Three writers enter...but only one can move on!
You thought the voting was difficult before? It's time to take it up a notch. Winners from the previous three weeks of preliminary bouts have again been randomly matched, this time in groups of three, to do battle against different opponents using the same writing sample from their first round. We will host five of these cage bouts this week (M-F).
Here's how it works. Writing samples from three different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a stand alone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization. The two writing samples for each bout will be randomly matched and step into the ring for a chance to find out what they're made of.
The winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader. Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below. Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. If you haven't already done so in a previous round, it is customary to leave a brief critique of all the pieces. You see, the comments are where the true value of this contest makes itself known. Not only do the contestants gain valuable insight about their work from those remarks, but everybody can benefit from how each piece is received and what works...and what doesn't. Please remember to remain respectful with your comments. If you see an opportunity for improvement, make it known in the most positive way possible.
How do you choose a winner? What criteria should be used? The method by which you determine who to vote for is entirely up to you. Which one resonates with you the most? Which one makes you want to read more? Which one demonstrates a total command of the English language and how it can be used to elicit emotion or paint a mental picture you can't stop staring at. There is no hard and fast way rules for determining a winner -- and that's exactly what the publishing world is like. But today you get to decide. At stake is a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference and bragging rights.
Your voting takes on an added significance this week as not only will the five winners move onto to the next round, the submission that does not win their bout but tally's the most votes among the losers will move forward as a wildcard selection as well.
It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.
Writer #1 is representing the Science Fiction genre with 500 words. Please give a warm welcome to Helveticaw.
Lucy watched Fritz in the bathroom mirror, while she washed her hands with the unscented soap he'd provided. He sat on the bed, hands folded, perfectly still in his grey suit, neatly buttoned and arranged. He'd arrived, as usual, thirty minutes before the time they'd agreed upon.
When he was perfectly still, he could pass for human.
Lucy checked for blemishes. She had no new ones, but her upper lip still bore the red mark where her most recent cold sore had blossomed, scabbed over, and healed. Nothing she could do to hide that: there was no makeup any more. She pinched her cheeks to put some colour in them, and made sure that her eyebrows didn't need plucking. A few grey witch hairs stuck out against her auburn bob. There was a time when she would have removed them. No matter. The audience for her lecture on human romantic love (the text: Pride and Prejudice) would be far more concerned with her scent, than her appearance.
She risked another glance at Fritz. He gazed into the middle distance, apparently absorbed in the task of waiting, or maybe off in the collective mindspace of his people. She reached for the deodorant she'd kept hidden under a towel--a plain white plastic tube, the original label gone. There was only a hand-lettered sticker that said "Ladies." She removed the cap.
A grey blur passed behind her in the mirror, and Fritz stood beside her.
"You can't use that," he said, taking it from her and capping it. "The scent harms us."
As he spoke, Fritz's face drooped on the right side, as if he were having a stroke. A ripple ran under the skin, restoring his appearance. As she'd done many times before, Lucy tried to read the underlying structure beneath Fritz's human drag. Insect? Reptile? Tentacle monster?
Whatever was under there, it was sensitive to all kinds of things, especially artificial scents. She'd traded three oranges for that tube of deodorant. As much as she longed to wear it, to feel clean for longer than it took her to break a sweat, she'd never meant to keep it.
"What does it do to you?" she asked. Fritz's reactions to stimuli were complex and unpredictable.
"It's like an electric shock," he said. The corner of his mouth slid down. "I told you before, if you need something, I will bring it."
Her skin crawled. Standing this close to Fritz always made her want to run or fight, the need for violent movement rising up like a fierce song from deep within. Instead, what happened was a kind of paralysis. Her limbs grew stiff, her knees locked, and she struggled to speak. It wasn't just her: the freeze was a known visceral response to Fritz's people.
The deodorant was strategic. She'd hoped that it would knock out his system, giving her a brief window to unfreeze, long enough to make a request.
"I do need something."
"Yes?" His cheek rippled.
Writer #2 represents the xYA Contemporary genre with 496 words. Please welcome back into the arena Chun-Li.
As Mrs. Pan left, my mother leaned over and whispered, “Hanwei isn’t good enough for you, Mei. He went to Northeastern! And, I heard from Mrs. Tian who heard from Mrs. Ahn—Remember Mrs. Ahn? Her son went to Princeton—that after Hanwei graduated, he threw his college degree away to pursue music. I bet you his nose is tiny—a nub. He’s now begging for money in exchange for guitar lessons.”
“You mean, he’s teaching music? Like many other normal people?”
“Not normal. Last resort. Soon, he’ll be just like Ying-Na.”
