NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge: Update

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge: Update

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The results are in for round three of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge. After scoring first in round one and third in round two, I was feeling pretty confident about round three. I was a little nervous, because I knew competition would be stiff. But the assignment that I received was right up my alley with Genre: Thriller–Location: a radio tower–Object: ice skates. The piece I wrote was my favourite of the three, by far. It was the most “me.” I was totally in my element.

And guess what?

I didn’t even place in the top half of my group! That’s right. Not even an honourable mentions, when I was pretty sure that I had one of those coveted top four spots in the bag, haha.

We don’t get to read the other entries, but they did post the synopses of the top eight pieces for each group. I’m not entirely sure where I went wrong. Based on the synopses of the higher scoring pieces, I may have been slightly off genre. Or perhaps I didn’t do anything wrong, and the competition was just that much steeper in round three.

Either way, I still had a blast with this challenge. Now I get to enjoy a bit of a break before the NYC Short Story Challenge starts in January 2018. I thought I’d share my not-so-winning piece with you here, as I still quite like it. Let me know what you think! Where would you like to see me go with this character? What improvements would you make? (UPDATE: Judges feedback below the story!).

Here is the NYC Midnight’s genre definition for Thriller:

Thriller

A fast-paced, gripping, plot-centered story that invokes an emotional thrill by mixing intense fear and excitement. Usually the protagonist is in danger from the outset. These fast-paced stories typically involve major threats to the main character and/or wider society and the attempts to prevent something from occurring. Common elements: faster pace, action scenes, plot twists, prominent villain, “ticking clock” timing. Thriller books include Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Thriller films include Se7en (1995), Mission: Impossible (1996) , and Black Swan (2010).

“The Midwife” by S.C. Jensen
Words: 977

“Kneel.” A voice grated in Ev’s ear like rusted metal. The man dug his boot into the back of her knee and forced her to the ground. A guttural scream penetrated the heavy wooden door before her, low and barking. A woman. The flesh at her wrists tore as Ev fought against her restraints.

Cold, hard metal pressed against the base of her skull. “Don’t make me shoot you.”

“If you kill me, she’s going to die.”

“She’s going to die anyway.” The man’s mouth twisted into a jagged-toothed sneer. “It’s the whelp we want.”

He kept his pistol trained on her and unlocked the door. Ev stared past the man at the scene beyond. Blood. Too much blood. Another scream rose up from the fathoms, rising and cresting to crash against the woman’s body. She shook with it.

A priest in dark robes bent his head to speak with the soldier. His eyes met Ev’s, piercing. He nodded. The soldier hauled her to her feet and shoved her inside. The sweltering air stank of shit and iron and sweat. Beads of moisture oozed out of Ev’s skin and burned her eyes.

“Untie her.” The robed man turned his gaze back to the tortured woman, his face relaxed into a subtle smile. Ev wanted to grind his face into the blood-soaked mattress and watch him suffocate. The soldier wrenched her shoulders in their sockets and cut the rope. Another wail from the woman filled the room.

“It’s time.” An ancient looking radio transceiver blinked on the wall behind the man. “You know why you’re here.”

“I need my kit.” Ev rolled her sleeves up to her elbows and rubbed her wrists. Sweat prickled Ev’s neck and rolled between her shoulder blades. Prisoner or not, she had a job to do. “Some water.”

“You need a knife.” The priest indicated a tray next to the bed. Three makeshift blades flickered in the orange light from the woodstove on the back wall. Dirty white leather wrapped around the stainless steel shafts. This wasn’t a delivery room; it was a butchery. One blade had what appeared to be tiny teeth at the tip. A wave of nostalgia flooded through Ev. She wondered if the woman enjoyed skating as a child, before the black robes came. Before the war.

“I’m not doing surgery with a shiv.”

“No.” The priest blinked. “You’re not doing surgery.”

The woman rocked on her hands and knees. The crimson stain on the back of her dress spread like the petals of a gruesome flower. Her screams gave way to a primal growl that tore out of her body like it could carry the baby with it. She was in traction.

“I’m sorry,” Ev said. The woman groaned on, unhearing. Bile burned the back of Ev’s throat when she grasped the grimy leather hilt of the longest blade. Ev motioned to the soldier. “Hold her down.”

The priest nodded and the soldier strode to the head of the bed. He flipped the woman onto her back and put his weight into her body, muscles tensed. The woman’s eyes lolled in their sockets, the surrounding flesh so pale it tinged green. If she died before delivery, the child might, too.

Ev slipped the knife into the woman’s dress and tore the fabric away from her bulging stomach. A lump protruded from one side, above her hip bone. The baby’s head. It’s a mercy, she told herself. Ev pressed the skate blade against the woman’s abdomen and closed her eyes.

“Forgive me.”

Ev plunged the knife into the woman’s womb, braced herself against the bed, and tugged downward. The woman’s body convulsed and she writhed against the soldier. A gurgle escaped her throat and her eyes bulged. Blood and amniotic fluid surged out of the wound, and the last of the woman’s life went with it.

Ev reached inside the cavity. Her fingers found an arm or a leg. She wrapped her hand around the baby’s body and pulled. Hot and wet and screaming the baby came into the world and Ev’s heart nearly burst. She ripped the woman’s dress away from her breasts and placed the baby on her still-warm chest. The infant rooted and latched.

“My daughter.” The priest’s voice cut through Ev’s relief. Acid burned her esophagus and she shuddered.

The soldier relaxed his grip but she stopped him with a word. “No. We’re not finished yet.”

He paused, and that was enough. Ev gripped her blade tightly and slashed upward. The soldier’s throat opened with a hissing spray of more blood. Ev spun and drove the knife into his side. Despite his armour, the blade slid into his flesh more easily than it had the woman’s. She wrenched the blade free and stabbed him again.

The priest shouted and lunged for the transceiver. He wasn’t fast enough. Ev aimed the dead soldier’s pistol at his back. “Don’t fucking move.”

She placed a sodden blanket over the infant and stepped around the bed. She kept the gun on the robed man and grabbed the toothed blade from the table. The man stared at her, wild-eyed. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “Patch me in.”

The man fumbled with the transceiver, flipping switches with trembling hands. Static filled the air in place of the woman’s screams. He held the mouthpiece toward her and pressed the call button.

“Mobile Tactical Surgical Hospital zero zero one,” Ev said. “This is Unit Seven. Do you copy?”

“Mitch one here, Unit Seven,” a voice crackled on the other end. “We copy.”

“The women are being held under the radio tower,” Ev said. “Proceed with caution.”

“Roger that, moving in,” the MTSH operator said. “What took you so long, Seven?”

Ev pulled the trigger and the priest crumpled at her feet. She picked up the receiver and said, “I had to deliver a baby.”

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So there you have it! Let me know what you think!

UPDATE: Here is the feedback I received from the judges. Looks like there were some issues with clarity, and they felt that the “ice skate” usage was too vague. We also wondered (though the judges didn’t mention it) if this was crossing over into the Horror genre by definition, which may also have affected my score.

