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 #107.” Include your name and mailing address.
Entries without a name and mailing address will be disqualified. Paste your submission directly into the body of the email; attachments will not be opened.
Writer's Digest editors will select five finalists and post them on this page for voting in October. The winning entry will be published in the March/April 2021 issue of the magazine.
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
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Entry Deadline: CLOSED
Out of more than 130 entries, WD editors chose the following five finalists. Vote for your favorite entry using the poll at the bottom of the page.
Among the Statues
A hot summer day in Florence brings two sisters into the hills. They hike along a quiet roadway between walled-in groves and tiled roofs, their hitched-up skirts revealing the sculpture of their gait. Suspending his work, a mason gives the girls a smile.
Giana touches the brim of her bucket hat and Lorena says, “Bon giorno.”
Moments later, gurgling whistles and smacks issue from a leafy arm reaching over the wall.
Giana spies a beady, white-ringed eye among young green persimmons. “Is that a parrot?” she asks.
“Too small,” replies Lorena.
A squeaky voice echoes Lorena’s. “Perhaps. Perhaps.”
The girls giggle.
Fluttering from the tree, the bird hops along the wall, repeatedly warbling, “Come with me.”
Into the Boboli Gardens, they follow the flight of shimmering wings. Mounting every dreamlike staircase, surveying fountains, ponds, and plazas, the sisters mingle with stone likenesses of heroes, gods, and noble beasts while the afternoon grows old.
Late in the day, they come upon parallel rows of trees with overarching branches. A flash of blue-green swoops into the shady passageway before them and chirps, “Come with me.”
Giana and Lorena pass through the arboreal archway and enter a small courtyard, where a group of men and women, dressed like tourists, are gathered. They appear relaxed, their expressions contemplative, yet all are still and ashen. A youth of flesh and blood sits rigid on a bench before the statues. He remains unmoved, even when the sisters’ feathery guide alights on the frame of his sunglasses, kitty-corner from his left eye.
“Performance art,” whispers Giana.
“He’s acting as a statue among the statues.”
A raspy voice startles the girls, saying, “Bona sera.”
Unsure of who spoke, man or bird, words of reply catch in Lorena’s throat.
With lips hardly moving, he says, “Welcome.”
Repelled by his grating voice, Lorena backs away, tugging at Giana’s arm.
“Please stay,” he screeches. Thin lips, barely parted, quiver, but only for an instant. His smug, indifferent expression returns.
Perched and bobbing on the young man’s shades, the parakeet warbles, “Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” says Giana, her voice booming. She wraps her arm around her sister’s shoulders and together they move among the statues.
“Good. Come closer so you can hear me,” he croaks.
They approach, and Giana, picking out her own reflection in his dark lenses, smiles; she ignores Lorena’s suspicious wrinkled nose.
He leans toward them, and a cluster of sunbeams spill shimmering light over the bird’s plumage. “I’ll make you an offer you cannot refuse,” he whispers.
Lorena rolls her eyes.
Laughing, Giana says, “Sure, let’s hear it.”
“The budgie,” he says.
“This bird of mine.”
“His name is Buddy?” asks Giana.
“No. His name is Lorenzo. Lorenzo–”
“How about that. My sister’s name is Lorena.”
“Lorenzo will grant your heart’s desire.” The corner of his mouth twitches. “Well, within reason. Mine was a bit beyond his power.”
Slipping away from her sister, Lorena retreats into the shadowy corridor.
“Come back, Lorena,” squawks the budgie.
Giana moves her hand in a shooing motion. “Oh, let her go.” Moving very near to him, she tries to perceive the young man’s eyes. “What was your desire?” she finally asks.
“To command attention.” As he gives a nod to the statues, the budgie’s wings rise and fall, maintaining balance. “Lorenzo did the best he could. My voice is just too weak.”
“Too weak,” echoes Lorenzo.
“My curiosity is strong,” says Giana. She holds out her finger as a perch. “Come, Lorenzo. I desire to see all things, starting with this fellow’s eyes.”
