As some of you may know, my short story “The Will of the Sky” was published on Story Embers today! Story Embers is an incredible website, and I was so honored to receive second place in their short story contest this year. Finally, it has been shared with the world! (You should also check out Kate Flournoy’s “Ella,” which won first place. It’s well worth the heartbreak. Go New Wessex!)
“The Will of the Sky” is a desert fantasy about a man from an honor-shame culture who has been shamed by his son and wrestles with whether to forgive or exile him. It deals with the complicated nature of duty and family, honor and love. I hope you enjoy it.
So, in honor of that win, I decided to make my third flash fiction contest desert-themed. Choosing winners is always so hard because of how many incredible stories I receive. I would recommend you check out all the entries, winners or not.
Here are the Instagram posts:
Here are the Facebook posts:
This time, I had the honor of judging the contest alongside the lovely Shaina Merrick!
Shaina Merrick spins her web of stories from the Western Side of the Rockies. The mountains surrounding her show up in one way or another in many of her stories. Her favorite part of writing is the first blush of a story begging to be written. The germ of an idea carries her through the rest of the draft, and all the way through the editing process. As well as a healthy amount of chocolate and hiding in a cave of pillows with a good book. Books are the reason she began to write in the first place, the stories written down on paper whispered of the stories she could write, if she ever put the book down long enough to start them. The stories that inspire her the most are written by Maggie Steifvater, N.D. Wilson, and Jeanne Birdsall. If she could craft stories that are even half as compelling as those, life would be perfect.
I met Shaina at Realm Makers this year, and we became fast friends, holding deep conversations and giving lots of hugs. Having her help with the contest was not only fun but also helped me choose the winners! I’ll be switching off judges every month (though there will most likely be repeat judges over the months). If you’re interested in helping me judge, let me know!
Also, I hope you guys enjoyed the Facebook contest. I think it did decently well, so I plan to keep the Facebook contest running for at least another month to gauge its sustainability. As always, please let me know if there is anything I can do to better my contests. I want to make them the best they can be.
So, without further ado, here are the prompts and their esteemed winners!
I love this picture. It’s bursting with stories. Apparently others agree because a ton of people found different meanings for it! Also, I just adore dragons. (Fun fact: I also collect dragon items like puzzles and figurines. I think I have a bit of an obsession.)
Now for the winners!
The tormenting heat of the sun beats against the barren kingdom. Thin gusts of wind sweep over the sand of ancient stones, bones of the dead peeking into sulfurous air. The faint thrust of his leathery wings and the shifting of his every bone echoes over the muteness of the ghosts. Slit eyes bore into the souls of every dark crevice, ripping exotic shadows of the past into the foreboding silence of the present. For in the heart of the reapers’ kingdom, memories of life bow to the carcass of death.~ Kaylee Clay
What a beautifully written entry. Kaylee Clay (@kk_the_bookdragon) portrays a fascinating, dark world—particularly appropriate since Halloween is fast approaching—that makes me want to know more. Ghosts? Sulfur? Reapers? I’m hooked!
It had been just another noise in the desert, probably a creature dying in unfamiliar, hostile surroundings. But after the bone beast had flown over, no one could unhear that desperate, aching sound. It echoed in the mind, raising memories of sorrows and lost dreams, like spectres called from the beyond. So the towns fled to the deep subterranean caverns in an attempt to dampen the cries and to bury themselves from hauntings created in their heads.
Only little Keili understood the cry, understood why the beast screamed as it flew. It wanted to die but couldn’t.~ Ariel Jackson
I love Ariel Jackson’s take on this story with the bone beast who wants to die but can’t. It breaks my heart. And I found it so interesting how the people ran from the creature’s pain, trying to pretend it didn’t exist. I think we all do that sometimes—pretend like we don’t see other’s pain so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable. I don’t know if that was an intended reading, but that’s what I saw in the story, and it made me think more deeply.
Thanks for entering, Ariel! I look forward to seeing more of your writing!
Also, do you all remember Coryn from “The Wooded Sea” (one of my favorite short stories I’ve ever written)? Remember how I said he has his own short story? Well, Ariel’s story made me think of that because he, too, wants to die but can’t. “The Day Water Became Wood” addresses suicide and just how far someone will go to get what they want. (I hope to post it soon, but it needs some editing.)
Okay, back to the contest!