”The Midwife” by Sarah Jensen –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{1795}  This religious takeover in the minds of writers today seems to be a recurring theme. Thankfully each look at this supremacy is different, but still, it’s very interesting to note. I love the conflict within Ev while she’s forced in to do this work and has to sacrifice the woman to save the baby and give her time to kill the men and deliver her message.

{1651}  The story feels high stakes with many suspenseful moment.

{1689}  I love how Ev’s actions reveal her inner character. The reveal that the pregnant mother so meaningless to the priest and the soldier is equally maddening and chilling. Ev’s swift action to save mother—and child indirectly—is breath-taking.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –

{1795}  When describing the blades, I would actually mention that one of them is a skating blade. When you talk about the one with tiny teeth at the tip and then talk about skating, we think you’re still talking about that particular blade. But then suddenly Ev is cutting the woman open with a skating blade, and then later grabs the toothed blade to threaten the priest. A bit more clarity with regards to what and where the blades are might clear this up.

{1651}  There’s some spots I don’t understand. Did they kidnap Seven to deliver a baby and if so, how does her team know she’s there? How can Seven hold a knife and hold a pistol while breastfeeding a baby? Why didn’t she try to save the mother?

{1689}  Pull back at some point and give us some context. I don’t think that will undermine Ev’s identity or role. But we do need a better sense of what this is all about so that we are not distracted by trying to figure it out.

Looks a bit like judge 1651 wasn’t a fan, haha. Oh well, live and learn. I still like the piece.

Here’s the definition of Horror, as well, to give you some perspective:

Horror

A story intended to provoke an emotional, psychological, or physical fear response in the audience. Horror stories frequently contain supernatural elements, though not always, and the central menace may serve as a metaphor for the fears of society. Common elements: eerie atmosphere, morbid themes, heightened suspense, focus on death and evil, uncanny situations and persons. Horror books include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stephen King’s It. Horror films include The Exorcist (1973) and Poltergeist (1982).

 

 

 

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Flash Fiction Friday: “Hagfire” by S.C. Jensen

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The lineup to get into Hominids spilled into the street and curled back onto itself, a coil of black, twitching entrails. The hopeful clubbers huddled together in the cold-air burn, shifting and twisting impatiently as they waited for their turn. The shadowy tower at the core loomed above them; throbbing bass shook the blackened windows. Outside, the queue pulsed in response. Half-clothed and shuffling, dancers let the music move them closer to the centre. Hominids was always worth the wait.

“We’re not getting in.” Min blew smoke through her cupped fists. The streams jettisoned between her fingers in thick tendrils. She leaned into Viki to take another drag. “Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.” Skanky smelling puffs of air burst above their heads as she cursed.

“We’ll get in.” Viki pulled Min’s icy, bare arms into a tight hug. “I told you we’ll get in. And when we’re in, I’m buying.”

“I need it, Vik.” Min’s body shivered. It wasn’t the cold that shook her. “I shouldn’t have waited this long. I thought I was chill. I’m not fucking chill.”

“Yeah. I know, benni.” The skin around Viki’s drug port crawled up her arm. She kept checking to make sure it wasn’t really moving. “The skad is blacker than I thought it would be.”

“So black.” Min rubbed her arm against the faux-leather straps on her bondage dress, itching. They had planned on hitting the 80s floor. Min loved the goth lounge, Bauhaus Bitch. Synth keyboards blaring and boys in dripping eyeliner. Viki didn’t mind as long as Min still came home with her. “No going back, say?”

“No going back.”

The line-up lurched and shifted closer to the doors as another group of hopefuls were turned away. This better work. Viki’s neck twitched like horseflesh. The bugs were at her now.  Hominids towered upward, a shadow against the starlit sky above them. Green tinged auroras danced with them, flickering in the magnetosphere. Min watched the lights, rocking on her heels. Viki held her close.

The meatsacks at the door thumbed away a group of neon bedazzled ravers ahead of them to a chorus of cursing. They stumbled their way to some other club in the strip, lighting up the night with pink and yellow glowsticks and shooting ecstasy mocks. They’d find a home. Rave-play was all-benni this year. Viki stepped up to take their place on the chopping block, Min tucked under her arm protectively. She flicked the butt of her joint into the gutter.

“Bauhaus is at capacity,” the meat on the left said and made to shove them off.

“Fuck. Knew it.” Min stiffened against her.

“Not Bauhaus,” Viki said. She caught him by the eyeball and held him there. “Hagfire.”

“Where’d a tart like you hear a word like that?” The meat smirked at his partner. “What do you want with Hagfire?”

“None of your fucking business.” Viki snapped her eyes to the other guy. He appraised her, silently. “But we’ve got business.”

An arm shot out from the quiet one.

“Hey!” Fat sausage fingers closed on Viki’s forearm like a vice. She pulled back, but it was like trying to move stone. “What the fuck?”

“Just a civvy?” The man’s voice was low and soft, gentle almost. He inspected the drug port at her wrist, a hack civilian job, but it did the trick. His eyes lingered at the raw, scarlet line inching away from the tube and up her arm.

“Not a fucking soldier, say.”

“How long since she hit?” The meat nodded at Min. She still rocked on her heels and stared at the northern lights, fading fast. Viki felt the fear creeping in. The oh-shit-we-went-too-far fear. Edge-of-the-abyss fear. Blackest skad.

“Night before last.”

“Benni.” He dropped her arm and stood back in his shadow. “Let them in.”

“You know where you’re going?” Other meat pushed open the heavy metal door. Behind them, the crowd stirred. Whispered.

“All-benni.” I think. Viki pulled Min through the door and into the pitch beyond. “You still with me?”

“I’m here.” Min’s voice vibrated, half-pitched and off-kilter. “Where are we?”

Not good.

Viki didn’t bother to reply. She twined her fingers into Min’s and led her into the belly of Hominids. The main floor was always dark and always deserted. Above them, each floor was dedicated to a decade in pop music history. It was kitsch and superficial and wildly popular, the heart of the city. She and Min had worked their way through every floor, every room. Getting in the elevator was like time travel.

Vik wished they were going up.

The only lights on main floor were on the elevator wall. They danced along the chicklet markers that topped each set of doors, blinking and shifting across the floors, ‘M’ through twenty. Five lifts moved constantly, but the sixth lift was lights out. It always was, as long as Viki had been coming to Hominids. A maintenance elevator, she had assumed. The only one with an extra marker. ‘B.’

“I’m cold, benni.” Min tucked into her, eyelids drooping. The port-arm still rubbed against her dress, faster now. It was like all Min’s life and vitality were being pulled into that limb. It flipped and twitched and made Viki’s skin crawl in sympathy.

I’m not that far behind her.

Viki pushed the unlit arrow on the dead lift. Down. Downdowndowndowndown. She watched the lights flitting above the other five elevators. Still nothing on hers. C’mon. All-benni. Work, say?