Sighing, his breath ruffles Lorenzo’s feathers.
Hopping into flight, the budgie lifts away the shades, and eyes like bourgeoning gray-blue storm clouds enchant Giana.
For an instant, she sees all things. Then, backing away, Giana joins the statues and sees no more.
It was a night made for hunting. The moon, round and pregnant with possibility, hung low in the sky and the stars winked like jewels. They would see him coming. Just the way he liked it.
Cole’s light grey suit caught the moonlight as he strode down the path into the park. Flicking his sunglasses open, he slid them on. A piece of the dark fluttered like smoke and alighted on the edge of his glasses. Weightless. Noiseless.
The darkness squawked.
“Hello, Atropos.” He stroked her light grey feathers without breaking his stride. She tilted her head and purred in greeting. He took a juicy grape out of his pocket and proffered it to the little beast, but Atropos squawked, sidestepping away.
“Alright,” replied Cole, putting the offending grape away. “All business tonight, then. I get it.”
The two continued in silence until they came upon a darker, shaded curve of the path. A man was sitting alone on a bench up ahead.
Atropos made a low growling sound and ruffled her feathers. Cole slowed his walk and sharpened his focus, giving a nod slight enough to avoid dislodging his travel companion.
“You’re the boss,” he muttered.
Cole strode toward the man, whose eyes widened in surprise. The man opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Cole stopped and the parrot spoke first.
The man’s brows drew downward, and then he froze in horror as the darkness itself swarmed up around him like a blanket of smoke, swirling around him and muffling his screams, faster and faster like a localized hurricane, until it vanished and the man was no more.
All that was left of the man was his wallet, sitting there neatly on the bench as if he had left it on purpose.
Cole clapped his hands together and gave a satisfied sigh. “It is good to see you again, Atropos.” Swiping his prize, he tucked it into his jacket and strolled on, whistling.
After some time, they came upon a couple enjoying the moonlight together. The bird ruffled her feathers again, letting out a low growl. Cole chuckled under his breath, walking up to the confused couple and stopping. He gave them a jack-o-lantern grin. “Hello.”
The couple drew breath, but it was the parrot who spoke.
Again, the darkness pressed upward and in, swallowing them in smoky blackness. Their screams were ripped away on the wind. A gale. A vortex. And then they were gone.
Except for their wallets and a sizable diamond ring.
With a snicker, he rubbed his hands together and swiped the winnings.
It was a productive night. A lone jogger. A teenager from a rich family. A couple walking their dogs.
The night wore on and Cole was beginning to tire, but he pressed forward, on the hunt for one more victim.
As they rounded a corner, Atropos growled again. Her feathers ruffled.
A young mother carrying a baby.
Cole stopped. “Oh…” Even he had principles.
The parrot clacked her beak on his sunglasses.
“Hey! Alright, alright. Um….” He cringed. With slow steps, he approached the woman. Atropos straightened, readying herself.
He took a breath, hesitated… The woman caught sight of him. Her brows drew down.
The baby cooed.
Cole turned on his heel and ran. Atropos shrieked and flapped, biting his sunglasses. “Get off,” he muttered. He reached up to shoo the bird, but received a nasty bite on his thumb instead.
“Ow! I’m sorry, alright? Look, we’ll find someone else! One more, okay?” Spotting an empty restroom, he ducked in and thrust his thumb under the cold water. Cursing under his breath, he looked at his reflection in the mirror.
Atropos looked, too.
She ruffled her feathers. Growled.
Cole froze. “Don’t do it.”
No one heard him scream as the creeping dark spilled in through the windows, claiming its last victim of the night.
Bird's Eye View
Kyle should’ve known the spell would rebound on him somehow. He’d been sure that when he’d asked the Genie for Second Sight, he’d phrased it carefully. There shouldn’t have been any loopholes.
“I told you it was a dumb wish,” Stephanie said. She was painting her toenails on the new sofa and hadn’t put a towel under her foot despite using her favorite shade: crimson dreams.
