First Prize

Santa’s Workshop

by Michael Balletti

Christmas lights and snow

Ruben Nijveld via Creative Commons

The annual ritual always left Saint Nick shaken and exhausted. That’s why he used the workshop. This necessary act was not to be seen.

“I’ll clean up, sir. You get some rest,” Chief Elf Elroy said.

Most people thought the reindeer were born with their special abilities. If only that were true. Santa’s magic elixir gave them the power to fly, the stamina to travel the world in one night. But that potion carried a hefty price: madness at sunrise. And only a blow from Santa’s ax could prevent that transformation from taking place.

“Thank you, El. I’m going to the house.”

Mrs. Claus was waiting at the front door with hot chocolate and a tray of cookies. Bless her heart, she had no idea how every Christmas night came to an end.

“Welcome home, Papa.”

Santa kissed her warmly on the cheek.

“How was your night?” he asked.

“Oh, fine. After all these years, I still don’t know how to pass the time while you’re away. So I finally tried some of that concoction you always make. Can’t say I cared for it.”

Santa stood dumbstruck. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, and his eyes shifted toward the workshop.

 

Michael Balletti lives in New Jersey. By day, he’s a copy editor for a marketing research company, and by night, he tries to write as much as time permits. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Theme of Absence, The Last Line, Postcard Shorts, Sanitarium Magazine, Illumen, Black Satellite, MindMares and The Threshold.


Runner Up

The Christmas Key

Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

Once They Unlocked So Many Doors

Viewminder via Creative Commons

He held out an unwrapped present that rattled like a pocketful of quarters. “Thirty seconds.”

She threw back the lid and plunged her hands into the familiar box. There were a hundred silver keys inside, maybe more.

Their first Christmas together, she’d taken too long to decide. She’d thought it was a joke and wound up empty-handed. That seemed so long ago.

“Twenty-one.”

He let her keep the keys that didn’t fit, and she spent the year studying them, learning which patterns were wrong.

“Fourteen.”

She seized on two that could be right, neither had the same pattern as her pile of rejects. But which one was right? Were there multiples in the box? Decoys?

Was the right key even in there?

“Ten.”

She held them up to compare. The left key had a thinner larger first tooth. Was that wrong?

“Four.”

She dropped it. Heart pounding, she scrabbled for the lock fastening her ankle chain to the furnace pipe. Her chosen key slid in.

At last!

She cranked her wrist to unleash freedom.

The key didn’t budge.

With a moan, she collapsed backward, striking her head hard on the cellar floor.

“Zero.” He clapped the box shut with a sigh. “Ah, well. You tried. Better luck next Christmas.”

 

Shenoa lives in Southern California and writes whatever catches her fancy, from horror to fantasy and erotica. Check out more short stories at http://www.sbcbfiction.net/ or in Demonic Visions volumes 2-6 http://a.co/2KcXPH2.


Runner Up

What Johnny Wants For Christmas

by Alison McBain

Milk… check.

Cookies… check.

Stockings hung by the fireside with care… check.

Knife… hmmm…

Dreams or Nightmares? (No. 16)

Nic McPhee via Creative Commons

Johnny dragged a chair away from the kitchen table, as quietly as he could. His father’s snores came from the bedroom down the hall, and every time the sound trailed out, Johnny paused, heart racing. Finally, the chair bumped against the kitchen counter. He clambered up and stretched on his tiptoes, just barely able to slide out the largest blade from the knife block.

When Johnny had asked for a super soaker last Christmas, what had he gotten? A duck, that’s what. A crappy wooden duck. Still optimistic in those days, he had brought it in for show and tell. The other kids in preschool had laughed at him, and laughed even harder when he ran to the teacher, crying.

Johnny shook off the memory. This was no time for weakness. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled and flashed merrily, reflecting off the cool, smooth metal in his hand. He waited patiently by the fireplace until he heard jingling bells and heavy footsteps on the roof, and then he hefted the blade.

Boy, was Johnny ready for him. This time… this time, the fat man would pay.

