The Winner of the WriteToDone Flash Fiction Contest No.1

    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.

    1. Were the guidelines followed (a maximum of 500 words of fiction)
    2. Was the title enticing and appropriate for the story?
    3. Were spelling, punctuation and grammar correct (consistent British or American English?)
    4. Were the opening and closing skillful?
    5. Quality of writing:  Was the writing natural and tight? Did it avoid cliches? Did it have flow and demonstrate deep structure?
    6. Did the story have a twist?
    7. Were protagonists characterized well?
    8. 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.

    Not anymore.

    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.

    “Who’s that?”

    “It’s Mum,” I replied.

    “No.” He picked up the framed black and white photo next to him.

    “Here’s Mum.”

    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.

    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.

    ***************

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com. Grab a copy of her free report, How to Create an Irresistible Lead Magnet in Less Than 5 Hours. In her “spare” time, Mary’s also the brains behind AlistBlogging.net. and GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • Anya Simons says:

      Does anyone know when the results for the December/January contest will be revealed? It said October 17, but is that correct? Does it really take that long to determine the winners, or was that something left over from the previous contest?

    • Fred Kutz says:

      Wow… Where do I start? I’m new to WTD. I would understate to say I’m impressed with the talent via the submissions.

      Scott… This was amazing from a reader’s point of view and a place to ascend to as a writer-to-be. The internal images placed with the “the orange scales”, the “falling as heavy snowflakes see-sawing to the forest floor?” Wow. The opener brought back some images of my own from decades past. You went on with the abusive old man and met a climax with the hogs? I’d better end lest I end up with better than 500 words of admiration for your utilization of the craft. If I must sum it up with two (more) words, I would use compelling and exceptional.

      Karen… You broach a subject many of us consider as we age. Some of us meet the subject for a loved one, with some it’s a wee more personal. I DO NOT know how you summed up such a subject in 500 words but.. you did, with a natural flair— superbly. I thank you.

      John… What a mind! The concept is riviting. I agree with the judge concerning the demon and the crusifix but that is, I suspect as a novice who does much worse, more pertinent to growth within the craft than it does with personal talent. If I may say, obviously and admittedly much more a novice than yourself, WELL done!

      All… Including Mary, I cannot wait to see more!
      Fred

      • Scott Sharpe says:

        Thank you so much for your very kind comments, Fred!

        Scott

    • Morgan Fouderly says:

      I’m really struck by how complete a Flash Fiction story can be. Like, reading ‘The Old Man’ you got such a complete sense of backstory – even though it was only indicated.

      I’m a non-fiction writer. My question is: is writing fiction useful for non-fiction writers, or not/

      • hi Morgan, that’s an interesting question. My own experience is that writing fiction is very, very useful for non-fiction writers.

        When I write fiction, I’m much more conscious of how to craft sentences to make everything flow. This affects my non-fiction writing in a good way.

      • Scott Sharpe says:

        Thanks so much, Morgan!

    • Denise Esse says:

      Congrats to the winners. Your stories are awesome.

    • Matt McCrann says:

      Wow. Such great stories by Scott, Karen, and John! All were excellent selections by the judges. I hope to read more work of theirs in the future.

      Thanks for the special mention of my story as well! Made my day. I’m already looking forward to reading the stories from the next contest.

      Congrats again to the winners!

      • Hi Matt, I’m looking forward to reading another story by YOU in the next contest 🙂

    • Patricia Mattson says:

      I know that The Old Man Is just the tip of the iceberg and can’t wait to read every
      wonderfully creative story you put to pen.
      P

      • Scott Sharpe says:

        Thank you, Patty! I appreciate your kind words and support!

    • Julia says:

      I enjoyed the winners’ stories, but was a little surprised to see grammatical (#3 and #4) and spelling errors (#4) in the rules.

      • Vinita Zutshi says:

        I knew the excitement of announcing the winners would be my undoing!

        Thanks for pointing these out, Julia. All fixed now.

    • Congratulations Scott, Karen and John!

      I’m so pleased to read that you’re holding another Flash Fiction Contest in December.

      • Scott Sharpe says:

        Thank you, Susan!

    • Tameca says:

      I loved all three of the short stories.The first one the old man,made me cry.It was a great short story with an in depth meaning.

    • Rob says:

      I enjoyed the stories, but was irritated that, on my iPad, the left margin advertisement for Books for writers extended over top of the second story, covering words.

    • Thanks so much for awarding my story one of the runners-up prizes. I usually write non-fiction but have been meaning to get back into writing fiction for a while. This is just the encouragement I needed. And I can’t believe the quality of the company I’m in. I loved the other two stories. Congratulations on the well-deserved win Scott, and best of luck with the novel. I’d love to read more of your work.

      • Scott Sharpe says:

        Thanks, Karen! I loved your story. It truly struck a chord with me, having watched a family member slide into those depths. I hope you continue to write fiction. The world will be an infinitely richer place with your stories. I certainly won’t forget your name!

        • Thanks for your kind words, Scott. While my story was fiction, the situation was a very real one for my family for a long time. I hoped it would resonate with others who have gone through it.

    • Scott Sharpe says:

      Thanks, Mary! And thank you, Martin! I appreciate your kind words. I have, indeed, just finished editing my first novel – so now begins the hard part – the Query and all that it entails! Thanks again! 🙂

      • Tameca says:

        I totally agree Martin.Mr Scott Sharpe your short story was so awesome it made me tear up.It can really be a great novel.

        • Scott Sharpe says:

          Bless you, Tameca! You are incredibly kind. Thank you for the encouragement.

          • Tameca says:

            Your very welcome

    • Martin Solly says:

      Wow – what super stories! I especially liked The Old Man. It was like a mini-novel! I do hope Scott Sharpe decides to write a novel. What an amazing writer!

      And I also like John Coogans, No Entrance. Loved the dialog!

    • Congratulations to all readers who submitted a story to the WritedoDone Flash Fiction Contest!

      And a special shout-out to Scott Sharpe who wrote the outstanding winning story and to Karen Banes and James Coogan who were the equal runners-up.

      There were also many stories that got very high scores but didn’t quite make it into the top three. I look forward to a new crop of stories from all these talented writers!


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