Poor Ying-Na. The Asian-American cautionary tale who chose happiness over honoring her parents and was cut off financially and emotionally. Now, she was the butt of every rumor, all created to support other parents’ warnings. Ying-Na decided to major in English and now is homeless. Ying-Na had an American boyfriend and he stole all her things. Ying-Na had one sip of alcohol in college and now she’s in a mental institution. And for my mother, Ying-Na veered off her parents’ career track and now takes off her clothes for money.
“I’m so glad you will be a doc-tor,” my mother continued, her pride overemphasizing each syllable in doctor. “Doctors always have a job. Never have to worry. So stable, so secure. And so respectable. That’s why we so happy to pay your tuition.”
I ducked my head in fear of her seeing the truth in my eyes—that bacteria-ridden patients made my skin crawl and biology put me to sleep. But unless I wanted to be Ying-Na 2.0, I didn’t have a choice.
The waiter set my father’s plum smoothie and my mother’s soy milk on the table along with three Wet-Naps which my mother immediately swept into her purse. We came so often we barely had to order. Before he could hand me my Diet Coke, my mother waved it away with a bony hand.
“She’ll have a papaya smoothie,” she told him, then poked my breast. “These are much too small, like mosquito bites.”
Because of a papaya-eating aboriginal village that churned out big-breasted women, my mother had been forcing mushy pink fruit down my throat since I hit puberty. Spoiler: it didn’t work.
Her inspection traveled to my waist, which she pinched. “You’re getting fat.”
My size six frame would never be good enough for my shallow mother, who wished I was a classic Chinese beauty that would “fall over when the wind blows.” I had missed the Asian skinny gene and instead inherited from my dad, whose college nickname was Lu Pang, or Fat Lu. I preferred not to look like a chopstick, but I was in the minority.
“Have you even been exercising?”
It had to be a trap. If I admitted how much time I’d spent dancing, she’d scold me for not studying enough. I pressed my lips into a hard line, choosing silence.
“You need to be careful, Mei. How will you ever get a man?”
Our third and final writer represents the YA Historical genre with 500 words. Please also welcome back into the arena Eva.
“Take this corner,” Bahadur balanced a fraying blanket in one hand while gripping hammer and nails in the other. “Quickly, hold tight Mariam jan. The daylight for maghrib prayer is fading fast.”
“I’m trying.” Mariam scrambled to his side. On tiptoes, arms outstretched, she pressed the blanket to the window in their tiny living room. Three taps and the blanket was secured. A flicker of movement caused Mariam to clasp her hands together and squeal.
She lifted a corner of blanket and pointed to a dragonfly.
Bahadur clicked his tongue and tugged her from the window. Being exposed to the outside made him nervous. “How many times do I have to—”
Mariam twisted from his grip. “Remember what Baba jan said, about the dragonflies?” She hopped up and down. “Remember, brother. You have to. Remember what they are?” Mariam darted to the window, mesmerized by the bug.
“The souls of the dead,” Bahadur muttered. Old Uzbek lore—a childish tale fifteen-year-old Bahadur no longer believed. He opened his mouth to shame his sister for entertaining nonsense, but the words faded the moment her bright grey eyes turned to meet his.
“Who do you think it is this time?”
Her question seeped into the quiet spaces of their home, igniting memories Bahadur promised to bury.
Mariam’s breath fogged the glass; she waited for an answer. Bahadur swallowed the bitterness of longing, shrugged away the tightness of loss in his chest.
“We both know where Mammy is, Mariam jan. Now please. Come say your prayers.”
Mariam’s shoulders slumped as she drew away from their makeshift curtain. Regret drowned Bahadur’s heart, but he knew it was best to banish these fantastical thoughts—make her reality easier to bear.
The consequences of performing their daily prayers were tremendous. One utterance of an Allahu akbar, God is great, and Bahadur’s fate was sealed. In 1934, no one in the town of Samarkand was safe from the Communists. Not him, not Mariam—even Baba knelt at the mercy of the Soviets.
He watched Mariam grasp for her worn white hijab—the last present she received from her mother. Bahadur remembered the grin on Mammy’s face, the excitement of laying the headscarf lightly on Mariam’s shoulders, kissing her forehead. The stray bullet that hummed its song through the yard. Mariam’s scream had pierced the air as Bahadur rushed to his mother’s side, blood pooling beneath his fingers.
“Never leave her,” she had begged.
“I-I didn’t see it. Mammy, please. Baba will come.” He had shouted at Mariam to fetch their father before clinging to his mother’s chest, listening for the steady whoosh of life passing through her lips.
“Promise,” she had rasped.
“I promise, I swear.”
Bahadur had waited for the whoosh to come next, but it never did. Later that night, after completing their prayers, Bahadur settled on the ground next to Mariam and watched her sleep. He counted the rise and fall of her small chest, listened for the steady whoosh.
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