The doors rocketed open, shakily, like the thing was rusty. The shuddering sound made Viki’s guts lurch, but she stepped inside and pulled Min in with her. The doors hammered closed, shutting off what little light had spilled in from the elevator lounge. The lift was pitched.

Viki blinked away the amoebas that floated in her eyes. Her eyes adjusted and one of the floaters solidified. A soft, green chicklet of light. Phosphorescent green. ‘B’ for benni. All-benni. She pushed the button with a hangnailed finger.

Nothing happened.

Viki jammed it again. And again. Counting. Onetwothreefourfive. Onetwothreefourfive. Fucksake. Work, say? Onetwothreefourfive.

“Easy, say?” A voice crackled overhead. “You chill?”

“Yeah.” Viki talked to the ceiling. “Yeah. I’m chill. For now. But my friend—”

“You’re in the wrong lift, benni.”

“Hag—” Viki’s voice caught and cracked. She coughed and spat. “Hagfire. Please.”

Silence.

“We can pay. I can pay. I have cash.”

Silence.

“She’s not chill, say? She’s not chill and I’m blacking. Fucking Hagfire. Benni, please.”

Silence.

Viki’s stomach hit her throat. The lift dropped so fast she thought they were crashing. But the doors shuddered open and someone grabbed her by the wrist again. Min was wrenched from her grasp. A woman with a cigarette stuck to her lip grinned at her.

“Civvys, yeah?” She checked Min’s pupils and pressed at the now-raw drug port in her twitching arm.

“Yeah.” Viki winced. Min didn’t even register.

“When did you hit?”

“Thirty hours, maybe.”

The woman whistled.

“Who keyed you? Who locked you up?”

“We were chill.” Viki’s arm was doing the twitch thing now, too. The bug were under her skin now. Picking at her.

“All-benni, say? Thirty fucking hours?”

“I have cash.”

The woman turned on her heel and walked down the concrete hallway. Lights buzzed and flickered on the walls. Their yellow glow made the woman’s skin golden brown and her white sleeveless top dirty. Min trailed behind the woman, a sleepwalker. Viki followed, her eyes taking in the narrow waist and muscled back and heavy steps.

Militia, then.

The edge-of-the-abyss fear was back. Viki was teetering, vertigo slamming in her chest like a heart. The woman led them into a room full of people and Viki fell off the edge. Panic kicked her in the ribs and pumped her lungs. The room was full of other women, hard glassy eyes blinking at the newcomers. White tanks and brown slacks and black boots. They sat or sprawled across the ragged chairs and sofas that made up the waiting room. Waiting for what?

“These your freshies, Banks?” A blonde buzz-cut head lifted up. Red lips flashed.

“Shit. I thought you were dead, say?” Viki recognized the woman who’d given them the hit in Bauhaus Bitch two nights ago. Her cold blue eyes knocked over Min and landed on Viki. “You still chill?”

“Black fucking skad, benni. I’m blacking.”

“You’d better be. That one’s gone.” Banks stood up and kicked the boots of the woman next to her. “Hit her before she gets ugly.”

“Round two?”

Banks nodded the other woman led Min into another room.

“Where are you taking her?”

“She’ll be okay.”

“I want to go with her.”

“Do you, say?” Banks held out a vial of crystalline red fluid. Hagfire, she had called it that night. All-benni. Cutting-edge high. And the edge was cutting, alright. Viki felt it in her guts like a knife. She forgot Min. Banks pulled her hand away. “Most people don’t make it past twenty-four hours before they’re knocking on our door.”

“I have cash. Three hundred. For both of us.”

“Thirty fucking hours later, you waltz in. Still chill.”

“Not for long, benni. Please.” Viki thrust the green roll of twenties at the woman.

“Keep your money, say.”

“I need a fucking hit.” Hit’ echoed off the concrete walls. Viki winced. The soldiers were watching her. Blink. Her arm twitched and she rubbed it into her side to kill the bugs.

“You don’t know how true that is, benni.” Banks grabbed her arm and jammed her thumb against the port, opening the little mouth to her veins. Viki ribcage hummed. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the vial as Banks gave her the hit. Half a hit. A fraction of a hit. Just enough that the bugs dropped off her flesh and she could pull herself out of the abyss, back to the safety of the edge.

“Where’s Min?” Banks dropped Viki’s arm and stepped aside. Viki stepped a little closer to the edge. She pushed her way through the women and into the doorway Min had been taken to.

The room had six beds. Four of them were empty. One had the sheet pulled up and over, like a shroud.

One had Min. Pink froth frosted her black painted lips. Her dark green eyeliner left trails where it ran and pooled in her ears.

“Min? Benni?” Viki fell to her knees next to the cot. The fingers on Min’s right hand were sticky and red. A ragged hole in her wrist was all that was left of the drug port. But the blood wasn’t pumping anymore. “No going back, say?”

“No going back.” Banks spoke from the doorway.

“Fuck you!” Viki reeled on the woman. “What the fuck did you do to her?”

“Me, say? I didn’t do anything to her. What did you do?”

“What is this skad? She’s dead. She’s fucking dead, say?”

“The ones who make it to Hagfire are already dead, benni.” Banks wrapped a strong arm around Viki’s shoulders and picked her up off the floor. The shockwave hit her before the heat as the drug fired into her veins. “Right now, it’s the only thing keeping you alive.”

“Why?” Viki could barely move her lips to form the word. She drifted away from the edge, floating above the abyss, invincible.

“Because desperate people make good soldiers.” Banks half-dragged, half-carried Viki back out to the main room. “And we are in desperate need of good soldiers.”

Banks spun Viki into the small, dark-skinned woman who had led Min to the infirmary. Viki blinked her eyes and wrapped her arms around the bundle of clothes the woman pressed to her chest. She watched herself from a distance, feeling full and empty.

“All-benni, girls,” Banks shouted. “Say hello to the new recruit.”

The women stomped their feet in unison and pounded her on the back as Viki float-walked to the back of the room, following her keeper.

“Hagfire!” They shouted when she made it out the other side. “Hagfire!”

“Hagfire,” Viki said, with them. The word fell from her lips and plummeted into the abyss.

NaNoWriMo: “The Hunger” UPDATE

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Since it’s now December 4th, I should probably give a final update on my 2nd attempt at NaNoWriMo and my project “The Hunger.”

Last year, for NaNo 2016, I managed to get just over 3000 words into my project before I gave up and decided that writing 1666 words a day was basically impossible. But I plowed ahead with my writing, joined some online writing groups, dove into flash fiction and short fiction, and continued to focus on honing my craft.

This year, encouraged by some fellow writers and emboldened by my development as a short fiction and flash fiction writer, I decided that maybe–just maybe–I could do this NaNo thing. 1666 words was still more than I was usually writing in a day. But I was also having days where I wrote 2-3K, and I thought I could balance it out in the end. 50,000 words in one month is huge, but I thought I might be able to do it.

