- Prompt: Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt above. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.
Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Your Story #111.”
Include your name, phone number, and mailing address. No attachments, please. Paste your submission directly into the body of the email. Entries without a name or mailing address will be disqualified.
Unfortunately, we cannot respond to every entry we receive, due to volume. No confirmation emails will be sent out to confirm receipt of submission. But be assured all submissions received before entry deadline are considered carefully. Official Rules
Entry Deadline: April 26, 2021
Out of nearly 200 entries, WD editors chose the following 5 finalists. Vote for your favorite story using the poll at the bottom of the page. The winning story will be published in the November/December 2021 issue of WD.
Sara spun and leapt in her new attic room. Her skirt twirled, brushing against her legs like gossamar wings. Soon the emptiness would be gone. The furniture would be brought upstairs: her mother’s old writing desk, the wrought iron bed, the tall mirror. She’d had to wait until she was 10 years old to have this magic space to herself. Her mother, Katia, had promised her that much. But now, once again, her mother had gone away leaving her to celebrate another birthday alone with her father. Still, she would mark this moment. The sun streamed in through the window and she smiled. Sara would leave it open tonight. The cool night air and silvery moonlight would dance on the walls. The very stars could join her.
* * *
Katia’s wings were battle-weary. Flying back to her haven through smoke and debris, she wondered who had survived. She could not fathom what she’d do if their sacred home was destroyed. The faeries had fought bravely but the demons were an ancient and angry force. Without Katia, their leader, the faeries had struggled and faltered.
Katia arrived at the watchtower as the sun began its ascent. The ancient parapet stone glistened with dew in the morning light. “Alana, Krystal!” She called to her sisters but only pale silence answered. She darted in and out, she flew around and up. The rising sun had sent the demons back to their lair but not before they had inflicted their damage. Much of the forest was burnt, the treehouses left smouldering. Katia had chased as many of the enemy as she could. Arrow after arrow had flown from her bow, the golden tips burning through the paper-thin grey skin of the wispy demons. But now, in the quiet after dawn, she found herself distressingly alone. No birdsong could be heard, even the wind held its breath.
She leaned against the rough-hewn wall, her small hand pressed flat against the cool granite. Slowly a gentle tapping came. The stone spoke to her softly.
* * *
“Oh Dad. Not another bedtime story. Tell me about Mum, please.”
“I am. You must remember, she’ll return when her work is done.”
Sara sighed. She threw herself back on her pillow, the excitement of her new room all but forgotten. Her father was lovingly forgetful and often vague. His good night stories repeated themselves. Her mother’s absence had broken him. She rolled over in her bed now; too old for childish stories, too young for bitter truths.
He patted her shoulder placing a tiny chisel in her hand.
“One day you’ll understand.”
Then he left, closing the door behind him.
Sara stared at the chisel. Again. Every night he gave it to her, then disappeared quietly to his room. Frustrated she began a whispering tap, tap, tap on the wall beside her bed. She vaguely remembered a poem her mother had taught her so many years before:
“Oh fairy when you doth return, when all has passed and all has burned,” she recited softly to herself.
On the other side of the wall Katia hesitated, the portal beckoning her. So easy to pass through, yet so hard to leave. She looked around. She could do nothing more here. Love called to her and she must respond. She tapped an answer in return.
Sara hesitated, wondering if she’d really heard a response. She tapped again and once more the wall spoke. Sara smiled. She understood. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to dream as she had when she was a child; of faeries and watchtowers, of flying and treehouses and winged Aunts. Soon her mother would return to her. Katia would come back and find her in this moonlit attic room. The stars would join them. Once home, Katia would sleep. She would heal and then, finally, she would take Sara with her.
Ten-year-old Tally Sullivan scurried to the attic window. A white minivan crept along the road below. Sarah's family had a van like that. God, I promise I'll keep my room clean if that van stops and Sarah gets out of it.
The minivan kept going.
“Nobody’s coming. You can stop looking every time you hear a car.” Alex sneaked up behind her and thumped her on the back of the head.
“Ow.” She punched him in the arm and rubbed the spot where he’d thumped. “What do you know about it? What do you know about anything?”
Tally slumped onto the dusty wooden floorboards and drew her knees to her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and stared at the tip of her big toe peeking out of the hole in her left rainbow-striped sock. “Why are you even up here?”
Tally hated that her twelve-year-old brother was infecting her private space with his boy germs. He always smelled like sweaty armpits.