 

Alison McBainAlison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and three daughters. She has over forty publications, including stories and poems in Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Once Upon a Scream. She writes book reviews at www.bewilderingstories.com, blogs at alisonmcbain.com and tweets @AlisonMcBain.

 


Honorable Mention

Working Conditions

by Jen Gniadecki

Tintin Hull House - small door

Elliott Brown via Creative Commons

A low growl on the other side of the oak door catches her attention. She sighs and thinks how lovely a vacation would be. To get away from all this sorrow gone mad. Caring for them is no problem. They’re lovely, really. Until one can’t take it anymore and goes feral. This is when she doesn’t like her job so much. You cannot expect an elf to work forever, of course, but she had to agree with her husband when he says they should be able to last ten years. They really should be content knowing they give joy to so many children. Yet, the living conditions are awful and there are always going to be weak ones who can’t cope. The growl intensifies and Mrs. Claus knows it is time to act—before he becomes too strong to subdue. She reaches for the cattle prod next to her armchair. It is a shame her husband won’t listen when she suggests a rehabilitation program but he just goes on about the cattle prod and the incinerator. With the abundant supply she can see his point but changes should be made. She raises the cattle prod, turns the doorknob, and vows—as she does every year—to make improvements next season.

 

Jen Gniadecki enjoys dark stories and strong coffee.


Honorable Mention

Another Day in the Life

by Holly Schofield

shiv

theilr via Creative Commons

Determined to make today special, Marnie hung dusty tinsel from the mantle at dawn. The Krawn Occupation had ruined the last four Christmases. Cate had spent them huddled in her wheelchair, battle-ruined fingers stroking her empty stocking.

This year, Marnie had found a gift. She slid the pair of shiny knitting needles into Cate’s stocking then slumped on the sofa, exhausted from her predawn excursion digging through the fabric store’s rubble.

The front door banged open. A Krawn, all gleaming armor and claws. “Marnie Greenlove? You are arrested for treason.” One eyestalk glared down at her.

“Who’s there?” Cate’s weak voice from the bedroom.

“Go back to sleep, it’s just me.” Marnie’s shiv was in the kitchen.

“Stand up.” The Krawn touched its holstered laser.

In one motion, Marnie rose and jabbed the knitting needles into the Krawn’s armpit, aiming for that sweet spot between the armor plates. The Krawn sagged, more quickly than if she’d used her knife. She’d have to tell the others about how well knitting needles worked.

She dragged the corpse behind the sofa and tossed the gore-slicked stocking and broken needles on top.

The creak of Cate’s wheelchair made her turn. “Merry Christmas, Marnie dear!”

“Merry Christmas, love.” She settled Cate next to the fire. Just an ordinary day, after all.

 

Holly Schofield’s stories have appeared in many publications including Lightspeed, Crossed Genres, and Tesseracts. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.


Honorable Mention

Tied Up With Strings

by Rachel Anna Neff

Somewhere In Between (Re-worked)

Anne Worner via Creative Commons

Joseph worked his way through the crowded mall, ignoring the whispers and stares. Past the three-story Christmas tree, a little girl ran into his leg. She looked up at him, gasped, and pressed a green envelope into his hands. He looked down to see the letter was addressed to “Santa” in the kind of handwriting only a second-grade teacher or parent could love. When he looked back up, he couldn’t find her.

“I don’t want this,” he muttered, looking for a trashcan. He hated being mistaken for Santa. No, he hated being reminded that his grandson Clark loved thinking of him as Santa. His son’s girlfriend had taken off four years ago on New Year’s Eve. With Clark. Without a trace.

His grief was a splinter that dug deeper and deeper each passing holiday. He loved his full, well-groomed white beard. But the recognition as Kris Kringle was too much for the sharp prick he felt in his heart.

“Dye it red, then,” his wife, Edna, had decreed. “I don’t want to hear you complain about this for the next twenty Christmases. You think I don’t miss him too?”

He found a trashcan and set the envelope on top.