NaNo 2017 started really strong for me, you can read some of my progress here (Part One, Part Two, Part Three). I had a couple of challenges that I didn’t plan for right off the starting mark–friends of ours were in a very serious car accident at the beginning of the month and it was very hard to focus on anything for a while (it still is some days). I pushed hard for the first two weeks and managed over 25K, and also was able to complete my third round of the NYC Flash Fiction Challenge. Then I hit a wall.

The wall was about 2/3 emotional exhaustion and 1/3 poor planning. What I discovered with my NaNo 2017 attempt is two fold. First, 1666 words a day is totally doable. In fact, I usually exceeded that goal if I was able to put my ass in the chair and turn my phone off for a could of hours. If I wanted to push myself even harder, pairing up with another writer for a series of short (half-hour) sprints could easily yield 2-3K in a mere 1.5 of actual writing time–it’s amazing what a little timer and good-natured competition can do for silencing self-doubt. The word count, for me was not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge was keeping it a daily habit, once you miss one day it snowballs pretty quickly and once you’re behind it’s easy to talk yourself into quitting.

The second thing I really learned with this attempt is that I NEED TO PLAN MORE! I’ve always been a pretty proud pantser, and I’ve resisted planning, outlining, etc. pretty hard over the years. And that works fine if you’re just weaving your way around, rewriting scenes, and editing as you go (like I did when I was writing The Timekeepers’ War) However, when you need to just plow forward and get your basic plotline down, it pays to stick to your outline! I missed a scene, and ended up writing a complete different story than I intended because of it. The good news is, I like my new version better. The bad news is, I had to go back and add scenes, kill a couple of characters, and rethink a lot of what I had originally written. And I stalled out. I couldn’t just ignore those issues and keep writing, knowing that I hadn’t set the stage for them. I don’t know if that is something I will ever be able to train myself to do–I hope I can–but that played a big part in my slow decline at the end of the month.

So I didn’t “win” NaNo 2017. But I’m still very glad that I did it, and I’m exceedingly happy with the half-novel I wrote in a mere 2.5 weeks. I’m going to continue with this project, and plan to self publish the results early next year. Thank you all for your support along the way. I’ll be getting back to my regular blogging schedule this week with reviews, thoughts, and flash fiction. Thanks again!

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2017

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One of the things I’ve always been leery of as a writer are paid writing competitions. It is hard to find competitions that are vetted by professionals and which offer something in return beyond “a chance” to win–whatever the actual prize may be, recognition, cash, publication. The return I’m talking about is that elusive and invaluable thing writers around the world are desperately seeking: FEEDBACK.

When I first heard about the NYC Midnight Challenges, I was curious. The set up appeals to me, for sure. You receive your assignment and then have 48 hours to complete it, eliminating the sense I always have that to enter a competition you must slave over a piece for weeks or months, hire a professional editor, and finally submit your 50th draft. Hey, if it costs $50 to enter, you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, right?

The appeal of the limited time-frame for the NYC Challenges is that everyone has the same amount of time, limited ability to get outside help, and that you never know what you are going to have to write when you sign up. This evens the playing field, and also presents a different set of challenges from many competitions. Great. But what is even better is the guarantee that everyone will sit at least two challenges (in the Flash Fiction competition, other challenges have different structures) and that you will receive positive and constructive feedback on every round you complete.

So I took the plunge this year. My first ever paid writing competition. How did I do? Well, I’ll let you know when I finish. But I’m thrilled to announce that I have made it to Round 3 after placing first and third, respectively, in my group for the first two challenges. There were nearly 2500 participants for the Flash Fiction challenge this year, which is huge! Rounds 1 and 2 participants competed against 31 other people, each group received an assignment of Genre-Location-Object.

The scores from Rounds 1 and 2 were combined, and the top five participants from each group have moved on to Round 3. We have been assigned new, smaller groups (about 25 each, by my calculations) and each group has a new Genre-Location-Object assignment. Once we finish (yes, I’m supposed to be writing right now) and the results are in, the top four scoring participants from each group will move on to the 4th and final round. Yes, there are cash prizes for the top three in the final round. But by this point I will have completed at least three rounds, with three sets of feedback, and even if I don’t make it to the next round, I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. And I would have felt that way after the feedback on Rounds 1 and 2, too. Round 3 is a wonderful bonus!

But in case you’re curious, I thought I’d show you what my assignments, stories, and feedback have been so far just to give you an idea of what these challenges are like. Have a read and let me know what you think!

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Challenge 1: Genre- Action/Adventure, Location- a high-speed train, Object- a calendar

My submission: “Splitter” by S.C. Jensen

***A young girl travels through layers of time to stop a man whose existence is a threat to time itself. ***

It was wrong. All wrong. Ren spun the outer dial of her splitter, round and round and round and click!

 

“What are you playing with, child?” The passenger next to Ren smiled kindly down at her. He wasn’t supposed to see her. He never saw her. His voice, speaking to her, made her guts spin. She felt it the moment she slipped in beside him. Something was wrong in this lamina.

 

“Time.” Her voice came out like a tiny, broken thing. Ren liked to tell the truth, even when people didn’t understand her. But now she felt cold. Wrong answer.

 

“Oh?” The man studied her face for a moment, then dropped his eyes to the brassy disk in her hands. A glimmer of recognition flickered through the air toward her. The man’s hands trembled the way the hands on a pocket watch do when it needs to be wound, as if he wanted to reach out to her but was too tired.

 

He was going to die; everyone on the train was. Ren spun another dial on the splitter and checked the clock. Thirteen minutes, give or take. The train hurtled them toward their deaths. Round and round and round and click!

 

“A mechanical calendar.” His voice was all wound up. Tense. The splitter’s little internal mechanisms delicately ticked away the seconds. He watched her too closely. “What a fascinating piece of machinery.”

 

Ren didn’t want to think about what would happen once she was gone. Twisting, shrieking metal and twisted, shrieking bodies. It made her want to smother the clockwork heart of the splitter. She tried not to think too much about death. All of those lives, all of those souls fractured and split and sloughing off across infinite layers of time. Each one, spread thinner and thinner and thinner until it seemed they should simply cease to exist.

“Yes.” Ren spun the final dial and felt the splitter’s clockwork heart kick again. Maybe it would still work. Maybe she could still do it. “I collect them.”

 

“That’s an unusual hobby for a young lady,” he said.

 

The man was an anomaly. His iterations fluttered randomly throughout time, disrupting patterns and weakening the thresholds between lamina. It was her job to follow. To stop him. He never knew she was coming. He never saw her.

 

Ren watched a raindrop cut a jagged path across her window, one of many stacked upon one another like striations in ice. She imagined the raindrop’s path stretching out across time, limitless. Just like the train hurtled over the tracks, speeding, inevitably, toward the end, every lamina of time infinite and identical. Death upon death upon death. Ten more minutes.

 

“I’m not that young.”

 

“No.” The word dropped on her like a bucket of ice water. He knew. He knew she knew. Ren slipped the splitter inside her jacket, where it ticked away next to the throbbing, twisting muscle in her chest.