“Well, it was my last wish, so you’re going to have to do that somewhere else, or you’re paying to have the couch cleaned.”
She snorted, which set off the parakeet. It flew around the room, squawking, before it settled on an end table.
“It can’t even talk. How are you going to know what the dumb thing sees if it can’t tell you?” She strutted into the bathroom with her polishing paraphernalia.
“I’ll figure it out!” he yelled after her retreating but attractive rear. He looked at the parakeet, who made a clacking noise, then took flight again.
“Crap!” Kyle ran for the open window. The parakeet beat him to it and dodged under the slamming glass with a trill of excitement.
“Stupid wish!” Stephanie yelled from her new polishing station, the toilet.
“Shut up,” he muttered but not loud enough for her to hear. He was halfway to the sofa to inspect the damage when the Sight hit him, and he sprawled onto the marble floor.
Which was better than what he thought he was going to hit. Far below him were tiny houses and trees, toy cars, and roads that looked like strings instead of the real thing. His vision shifted as the bird circled, surveying the area, before it dove. The houses grew larger, and the trees became giants. Too late, Kyle recognized his new house, then the wall where the window he’d just closed was located. The bird was hurtling toward it.
Kyle screamed, but the bird was smarter than he thought. It’d pulled up at the last second and fluttered against the glass. Every muscle in Kyle’s body shook, and he’d wet himself. Stupid fear of heights, he thought as he staggered over and slid the window up.
The bird flew to the sofa arm, and suddenly, all Kyle could see were the plush, white fabric and tiny flecks of red nail polish Stephanie had left behind.
Kyle closed the window. No need to repeat that experience again, he thought as he crept over to couch. Sure enough, the bird had seen correctly. There were three almost microscopic drops on the arm.
He looked at the bird, then drew a hand over his face. He thought of Stephanie’s toes and how he wanted to see her progress.
The bird flew off. Soon Stephanie was screaming in the bathroom, and Kyle was laughing on his way to his room to change. Maybe this wish wasn’t so useless after all.
Two days later, he sat at a casino’s $500-a-hand poker table.
“The guy’s crazy!” muttered a player in sunglasses and a baseball hat. He glared at Kyle and his parakeet.
Another player grinned. “He cleaned you out, though, didn’t he?”
The first guy threw down his cards and wandered away as the dealer dealt the next hand. Sinbad, Kyle’s “emotional support bird,” took flight, flitting between players and the table. Seconds later, Kyle pushed a stack of chips forward. The bird settled on the arm of his sunglasses as Stephanie slid into the seat behind him. Two players folded, and one raised. The bird flew again, and Kyle matched the bid.
An hour later, the casino manager watched them leave with their winnings. “Are you sure he wasn’t cheating?” the manager asked a security guard.
“Boss, unless he can see out of his bird’s eyes, the guy’s clean!”
DECODED COPY: All information Herein is Unclassified, effective June 23, 1998, by JCA
Office of the Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
National Office on Aerial Phenomena
April 1, 1962
Mr. Lawrence Wacker
123 Wisconsin Avenue
Dear Mr. Wacker:
Your letter of October 14, 1959, with enclosed photograph, is acknowledged.
Your interest in our investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) is appreciated. As you know, since 1950 the United States Air Force has kept hundreds of reports on flying saucers and other UFOs. Reliable reports indicate that these objects are coming into our atmosphere at high speeds and altitudes. Our investigation concludes that an extraterrestrial intelligence directs these UFOs.
Our Air Force is in the unique position to accumulate, sift and correlate these reports in such a manner that the United States Government can form a military strategy for dealing with, and defending our country against, these UFOs. The men of the United States Air Force are specially trained in the areas of aerial phenomena and extraterrestrial invasions. They, as well as their colleagues at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are to be commended for their performance in this sensitive area.
Therefore, your letter of October 14, 1959, requesting an interview with an official of this Bureau concerning possible employment in the area of investigating aerial phenomena is declined.