 

Rachel Anna NeffRachel Anna Neff has written poetry since elementary school and has notebooks full of half-written novels. She earned her doctorate in Spanish literature and recently completed her MFA. Her work has been published in anthologies, Dirty Chai magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find her on Twitter as @celloandbow or check out her editing venture at www.exceptionaleditorial.com.

 


Honorable Mention

The Bishop

by Mary Casey

Christmas Rush

Matthias Ripp via Creative Commons

The bishop has done it before.

This year’s soul is dressed in a sagging red and white costume and sporting a soiled beard. The bearded man is standing over a black kettle while ringing a bell as though he is calling for heaven’s notice. He approaches the man and slips a ten dollar bill into the kettle.

“Don’t do it,” he whispers to the man. “Think of your children finding out what you are planning to do. Remember why you ring the bell and who it is for. It will work out. Trust me.”

He smiles and pats the man on his skinny back and walks off into the crowd.

The bearded man calls out. “Wait! It is because of my children I need to do this!”

The bishop stops and turns. “Trust your better nature. Merry Christmas to you, son.”

The bearded man feels a lump in his pocket. He pulls out a wad of cash, exactly the amount he needs to buy his children Christmas presents. Tears fill his eyes and he picks up the bell. “Bless you!” he calls. “What is your name?”

A deep chuckle sounds through the parking lot. “Nicholas,” he answers. “You may call me Nick.”

 

Mary Casey writes from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where she is inspired by her surroundings and two Tibetan Spaniels.


Honorable Mention

Peace on Earth

by Vaughan Stanger

On Christmas Day 2019, billions of Hildreth fell like snowflakes from their orbiting bauble-ships. Summoned from their homes, most of Earth’s population floated up into the sky without saying farewell. Abandoned by his wife and daughters, Bill Dennison contemplated a life as vacant as the chairs
surrounding his dining table.

Twins #1

Siyana Kasabova via Creative Commons

One year on and Christmas Day delivered sporadic gunfire, also a knock at Bill’s door. Lonely enough to accept the risk, he tugged back the bolts. Three Hildreth stood on the doorstep: the tallest chin-high to him, its companions identically shorter. Golden skin notwithstanding, the trio resembled his family closely enough to make him shudder. “Merry Christmas!” echoed in his skull as he slammed the door. He dismissed subsequent visitations from the sanctuary of his armchair.

On the fifth anniversary of his family’s departure, Bill noted the lack of gunfire and his depleted stock of food. The knock came. He heaved a sigh and opened the door.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

The twins’ smiles set off fireworks in his head.

“Please come in.”

Bill began spooning beans onto biscuits.

The twins spoke in unison. “We’ve something for you, Daddy!”

Hearing another knock, Bill shuffled to the door with tears prickling his eyes. He knew what to expect.

Finally, it was his turn.

 

Vaughan StangerFormerly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in an aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone, amongst others. He has recently released a new collection of short stories as a Kindle ebook: Sons of the Earth. You can follow Vaughan’s writing adventures at vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.

by Jessica Walker

It's A New Day | Red Meets Blue

Ashley Adcox via Creative Commons

“Don’t leave.”

“Sweetie, I have to.” My daughter’s fingernails left crescent moons tattooed into my skin.

“Please.”

“We’ve talked about this. Why does Mommy have to go?”

“To protect me.”

“And all the other little children.”

“Like Maggie from kindergarten?” Ice tinkled inside her sippy cup. “But not Ellen. She hogs the crayons.”

“Even Ellen, honey.”

She seemed to weigh whether my departure was worth protecting her nemesis. “Will you bring me back a teddy bear?”

“I don’t think they have teddy bears there, but I’ll find something.”

“Christmas present!”

“Let’s make it a surprise. We don’t need a holiday to give a gift sometimes.”

A horn beeped outside. Cinderella’s carriage waited. If only a prince was the prize, and not another tour overseas in a desert far, far away. I slid my feet into my boots, and swung my bag over my shoulder. How long until my hands—which had softened from washing dishes and playing teatime—hugged a rifle’s trigger with ease?