 

It had to happen. Now.

 

“Now!” Inexplicably, she heard the word burst from his mouth as she thought it. A passenger three rows ahead stood and turned.

 

It was him. The man, again.

 

She froze, her body all coiled up like a spring. To her left another passenger stood. Him. Him. Him. Impossible! There should never be more than one of any iteration in a single lamina.

 

Everything was wrong.

 

Ren launched herself over the man beside her—the first iteration—and into the aisle. He lurched behind her, his fingers grasping at the child’s body she wore. A woman screamed and Ren bolted.

 

From the back of the train car, two more dupes came toward her. Ren did something she had never done before. She drew the tiny pistol from the holster hidden in the fabric of her childish, flowered skirt. And she fired. Another flower, a great red one, bloomed on the closest man’s chest. One down.

 

The second dupe grabbed another passenger and backed up slowly. Ren wanted to hesitate; she wished she did. But it didn’t matter. They were all going to die, one way or another. Ren shot the passenger, and then she shot the second dupe. Now everyone was screaming.

 

Ren’s head snapped back and a hand plunged inside her jacket. The man’s thick fingers wrapped in her hair, tearing at her scalp. She twisted in his grasp. Her body was too small to fight him, but if she could just—

 

“Get off her!” The spine of a book cracked on top of the man’s skull and he dropped Ren in surprise. The woman from the seat behind cracked him again. “Get off, you pervert!”

 

Ren scrabbled back and kicked upward, driving her hard-heeled shoe into the man’s knee. His face curled up and he snarled, lunging at her again. Another passenger joined the woman’s assault. The man collapsed under the weight of them but his eyes followed Ren. She pushed herself back down the aisle, eyes locked on the man’s, and reached inside her jacket for the splitter.

 

“Don’t do it!” The man screamed and contorted himself beneath the pile of bodies. “Don’t!”

 

Another dupe crawled over the seats, skirting the mob, panicked eyes fixed on her. She had to act quickly.

 

“All of these people!” The man was crying now. “You’re a monster.”

 

Ren ran her fingers around the dials, not moving them but imagining their infinite possibility. She let the weight of the splitter drag her deeper into herself.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she flipped the switch.

 

Time stretched itself limitlessly. She could see each strata as its own unique layer. She felt them with her mind, corrugated ridges that tickled her brain like the tingle of static.

 

“No!” The man’s voice followed her, along with the final click of the splitter. She peeled herself out of the lamina, imagining she could feel the heat from the blast as the train ripped apart. Tears sprung up and stung her eyes.

 

Everything was right again.

Judges Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1499}  Loved this story, and it had great suspense, characters, and action. The decision she has to make has real stakes, especially after a passenger assists her. That “everything was right again” has great irony attached to it.  {1749}  Though I was a bit confused by your story, you created good action in your story.  The theme was unique and very clever.  {1793}  The ending is solid. Rem’s inner-conflict is a good tool to keep the suspense going.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1499}  Not exactly sure why this time was so different, why the man had more power/visibility than he had before. That part confused me a bit. Where did he get these additional powers?  {1749}  I wasn’t certain what Ren’s purpose was on the train.  Was she simply there to make sure the train exploded?  Were the “bad guys” really good guys trying to stop the train from blowing up?  It was a bit confusing. Also, I would suggest using a more common term than “lamina,” since the last thing you want to have the reader have to do is either gloss over it and have to stop and look up its meaning.  {1793}  The story might be improved with a quick explanation by Rem of why she is actually on the train. She might want to catch the dupe, and it might be revealed that she is the only one intending to crash the train, and trying to thwart any would-be heroes. A quick description, even a false one, might help to deepen the sense of conflict.

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Challenge 2: Genre – Fairy Tale, Location – a hot tub, Object – a pair of gloves

My submission: “Making Suds” by S.C. Jensen

***A soap-makers’ daughter takes on the family business when her parents become enchanted by a new baby. But she has some competition from a local river spirit, the Nixe.***

Once upon a time, when stories flowed like rivers and rivers were never what they seemed, there was a girl. Her name was Suds. It wasn’t her real name, but her parents were soap-makers and they thought themselves very clever.

 

They were also very sad. Suds’ parents longed for another child. In fact, the soap-makers whispered that they were cursed.

 

Suds knew that was nonsense. But that was the way of grown-ups, she thought, always wishing for more and forgetting what they’ve got.

 

 

Then, when Suds was twelve years old, her mother gave birth to a baby boy. Suds loved her brother. Everyone was very happy.

 

 

With her parents so distracted, Suds enjoyed her freedom. She roamed the woods outside their village, picked berries, snared rabbits, chased pheasants, and never once thought about making soap.

 

The weeks turned into months, and her parents’ infatuation with the new baby grew. The family needed money. But neither the mother nor the father could bear to leave the boy, not for a moment.

 

“Suds, we need you to go down to the river today,” her mother said one morning. She rocked the baby boy and cooed.

 

“For what?” Suds asked.

 

“You must leach the lye and make the soap,” her father explained. “Or soon we will starve.”

 

“Alone?”

 

“Your brother needs us,” her parents said. “We need you. Please go to the river today.”
Suds collected her tools and glared at the soap-makers.

 

“Don’t forget your gloves,” her mother said, looking at the baby. “And don’t talk to the Nixe.”

 

Down at the river, Suds built up a fire. She hauled the great iron tub up over the coals, filled it with water, and waited for the water to boil.

 

All the while, a creature watched her from the bank. Suds never looked directly at it. If she did, it was sure to start talking to her. River spirits loved to talk to children, especially children who were not with their parents. The thing crept closer. It smelled of rotting fish.

 

“What are you doing, child?”

 

Suds ignored the Nixe and stirred the water in the tub. She hummed quietly to herself and waited for the water to boil.

 

“Where are the grown ones, girl?”

 

Suds ignored the Nixe and watched the bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of the iron tub. She hummed quietly to herself and shovelled some ashes into the boiling water.

 

“Let me try, will you?”

 

At this, Suds looked up. The Nixe cocked its head. Milk-white eyes rolled in sockets of water-logged flesh. The fish smell was much worse up close. Suds knew better than to make a deal with a river spirit. But she longed to go exploring in the forest.

 

So Suds showed the Nixe how to keep the fire hot, boil the water, scoop the ashes, and skim the lye. And, most importantly, she showed the creature how to protect its delicate skin from burning with the heavy leather gloves. Soon, the creature was doing all the work for her.

 

“Delightful!” The spirit’s black tongue flashed out between its lips and it tugged at the gloves. “But this soap-making is giving me an appetite. Let us make a deal. I will do your work for you if you bring me something to eat.”

 

“I can fish,” Suds replied warily.

 

“I hate fish. All I eat is fish. Cold and slimy and flip-flopping,” the creature said. “No. Bring me a basket of berries from the forest and I will make fifty bars of soap.”