“I have just as much right to be up here as you do running around in your dumb tutu like some sad ballerina with no friends.” Alex laughed.
“I have friends. They were just busy or something. Maybe even sick.” Tally stood, yanked off the tutu, and threw it across the attic.
“All of ‘em?”
Tally blinked back tears, and her nose burned. “Go away, would you, Alex?” She would not cry in front of the weasel.
“Don’t start blubbering. Look, nobody came to your party because their parents don’t want them around Momma and her spells.” He did that thing with his fingers she hated and rolled his eyes as he said spells.
“She just gets headaches. Bad ones.” Tally wasn’t a baby. She knew the things grown ups whispered about Momma, but that didn’t make them true. Grannie said people needed to mind their own business because Momma was heartsick after Daddy left.
Tally tried hard to understand heartsickness and not get mad at Momma for always making her feel like a weed in a flower garden. She even tried to understand Daddy’s leaving them for something different, something better. Maybe he’d felt like a weed too.
“Yeah, sure, Shrimp. Headaches.” Alex pointed to the stairwell. “She sent me to get you because she’s tired of waiting to cut the cake.”
* * *
The lopsided slab with one tilted red candle on it was a disaster. Tally gave a brave smile. Momma wasn’t a kitchen person. Hopefully, at least the store-bought chocolate frosting would taste good. Tally had wanted a pink unicorn cake from Crufts Foods. Momma said it cost too much, and how hard could it be to make one herself?
Momma leaned against the countertop in her faded yellow housecoat with a drink in her hand. “Make a wish and blow out the candle. I could only find one.” Her words slurred as she sucked on an ice cube.
Tally didn’t like wishes because they gave her hope, and hope was like a pair of pretty shoes you’d saved up for that gives you blisters. If wishes worked, wouldn’t she have a happy mother, friends at her party, and a unicorn cake in front of her? She wanted to scream.
Still, Grannie always told her to believe that something good was about to happen. Tally was unsure how to live in the present and the future at the same time, but if it made everyone feel better, she’d try. Maybe birthday wishes were stronger than crying-in-your-room wishes.
Instead of screaming, Tally pursed her lips and blew out the candle. She watched as one delicate curlicue of smoke rose up and disappeared.
Mama poured another drink.
Summer on the Prairie
Morning. Day two.
The weather had changed in the night. Watery sunshine lapped at the single windowpane as the low clouds began to lift. Beyond the glass, the surroundings she hadn’t seen for darkness began to reveal themselves. An overgrown yard, a weathered shed, a battered truck, an aging fence.
Summer evenings were long on the prairie. In the city, parents closely managed their offspring, arranging their activities so they hadn’t a moment to themselves. In the country, where the risks were natural and, therefore, somehow less threatening – or, at least, less intentional – ‘be home when the lights come on’ was more often the rule. The expectation that everything would be okay in the end carried the day.
So, when the after-supper game of hide and seek ranged as far as the old Jackson place, no one thought anything of it. In fact, no one but those involved in the game paid any attention.
Catarina was virtually undefeated. Once, when she’d forgotten about the neon scrunchie, she’d been the first discovered, but that was a mistake not repeated. This time, there were ten of them: nine hiders, one seeker. They had scattered as the countdown began. One hundred. Ninety-nine. Ninety-eight. Ninety-se…. The rushing of wind in her ears drowned out Ethan’s voice as she’d run into the twilight.
She hadn’t set out for Jackson’s, but her legs seemed to carry her there. Across the lawn gone to seed and down the gravel driveway, past the rusting Chevy and onto the porch. The door had been open or she wouldn’t have gone into the house. It wasn’t trespassing if the door was open.
But there wasn’t any furniture. In her imagination, the Jacksons had simply walked away and not come back. No one had told her about the scandal and the midnight movers. It’s called hide and seek, not stand-around-waiting-to-be-found and seek. Ethan would be in the twenties by now. She took the stairs two at a time. Twice.
The attic window faced the west. She’d waited and watched the foothills swallow the sun. A couple of times, she had seen Ethan’s bright white t-shirt flash in and out of view, closer on each occasion. Laughter dribbled over the windowsill. She sat, unconcerned with the effect of the dusty attic floor on the tulle skirt her mother thought would make her less of a tomboy. It got quiet. And dark.
And now she stood, bent low as the morning light struggled to breach the window. Looking for Ethan, who’d long since given up looking for her.