This prompt was special. In September, I connected with the creator of Purple Dragon Prompts, Kayleigh Gallagher (@so_many_ocs), on Instagram. (You may remember that I used her prompts for “Endellion,” unofficially “Shadow Wolf,” and “One Way.”) Well, I asked if she would partner with me for this contest and create a desert-themed prompt, and she did! It’s actually exclusively for my contest, so you can only find it on my contest posts.
Here are the winners of the second prompt.
“It’s the center of the universe,” the sage had whispered to me, as he indicated a tattered map of the desert.
Not the literal center, of course. The gravity at the center of one galaxy would instantly crush my frail, mortal body.
Then again, the villagers in this area didn’t understand gravity. They didn’t even understand what it truly was: the place where all worlds converged. From there, I could go anywhere. Find anyone. Find HER.
“It’s the center of the universe,” he had said.
“Perhaps,” I whisper, with a strained, hopeful smile, “it can find the center of mine.”~ Carrie-Anne Thomas
I loved all of Carrie-Anne’s (@carrie_anne.thomas) entries for this contest but especially this one. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful, beautiful and sad, depressing and uplifting at once. I truly, sincerely hope he finds her, whoever she may be.
Plus, I loved the scientific aspect of the prompt! Would I have thought about the gravity of the center of a universe crushing people? Absolutely not. And I’m all for multiple worlds!
She could see nothing.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. There was dust. There was wind.
There was more dust.
Senra clutched the gauzy veil closer, her parched breathing shallow through the thin material.
Somewhere, the green lands still existed. Water and grass and men with glittering swords and greedy eyes.
She turned her back to the wind. A slight veiled figure clutched their cave entrance. “M-mother?”
Senra wrapped her daughter in an embrace. “You’re safe here.”
“Hush.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair. /You’re the center of everything. And I won’t let them touch you./~ Hope Ann
As for her story, the family relationship was so raw and vivid. I could sense Senra’s deep love for her daughter, and my heart hurt at the thought of what she might be protecting her daughter from. I dearly, truly hope they are safe and happy in this quiet, harsh desert. Awesome story, Hope.
This prompt actually inspired another short story I have yet to post. (I’m thinking about submitting it to contests; otherwise, I would post it ASAP.) Though my mind interpreted the picture as a dragon skeleton, others saw it differently, and I love what they came up with!
As always, the winners:
Some say it means dire things for any who walk beneath its shadow.
Some say that signs can be read in the cracks of its sun-brittled bones.
Some say it is a gateway to the spirit lands.
But it is none of these; only the lonely remains of a great earth-shaker who lay down and died before my father’s fathers were born. I have seen more like it, in the clefts of the great mountains, and fed them with my hands. Their lips are gentle.
So I listen to the foreigner ramble on and on beside me, and I smile.~ Verity A. Buchanan
Verity A. Buchanan (@verityb.writes) created a vivid story with a world I want to see more of. I could imagine the earth-shakers, though my interpretation of them is probably different than another’s interpretation, and that’s awesome! I could feel their gentle lips brushing my hands as they ate the food that was offered. And the writing was just fantastic!
“Yo yo, gangsta.”
“Been a few hundred years. Felt a breeze lately?”
“Nah, this sand hasn’t moved in weeks.”
“You can still see?”
“Sure. Tell me what’s over the horizon, then.”
“An old man.”
“Don’t scoff. I see an old man walking in the lightning.”
“Sure, that checks out.”
“Don’t believe me, then.”
“… What else is happening?”
“The bones are shaking off the sand.”
“What about us?”
“We’ll fly again. No more stone birds perched on an old man’s spine.”~ Hannah Brown
Not only was Hannah Brown’s answer hilarious, but it also had so much meaning to it. Those familiar with the Bible may recognize at the very least an allusion to Ezekiel 37. Though it wasn’t directly based on the Bible story, the fact that I read it as such made me see the familiar story in a new light from the bones’ eyes. The combination of humor, dialect, and power made this story a win!
Endings and Such
I hope that you enjoyed the contest as much as I did and that you choose to participate in the next one! The plan is to start the contest early November, most likely the 6th, so be on the lookout for that. I know it’ll be NaNoWriMo, which could complicate things, but I hope you are able to make time for the contest anyway.
Want to see a man wrestle with his honor, his duty to his tribe, and his love for his son? Go check out “The Will of the Sky”!
Did you like the story and/or the contest entries? Do you have a suggestion for my contests? Let me know in the comments!