 

Fifty bars of soap was twice as many as Suds could make in a day. It was a deal worth taking. So she went off to gather berries and enjoy a day in the forest.

 

When she returned with the berries, the Nixe bared its sharp teeth in a smile. It gobbled the berries up, presented the pile of soaps, and leapt into the river with a splash. Suds carried the soaps home to her parents.

 

The soap-makers were thrilled. They hugged Suds and praised her and wondered how they had been blessed with such a wonderful daughter. Suds basked in their love and privately vowed to make a deal with the river spirit again tomorrow.

 

“I will make one hundred bars of soap for you,” the Nixe said the next morning. “If you bring three plump, juicy rabbits to fill my belly.”

 

Suds knew her snares were full and she looked forward to another day in the woods. She took that bargain, too. And when she returned, the Nixe had all of her soaps prepared. Again, she returned a hero to her parents. The next day the price was six pheasants. Suds thought herself very lucky.

 

But on the fourth day, the Nixe was harder to please.

 

“I am very, very hungry,” the river spirit said. “Today I need something more.”

 

“What is your price?” asked Suds.

 

“I will make your soaps for the rest of your life,” the Nixe fluttered its gills and sniffed. “But you must bring me the baby.”

 

“That,” said Suds, “is something I will not do.”

 

“You will,” said the Nixe. “Or I will have you instead. I am very, very hungry.”

 

“No!” Suds lunged at the Nixe, but it was a slippery creature and much wilier than the girl. The river spirit slipped right out of Suds arms and it shoved her into the hot tub of lye.

 

The Nixe knew just what to do. It pulled on the protective gloves, and stirred the pot. When Suds’ bones had dissolved, it made the broth into soap.

 

Then, the river spirit drew upon its glamour. It turned itself into a girl, very like Suds, but for the wet hem of its dress and the rumbling of its stomach. And it brought the bars of soap to the grateful mother and father.

 

And everyone lived happily ever after. Except, of course, the soap-makers.

Judges Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1651}  This has all of the elements of a classic fairytale. We gets a strong sense of Suds and that she would rather play in the forest than make soaps.  {1597}  I really enjoyed the classic fairy tale structure you used, complete with negligent parents and children who just want to wander in the woods. The kind of Faustian deal with the Nixe was fun to read about. The ending is dark but satisfying.  {1739}  In the beginning, Suds seems to be clever and her deals are basically made in the hopes of her parents’ adoration. The anticipation built as we work toward the payoff is well paced.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1651}  If a creature told you that it was going to eat you, why would you lunge for it? Instinctually, it does not make sense. I also didn’t understand the ending; why did the soapmakers not live happily ever after? For all they know, they still have their two children and all the soaps they can sell.  {1597}  One flag that was raised for me is that since the parents are aware of the Nixe and warn her not to speak to it, they would probably be suspicious when she comes home with 50 perfect soaps on her first day. It seems strange they wouldn’t have suspected and put a stop to it. Also, I wasn’t sure I believed Suds would be reluctant to sacrifice her baby brother. I’m not sure if you need that last line.  {1739}  If the Nixe has the ability to ‘glamour’ why hasn’t it done this already and worked its way into a home? Why would a river sprite be able to live in disguise as a human? Suds doesn’t display any love for her brother. Why wouldn’t she agree to hand him over?

Flash Fiction Friday: “Cthulhu Rising” by S.C. Jensen

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This week’s Flash Fiction Friday piece is one of my own. I dedicate this to the Old Ones. Enjoy!

“Cthulhu Rising” by S.C. Jensen

Jake grabbed a hot cup of piss flavoured coffee from the trendy little wharf kiosk and hit the strip. End-of-season stragglers wove their way between mostly closed-up shops looking for desperate vendors with bargain bin prices on their cheap tourist crap. Even the sky was depressed, grey and swollen with inky clots of cloud that threatened to spill their guts across the pier. End of bender clouds. Barf-the-wharf. Jake sipped his hot piss and wished he had a beer.

 

He kept half an eye out for the punter who’d called him in to this shit hole. Probably wearing a bad Hawaiian button down, unbuttoned. Khaki’s. Birkenstocks with socks. Fuck-off huge sunglasses or whatever. They were all the same. Burnouts. Skids. Paranoid schizophrenics. Why did they all shop at the same freakshow store? Freaks-R-Us. Buy one, get one tinfoil hats.

 

“Jake Radcliffe?” Gut punch. The voice pierced his eardrums like a siren. Siren song. His intestines coiled up like spaghetti on a fucking fork. Done for. “Sir?”

 

Of course she was gorgeous. The voice already told him that, all husky, like she’d been screaming all night. But he wasn’t prepared for how gorgeous. Black hair, black eyes, red lips, cheekbones that could cut a steak.

 

“Uh…  Jimmy Park?”

 

“No.” But she held her hand out brusquely. “Jimin Pak. I’m the one who called you.”

 

“My receptionist must have written it down wrong—”

 

“I spoke to you, Mr. Radcliffe.” She withdrew her hand with a whiplike snap.

 

“I was expecting someone less…”

 

“Female? Asian?” She stepped back. “Normal?””

 

“You’re like a china doll.” Jake tossed the piss coffee into the nearest bin and popped piece of wintergreen into his mouth. “If china dolls were sexy as fu—”

 

“I’m Korean, actually.” Pak walked ahead of him, her hips swaying with a metronomic precision. BOOM-boom-BOOM-boom. “And I’m not crazy. I hope you brought your notebook.”

 

“Voice notes.” Jake pulled out his smartphone.

 

“Whatever.” BOOM-boom. “This way to the beach.”

 

“I think you’re supposed to flex when you say that.”

 

“What?”

 

“Nevermind.” Jake took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. He’d been doing the show for five years and he’d never gotten a serious call. Sure, callers thought they were serious. But they were fucking nutjobs. Jimin Pak was not a nutjob. He could smell it. Or maybe it was the Gucci II. Addled the brain, the good stuff. “Are you the one who discovered the—”

 

“Yes.” Pak looked over her shoulder at him. Her hair crashed like a wave over her back; the sea breeze whipped up a froth of flyaways. Goddamn she was gorgeous. “I like to run on the beach in the mornings, before work.”

 

“What do you do, again?”

 

“I’m an attorney, Mr. Radcliffe.” She hopped off the pier and into the sand. She kicked off her hot pink flip flops and tossed her messenger bag to the ground. Jake watched the wet sand squish between her toes and felt weak in the knees. “It’s not far from here.”

 

Pak jogged up the beach, sand spraying behind her. She made it look easy. Jake’s lungs burned and he cursed the joint he’d hotboxed the black Subaru WRX with in the wharf parking lot. He straggled behind her, pretending not to be in a hurry. She was waiting for him when he finally pulled up, gasping.

 

“It’s between those rocks.” She balanced delicately atop a barnacled boulder and pointed into the seaweedy tidepools beyond. “You’ll see it.”