Fourteen Hours Old
I'm not like other women. I'm only fourteen hours old. I was drawn together last night, from moss and milk, from tree roots and bird wings, from petals and poems. She said she hadn't got me "quite right", that I was "not like the others". I haven't met them yet, at least, not in the flesh.
I inhabit an aviary with a single aperture drawing blinding light. My eyes adjusted painfully, but not my heart. I hear them calling. The others. We are all of us new this day, under the same sky. I’m drawn to them, call to them.
She returns. I feel her gaze upon my back, her hand upon the frame of the door, which remains locked to me. The rough wood softly rubbing at her fingertips as she observes me, her latest creation. Then without a word, she turns and leaves. Leaves me again in my cage, my solitude and silence. Slumping to the floor, I feel heavy, feel old. How many hours has it been, without the others who I know but have never seen? I sleep.
In my dreams I dance across the shafts of light, across the beams of floor, across the calls to leave. I reach the window and find it empty. It is open, and I can dare to dream of somewhere, something else. I open my wings, and gather my roots. I’m soaring, and they’re soaring with me. We join hands, all of us women. We’re all created from different ingredients, but I sense the same flavour in our touch. We don’t know where we are going, but we know that we can.
Opening my eyes again, the dust makes me cough. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, been asleep, been lost to my potential. I fold my wings, tuck my dreams away, deep inside, where I can keep them safe. Maybe there’s a poem written inside me that can unlock my cage? I put my finger to the dust and choreograph my escape.
Hide and Seek
While it’s undisputed that Maeve is an outstanding hide-and-go-seeker, I don’t think anyone in this town would disagree when I tell you she’s damned cocky about it. Mother says it's down to her good imagination. I say it’s down to her wanting the boys to find her so they can ask for a kiss. That’s why she wears that stupid tutu. It’s not even a real tutu, just some material left over from Synthia Crow's ballet costume. I remember the exact moment she came waltzing over the field, white gauze blowing in the breeze, a smile spread on her ridiculous head.
“Figured I’d make this a fair game for you, Jeanie,” she smirked right at me. “I’ll still be hard to find but the tutu helps.”
Robert Hoodhouse snorted. I tried to think of something clever to say but just rolled my eyes and that’s when the idea hit me. I do my best thinking when I’m steamed.
“100, 99, 98…” I started.
I kept my eyes locked on Maeve’s as I slowly turned to face the counting tree. She waited until I was at 75 before she took off. I didn’t even listen to her footsteps. Normally, I’d try to take a peek but not this time. I waited until the field had gone quiet then turned and sat at the base of the tree. Leaning back against the warm wood, I took in a deep lungful of that grass and listened for the first time to the bugs singing about me. There were tiny blue flowers dotted down low that I hadn’t noticed before. I tipped my head all the way up and saw a brown squirrel looking back down. The counting tree was a lot prettier than I’d realised, like a real rich mix of browns and greens, a little gold even. We always closed our eyes when we stood under this spot, always ran like hell across the field. I don’t reckon we did much looking at it. I think we should have.
After 5 minutes had passed, a head popped up over the long grasses. Sam hadn’t gone very far but to be honest I would have run right past him. He hesitated then stood up, his head cocked to the left. He strolled over and sat next to me. I told him about the squirrel. After another 10 minutes, Gemma and Clint turned up.
“Why aren’t you hunting?’ Clint asked.
“Don’t feel like finding anyone. ‘Sides, it’s a game for babies.”
Gemma sucked in a breath and looked sideways at Clint. I squinted up at them on account of the sun. They were nervous. This was my moment.
“I’ve got a better idea.” I said.
“What would that be Jeanie-weenie” came a voice from behind me.
I stood up and came face to face with the bluest-of-blue eyes and beautiful yellow hair of Daniel Hepley. The peach fuzz mustache lining his upper lip caught my eye and made my pits sweat. I jutted my chin out for bravery.
“I know where the Johnson brothers hide their beer.”
A collective gasp went out across the group. I held my breath, not breaking eyes with Daniel. He started a slow grin and nodded, “I’m in.”
We strolled across that field, side by side the two of us. Sam, Gemma and Clint ran to fetch some of the others they had seen hide.
“Not Maeve.” I warned, calling after them.
They froze, looking back.
“Yeah,” nodded Daniel. “She’s a tattle-tale.”
We continued towards the stream where I knew the Johnson brothers snuck away at night to drink their pilfered cans. As we passed the Hudson barn, I glanced over my shoulder and, just for a second, saw a flash of tulle in the attic window. Turning back, I kept on my way.