Similarly, while we are impressed by your claim that your bird, Buddy, can speak 7 languages and is a reliable messenger, we are not in the position of using him in any national intelligence program, either.
I am enclosing a brochure titled: "You Can Serve!" This contains information you may find helpful should you wish to pursue a job with the United States military.
John Edgar Hoover
Date: April 2, 1962
To: Director of Special Investigations
The Inspector General
Department of the Air Force
4th and Adams Drive
Subject: Lawrence Wacker
For your information, there are enclosed two photostats of a letter dated October 14, 1959, and accompanying photograph, to this Bureau by the Subject and two copies of this Bureau’s reply dated April 1, 1962.
Subject’s letter made pointed inquiries relating to this Bureau’s participation in investigations relating to unidentified flying objects. Our reply was general in nature. Copies of the letter, photograph, and our reply are being referred to the Office of Special Intelligence for their surveillance purposes.
John Edgar Hoover
JEH: ESS: arc
Of a Feather
“You’re saying she never mentioned a bird?” The attorney shifted awkwardly in his chair, peering around the cage that had been placed between us, just beside my mother’s will.
I tried to think back to when I’d last visited. Last Christmas? No, I’d spent that with Dad. Could it have been her birthday two years ago?
A memory flitted to the surface:
We were sitting in her favorite teashop, talking for an hour about nothing in particular. I swear she had a fear of silence, as if a moment of it would draw suspicion. When some familiar faces came through the door, she perched upright in her seat preening herself, then, flashing her jewelry, she waved them over. After a flurry of pleasantries, her friends scanned me up and down as if I were an exotic pet. Mom eyed them nervously, searching for signs of approval.
Once they left for their table, she begged me to take off my sunglasses while we were inside, quickly swooping to snatch them off my face. I snapped at her, hitting her hand away and causing a cup to shatter on the floor. Every head turned as my mother flushed pink. She meekly asked to go.
The bird chirped sharply, rousing me from a stare. I felt my mouth had gone dry and I apologized to the lawyer, not knowing how long I’d been silent.
“No, she never mentioned it,” I muttered.
The bird sang happily as I drove back to my mother’s house, getting louder as we pulled into the driveway. Everything looked as if she’d just been there. A garden spade lay beside freshly planted daffodils, a bird feeder hung outside the front window, filled to the brim. The front door swept aside a pile of mail as we made our way inside, but otherwise the home was spotless.
I placed the birdcage onto the coffee table and fell into the couch, sinking down and letting the abundant smell of potpourri fill my lungs. I tried to keep my eyes shut and close out the world, but couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. I peeked through the tint of my sunglasses and locked gazes with the bird in front of me.
She was a beautiful creature. A small parrot with a soft grey breast, cloaked in an emerald green that faded across her torso. Where the grey and emerald met, you could distinguish a hint of blue that reminded me of my mother’s eyes. I rose to unhinge the cage door and the bird burst out across the room.
With complete lack of abandon she flew toward the window, landing delicately on the sill. Spying another bird outside at the feeder, she puffed her chest out and ruffled the plumage around her neck, displaying her refined colors. When the visitor didn’t take notice, she clicked her beak in disappointment and glided over to the nearby tea set.
She plucked the lid from the pot and dropped it to the side, revealing a hidden stash of crackers. She indulged in a few, then quickly brushed the crumbs off with her tail. I continued watching in fascination as her attention turned to the bookshelf. She hovered from each level, looking intently at the neatly lined picture frames.
The final photo was of me. I was standing in a red plaid shirt, half smiling at the camera with five o’clock shadow and uncombed hair. It was a picture my mom had insisted on taking before we went to her favorite tea shop on her birthday two years ago.
The parrot sat in front of the photo for a time, then, without warning, darted over to me and perched on the rim of my sunglasses. She bent over and looked through the lens at me. With what looked like a smile, she tapped.
I took off the glasses and hugged her tight.