“Be nice to Daddy, okay?” I kissed her, breathing in the aroma of baby powder and freshly cut grass.

She stood with her thumb in her mouth. No smile, no hug.

The taxi drove halfway down the street before the ice inside me cracked, and the tears poured.


Jessica WalkerJessica Walker is a writer who uses fiction to make sense of the world. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Eye Contact, and Corvus Review. Her best work happens with a cup of coffee in hand.

First Prize

A Reason to Celebrate

by Tasha Teets

Fireworks

Victoria Pickering via Creative Commons

Fireworks boom and crackle as they soar through the night sky. A kaleidoscope of colors rain down until my view is blocked by the old church steeple; the mounted cross tinted green with rust. Children race through the streets with sparklers in hand while adults gather around grilles and drink cheap beer. I bring the pilfered cigarette up to my split lips for one last drag, the tip burning red in the darkened room; the smoke fading in the humid air. 

My husband would be furious if he caught me smoking his precious menthols. That fat, lazy hypocrite. Tossing the used cigarette out the window I walk toward the kitchen, stepping over the broken lamp still spitting sparks across the dirty hardwood floor. The pool of blood had congealed into a tacky mess while I was watching the vibrant explosions in the sky. In a way I’m grateful for the noise. Any interruptions to the TV would have once heralded screams and fists much stronger than my own. Now, the thundering fireworks had covered his pleas for help as I stabbed him with a carving knife. 

Looking down on his motionless body, a smile curls my lips for the first time since our wedding day. Happy Independence Day to me.

Tasha Teets is the Customer Service Representative for Gerber Collision. She also assists with managerial duties to run day to day operations. Over the past 3 years, she has worked with various Maryland locations to improve productivity and sales. Tasha Teets has taken classes at Anne Arundel Community College and plans to transfer  to Bowie State University. She resides in Bowie, Maryland with her family and one spoiled rotten dog.


Runner Up

Happy Independence

by Eliza Redwood

Alicia hadn’t wanted to attend her brother’s stupid barbecue. Just because she didn’t have plans for the Fourth of July didn’t mean that she was a social pariah! It was only because she loved “wasting” her life exploring. Not getting tied down with roots anywhere was part of the gig.  

But she was in town, so she had to go to her brother’s stupid barbecue.

As host, he was obligated to slave by the grill, flipping burgers and chattering with friendly-faced strangers. (All strangers to Alicia but important people in his life, she was sure.)

Piano man

Mauro Luna via Creative Commons

So she hovered alone by the dusty piano on the porch.

“Do you play?” a grinning man, a half-drunk beer bottle in hand, asked.

“Not anymore,” she said, inspecting the instrument for dust. “It’s beautiful though.”

“Allow me.” And soon his fingers danced over the ivory, spinning a simple tune that reminded Alicia of home. When it was over, she clapped, taking pleasure in his flushed cheeks.  

“Could you teach me?” she asked.

“Sure, but it takes time.” Fireworks boomed in the background, underscored by the delighted laughter of nearby children.

“I love fireworks,” he said, his boyish grin beaming towards her. “Happy Independence Day.”

Alicia leaned in close, “I think independence is a little over-rated.”

Eliza RedwoodEliza Redwood is a budding twenty-something writer with a mathematics degree that’s been gathering dust and a passion for military history. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her on her computer playing solitaire or on her phone playing solitaire. (She just really likes solitaire.) Find her on twitter @ElizaRedwood.


Runner Up

The Machine

by Yohan Luechtefeld

Consider for a moment and compare
The differences and similarities.
Perhaps you’ll chuckle with me
At the glaring hilarity.

Machine

Martin Howard via Creative Commons

The free world minimum security
The unfortunate in super-max.
Varying in degree of suffering
Quality of life and purity.

In a free world you can do what you want
Cough, Within reason.
To expose the mighty machine
Well ‘That’s just treason!’

