone age he’s still nostalgic for. This morning he was more eager than ever to assure me he means no disrespect to the memory of my mother.
He thinks my mother is dead you see. He’s wrong. She’s alive and well. Sometimes she calls not long after him.
Not today though. Today I got a text instead, asking to meet for a coffee later. I texted back ‘OK,’ then went for a run. Running helps with the stress, and this situation is getting more stressful by the day.
Over coffee Mum seemed more distracted than ever. Her usual attempts at small talk kept trailing off into nowhere.
“Of course, we have to do something about your father,” she said eventually.
I agreed with her. Our meetings always included this exercise in stating the obvious, and we both knew what ‘something’ had become a euphemism for.
I agreed to walk her home, just for moral support.
Her house looked cheery. A little too cheery. All the lights were on. It wasn’t even dark yet.
“He does that,” she said as she let me in.
I walked in with her. The gray, startled looking man on the front room sofa greeted me with half a smile.
“Hi Dad,” I said, and the smile spread to one of, not recognition exactly, more acknowledgement that I probably wasn’t lying.
Mum swept into the kitchen and my dad frowned.
“It’s Mum,” I replied.
“No.” He picked up the framed black and white photo next to him.
I sat down.
“Dad, that’s your mum,” I said.
His current doctor says to be honest, rather than humor him, even though truths he can’t comprehend upset and anger him. I’m getting a second opinion on that.
He put the picture down and picked up his glass of whiskey. My dad was always a moderate drinker.
It’s just now he can’t remember how many he’s had. But you can’t blame the drink. The day he left the gas on he was sober. And the day he attacked Mum. He thought she was an intruder. It was a particularly bad day.
“I have to go now,” I told him. I’d scheduled an extra shift at work. We were going to need the money soon.
Mum handed me some paperwork as I left. The Glendale nursing home. This is not what he’d have wanted, but she’s right. We have to do something.
Here are comments from the Head Judge, Dr. Yeoman: “Masterfully elegant and understated. There is no ‘twist’, just a summary, but it encapsulates the story’s poignant tenor.”
The second-equal runner up is John Coogan with his story, No Entrance.
By John Coogan
This had to be the strangest Saturday morning ever. We sat around the dining room table, my mom and dad and Father Logan. I watched them with curiosity as they stared blankly at their coffee cups. Finally my mom said, “Father, would you like some more coffee?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” he said, a thin smile drawn across his pale face.
The serious looks from my mom and dad were bothering me a lot. And why was Father Logan here? We were Presbyterians, after all.
“Cara,” said my father, “I want you to listen carefully to what Father Logan has to say. This is important.” He looked quickly at the priest.
“Your parents called me because some disturbing things have been going on around your house. As I told your parents, Cara, I researched it, and I believe an evil spirit of some kind has been sent to harass your family.”
My mouth dropped open. “A…what?”
“Apparently,” my father jumped in, “on our mission trip to the Maasai in southern Kenya last May, I angered the…uh…the local witch doctor, I guess you’d call him. And he cast a, well, a kind of spell, I guess…” he trailed off.
“So?” I said, too loudly. “That’s just superstitious nonsense! You told me so yourself!”
Dad just looked down and frowned.
“So our house is haunted now, or what?” I asked.
“No,” said Father Logan, “but…well, your folks finally called me when they found something…well, something not nice, hanging on the outside of your front door.”
“What?” I asked.
“It’s not important,” my father said quickly.
“The important thing,” said Father Logan, “is that the type of…uh…evil spirit that has been sent is trying to get into your house. But it can’t unless you invite it in.”
“Why would we do that?” I asked.
“Well, it may impersonate someone who says they were in an accident and needs to use the phone, or a woman with a baby in her arms, someone like that. Just don’t let anyone like that in.”
“People we know?” asked my dad. “Friends?”
“No, it won’t do that. Look, I meant to bring over a couple of crucifixes. I’ll have to bring them back later. Is around 4:00 all right?”
“Sure,” said Dad.
“You have to hang one on the inside of your front and back doors,” he said, rising to go. “This is important.”
A little after 4:00 I heard a car pull in the driveway. I looked out the window and saw Father Logan reach over to the passenger seat of his Subaru. Then he walked up to our door and knocked.
“Hi, Cara,” said Father Logan when I opened the door. “I have those crosses I promised for your parents.” He opened his hand to reveal two small silver crucifixes on thin chains. “It’s important that your dad gets these. May I come in?”
“Sure,” I said, swinging the door open.
And just like that, it walked in.