 

Jake did see it. A roiling mass of purple tentacles, too may for an octopus or squid. Too huge to be either, too. The great, suckerless limbs writhed and curled in the low-tide froth, the bloated body swelled with sea-air. The stink was otherworldly.

 

“And you think this is—” Jake didn’t want to put words in the woman’s mouth. The crazies always had plenty of their own. Not that he thought she was a crazy. This thing was real, whatever it was.

 

“A mystery, Jake Radcliffe.” Jimin Pak looked at him with eyes like black holes. “As in, Jake Radcliffe’s Mysteries: Unravelled. That’s why I called you.”

 

Jake filmed the monstrosity with is smartphone, making pointless voice notes just to sound like he knew what he was doing. Inside he was stewing. This was real. This was real as fuck. He needed a crew here, ASAP. This might be his big break into real journalism.

 

“I’ll be right back,” he said. No more myth-busting for Jake Radcliffe. This was scientific shit. Breaking. “I need to call some people.”

 

Jimin Pak watched him stagger up the beach. A great purple tentacle coiled around her calf and brushed her thigh. “Soon, Master. The time of the Old Ones is nigh.”

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13 Tales of Ghost, Ghouls, and Human Horrors

13 Tales of Ghost, Ghouls, and Human Horrors

Welcome to the first ever Halloween Short Story collection on Sarah Does Sci-Fi! I’ve gathered some ghastly tales from some of my favourite new and upcoming writers from around the world. Please give these a read, and be sure to “like” and “follow” the writers that speak to you!

Now, because there are so many stories I’m going to try something a little different. I’ll post an excerpt here with a link to the full story, so you can comment on each one separately. And please do comment! We writers love feedback…

Here goes!

“The City of the Dead” by David Brennan

Whispers.

They began in the schoolyard, scattering across games of Kick-the-Can like the wind through Autumn leaves. Friends told friends, who conspired with brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbours. One subject lingered as thick as the industrial smog drifting from the chimney stacks of the shipyards. By lunch, most of the school whispered tales of a monster. >> Click to read more >>

“Bone Cake” by Wendy Moore

“She’s still not speaking, you know,” said Merle, her voice raised over the grinding of the food mill.

“Who?”

“The little girl. She hasn’t said a word since last Tuesday, Bart.”

“I’m not surprised. Her whole family was murdered and she saw it happen.” Bart shook his head and pursed his lips, his razor sharp knife beating a tattoo on the chopping board. >> Click to read more. >>


“Keep it Short” by Chris Reynolds

The path led through the abandoned carnival. Despite the cliché, the place was nothing more than a sad marker of the past. Everyone in the small party knew the place intimately- they remembered it from their childhood, if nothing else. The older ones had been back with their own children as well, reliving the memories. All of us, however, had also left something behind.

Perhaps carnival was the wrong word. This one was more a permanent attraction, sort of a ‘home base’ for the portable rides. Not quite a theme park, but not a transient camp of tents and caravans. The pathways between the rusting hulks of rides were gravel, with strips of concrete or asphalt decaying here and there. >> Click to read more.>>

“The Haunted Oak” by Harvey L. Covey, Jr.

The great oak bent its crown against the oncoming weather. A late-autumn quarter moon, wearing a wisp of dark cloud around its waist cast a baleful glare on the old tree as the wind whistled through its nearly bare boughs. The leaves that were left were carelessly flung away to litter the ground below. The northwestern gale carried the promise of rain and a chilling hint of an early winter to come.

We were out alone, Mae and I. She was new in town but somehow knew her way around as easily as any other local. Her ebony eyes, silky raven hair and mocha skin had drawn my attention the first day I laid eyes on her. Her perfume fogged my mind and the music of her voice stole my heart. I wasted no time in introducing myself and asking her to the Harvest Moon dance. It never occurred to me that no one else ever spoke to her. >>Click to read more.>>

“La India” by Sera Taíno

Today, my aunt tried to convince me that I had a guardian spirit.

“She’s an India with long, black hair. Brown eyes. Dark skin…”

Mami?” I asked, my usual skepticism shattering as if I had ripped the string holding the rosary beads together.

“Your mother? No, no. Not her. Nydia doesn’t follow you anymore.” She pursed her lips around the yellow cigarette filter, shaking her head as she inhaled. When she spoke, smoke slithered from her nose and lips. “She only appears in my dreams now.”  >>Click to read more.>>

“A Just World” by Darren deToni

“Has my driver been in touch?” said Neame, propping up the far-right corner of the Buffett Bar.

It was the Playman Club of London’s annual Halloween party and the night’s festivities were beginning to bubble. Playgirls in black and orange wandered in twos, and the sound of an 80s horror soundtrack mingled with the chatter of the early birds. Sir Rex Neame was making a call whilst checking himself in the mirror, screwed to the wall behind a row of optics.

“What was that? He’s not interested? Get him here now and make sure that piece of,” Neame checked around him and then continued in a lowered tone, “filth doesn’t kick up a fuss outside… 10 minutes is good, and make sure he has a drink. Goodbye.” >>Click to read more. WARNING: This story contains graphic sexual content that may be disturbing to some readers.>>

“Made for Each Other” by AlienRedQueen

Marisol stared at the dirty plate and single set of flatware in the sink. Yesterday had been Jerry and her first anniversary, one year married after a whirlwind six month romance. Her friends said they made a perfect couple, no doubt secretly cattily dismayed by the brevity of the courtship. Her mother was ecstatic, no doubt secretly relieved of the fear of having her only daughter turn into a lonely old spinster because she was too busy wasting her youth on a pesky career to find a man. Marisol was happy.

Yet while she couldn’t exactly say the honeymoon was over, that plate grated on her nerves. She had made Jerry an elaborate and romantic dinner the evening before, complete with candles and a cheap bottle of wine she’d picked up on a last minute’s inspiration, from the convenience store down the street. Jerry hadn’t drunk any of it, but he seemed pleased enough with his meal, and afterward, she had cleaned up, done the dishes, and they cuddled on the sofa for a bit. Then a quickie, and off to bed. Thank you, ma’am. >>Click to read more.>>

“Neighbourhood Soiree” by Bobby Salomon
He has a phone – with a cord. I’m glad he has one. Some would say it’s old-fashioned. But I like it. Of course a cellular phone is a phone too but they’re so impersonal. There is only air between and no cord to connect you to the other. You’d have to shove it down someone’s throat before you get that same kind of connection. But that’d take so long. With a cord, it’s different, you can feel it. I can feel it right now.

I can feel the pulse of his heart beat through the cord. I pull it tighter around his neck. The cord makes a noise, it’s under great tension. That’s the great thing, they don’t snap, I do.

A sound escapes his throat, it sounds like a rubber chicken toy for dogs. It makes me smile. I like dogs.