You’ll eat what WE give you
No you cannot grow your own.
Water your grass and flowers instead
Or risk the wrath history has shown.

You’ll drink the water WE provide
Nevermind what is in it.
Don’t you worry about that Plant next door
WE watch it every minute.
Now the very air we breathe
Chemtrails in the sky?
Hit you from every angle
Hoping soon you’ll die.

You’ll pay more than your share of taxes
Never you mind the rich.
You’ll pay your taxes in prison
Or you’ll end up someones bitch.

Marijuana has been outlawed
Inspite of the benefits you see.
The honey bee being exterminated
‘Can’t have a cure for free!’

When so many examples made visible
‘Well what to do?’
Stand on a corner with a sign?
Hell they’ll come for you its true.

MY suggestion the 4th AND 5th of July
Everyone stay at home too.
Show those in power
The many outweigh the few.

Yohan Luechtefeld
Elmhurst Illinois
Amateur lyricist/musician/children’s book author
Additional works available
JRL112772@gmail.com
Children’s ebook avaiable on amazon


Honorable Mention

Our Loss

by Cathy Bryant

“How could they? They were like our children.”

Tears fell on the old man’s frock-coat.

“I think that was the point,” said his daughter, Cecily. “They’ve grown up. They have to find their own way. And there have been tales that our army has behaved rather badly sometimes – “

“None of that!” His fist crashed onto the table. “The British Army is the finest in the world!”

I expect every nation believes their own is best, thought Cecily.

“It’s the king,” her father went on. “He isn’t himself. Everything’s ending…”

“No!” cried Cecily. “It isn’t the end. Perhaps it’s a new beginning!”

Love Letter

Sean via Creative Commons

Her father seemed a little comforted, and after a while she left him to catch up with her correspondence. There was a particular letter that she wanted to write, to an American boy she had known. They had both been eighteen and – and she could not bear to think that he might not love her any more. He had written secret, passionate letters to her that she treasured.

“Dearest, good luck in your country’s new adventure,” she wrote. “Please forgive us. Then love us, as we love you. Be happy – but don’t forget me!”

She held her head so that her tears did not fall on the letter.


Cathy Bryant worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won 24 literary awards, including the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in over 250 publications. Cathy’s books are ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ and ‘Look at All the Women’ (poetry), and ‘How to Win Writing Competitions’ (nonfiction). See her listings for cash-strapped writers at www.compsandcalls.com, updated on the first of every month. Cathy lives in Cheshire, UK.

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.

  • I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
  • So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
  • I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
  • One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
  • However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at paul@ironsoap.org. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
  • I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.

The Aspiring Voices Contest

The bullhorn poet speaks to the horizon.

lau via Creative Commons

So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.

I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.

There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.

On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:

Anma NatsuPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

George WellsSpark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. II by Various

Callie HunterImpulse by Ellen Hopkins

Maggie GilesBefore I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Lea GroverThe Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

ED MartinStrange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Noel AshlandGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Alexandra LynwoodMacRieve by Kresley Cole

Melanie DrakeMagic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Krista QuintanaA Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery

Alisia FaustJapanese Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

Sam WittBad Games by Jeff Menapace; Wool by Hugh Howey

Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.

So get posting and win yourself a free book!

 

 

 

Laboratory

tk-link via Creative Commons

Shock Totem, a horror zine, held a flash fiction contest early last month. One thousand words based on a photograph of a rusting roller coaster in the mist. Each participant had one week to submit their story. Then all submissions were anonymized and posted for the participants to read, vote on, and provide some feedback. After a month, the votes were tallied and the feedback posted, along with the winners.

Now, I didn’t really get my hopes up too high. Several of the submissions were truly great, so I knew the competition would be rough. But after reading all 45 or so of the other entries, I felt my story had an original take on the prompt that maybe would set it apart from the others. When the results came back and I didn’t win, I wasn’t that surprised. I was happy to get a bunch of feedback on my writing, though. But then I looked at it.

And I got confused.

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