“Shhh. Shhh.” I whisper, “Let it go, Joseph. Let it go.”  I can hear his nails scrape over the cheap Ikea carpet on the floor. He’s still struggling to live. >>Click to read more.>>

“Deja Vu” by Nerisha Kemraj

“Objective completed. Well done, Ann Smith”

My hands reach the back of my throbbing neck, instinctively. Where did that voice come from? I squint, there’s no one else around. My nostrils burn with the smell of iron from my wet hands, i look to find them covered in crimson liquid – blood. My chest constricts and I’m unable to breathe. The bright lights of the kitchen add to my headache.

Startled by the oven-bell, I stumble over something, while glancing blinking numbers on the oven clock. It is 18:30. Raising myself from the floor I realise with horror it’s mom’s lifeless body sprawled across the floor. A blood-curdling scream fills the air and I slump to the ground falling into the pool of blood resulting from her stab wounds. >>Click to read more.>>

“QUENCHED” by Aliya Jabrailova

“What’re you looking at?” Luc embraces me from the back.

I want to tell him. Tell him and drink the shock from his eyes.

“The Fort. I saw a monkey on its wall yesterday.”

Un singe? Pas possible! There’re no monkeys here, ma chérie!”

He plants hot, half-sucking kisses on the nape of my neck, enveloping me in a cloud of Chanel Egoiste. The perfume resists weekly dry-cleanings. Luc’s skin succumbed to it, as though his mother fed it to him through umbilical cord in her womb.

I crave another smell altogether, not the one suckled with my mother’s milk. It’s the kind that takes root and sprawls inside of a corrupted mind. It’s the kind that lies atop your chest when you sleep at night.

My eyes glued to the rock structure jutting into the water, I reach for his groin.

The Tower. He must be there. >>Click to read more.>>

“Singed” by S.C. Jensen

“I don’t think we should go in.” Din’s feet scrabbled for purchase on the sandy embankment. He dropped to his belly and pulled the scrubby brush aside, squinting at the ruins. The cool, white light of the moon kissed the edges of the ancient plaster buildings. The rest of the city was cloaked in darkness. Sunken roofs, like gaping mouths, waited to swallow the night.

“Do you think this is it?” The priestess, Mare, crouched low against the bank. Her bare toes clung to the exposed roots as she flattened herself beside Din.

“Do I dare hope not?” Din’s voice was like a gnat in the dark; Mare swatted at him. She heaved herself onto the grassy ledge and ran her thumbs under the straps of her travel bag. Mare held out her hand. Din sucked in through his teeth with a dry hiss, but he took it. He always would.

“They are cursed.” Din stared at the dirty white walls with dread in his belly. “The Rasha was right about that.” >>Click to read more.>>

“To Catch a Crow” by S.C. Jensen

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Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday!

This is a new feature I’m experimenting with to encourage readers to get into flash and short fiction. I’ll be using Flash Fiction Friday to share some of my own short stories, and also to highlight the writing of other authors, new and established, who are looking to expand their audience. If you are a reader, please leave feedback! If you are an author, please contact me if you have a piece of flash (under 1000 words) or short (under 2500 words) fiction you’d like to see on “Sarah Does Sci-Fi.”

“To Catch a Crow” by S.C. Jensen
Genre: Magical Realism

Ruth peers at the crows with her eyes half-closed. They land on the grass at the edge of the yard, sharp black eyes watching. Three of them. It’s probably a coincidence. Still, Ruth’s flesh prickles. She wishes she’d brought a coverup. Not that she could put it on now; she’s pretending to be asleep.

You can’t trick a crow. But she continues to lay in wait. She has to. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s a fool’s errand.

Fishing line bites into her flesh; the connection between Ruth and her wedding ring is nearly invisible. The strand glistens in the sunlight, like spider silk. The thin golden band glitters enticingly on the garden path. Crows love shiny things.

I don’t know why I need to catch the damned thing myself. But Madame Esme had been adamant on that point.

“Three feathers,” she had said, crow’s feet twitching. “Plucked, not found. Not bought.”

For strong magic the feathers must be fresh. And for the strongest magic the caster has to pluck them. Madame knows what she knows; Ruth isn’t going to argue. This is an exorcism, after all. She doesn’t want to muck it up.

But I don’t have to like it. She glares at the crows through the twitchy black legs of her false eyelashes.

The big one keeps his body sideways, puffs up his chest. Typical. Ruth shifts her weight on the patio lounger. The crow hops back and forth like a boxer, glittering eyes focussed on her. She peels an ass cheek off the vinyl mesh and curses the cheapskate husband who refused to spring for the fabric covers. The big crow moves in closer.

That was the first one. The cheapskate. They had been married for ten years when Ruth started adding arsenic to his coffee.

Husband number two was a bore and insufferably needy. He didn’t last three years.

It was husband number three who gave her trouble. Mr. Big Britches. He was immense and loud and had an uncanny tolerance for ingesting household cleaning products. And now that he’s finally kicked off, the fat bastard is haunting her. Slamming doors and leaving mud everywhere, just like the oaf did when he was alive. The morning Ruth walked into the open cutlery drawer she knew exactly what was happening. Mr. Big Britches is lingering.

In my own house! Ruth grinds her teeth silently. The nerve. That’s when the crows started hanging about, too. Ruth can’t help but feel it is connected. She looks forward to plucking a few tail feathers, actually. Madame Esme’s task might be cathartic in more ways than one.

The big crow struts casually up the garden path, pretending not to look at the ring. His cronies hop in unison at his flanks. Ruth tightens her grip on the fishing line. Her pale goosefleshy limbs tense. She doesn’t move. Like one of the great white garden spiders that hang between the lilies, she waits. The lounger creaks.

Then the big crow lunges.

“Gotcha!” Ruth flies to her feet and yanks the fishing line. The crow leaps forward as she pulls and the line goes slack. The ring glitters in his beak. Ruth scrambles with her trap, hand over hand. This isn’t going to work.

“Caw!” says one of the cronies. “Caw! Caw!”

“Oh, stuff it!” The big crow still has the ring. But unless he swallows the cursed thing she’s not going to be able to reel him in. Stupid!

“Crrrrrrraaawk!”

Ruth drops the line and picks up the nearest object at hand. She hurls a bottle of suntan lotion at the big bird. He watches it sail past and land in the lilies, his beady little eyes twinkling.

“Sod off then, you mongrels!”

The big crow flies a victory lap around the garden, ring glinting in the sun. The fishing line trails behind him. He swoops toward her. Ruth makes a last ditch grab for her thread. But the cronies are ready.

“Crrrrraaaaaaaawk!” The two smaller crows swoop and dive, claws out, black beaks flashing. “Caaaaawwrr!”

“Oh!” Ruth stumbles backward. The lounger is waiting. With an enormous shriek the maligned patio chair wraps its metal limbs around her. The cronies cackle.

The big crow drops to the grass. He holds his wings out from his body and sidles toward her like a gunslinger. He dares her to draw. He stops just out of her reach, the ring held tightly in his beak. Ruth pats the grass desperately, but there is nothing left to throw.

“Fine,” Ruth says. I should have poisoned the feeders. “You just stay off my side of the bed, Mr. Big Britches.”

 

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