Tag Archives: Steph Ellis

Week Eight and Overall Winners!

The summer flew by! We’ve been so pleased to host this contest for the second year in a row. So many wonderful writers contributed a wide range of funny, heartbreaking, haunting, moving, and beautiful stories each week.

This week was no exception. You made my job very difficult with this batch of inspired, magical stories. But, as the contest requires winners, here we go:

In the Ocean of Your Mind by M T Decker: I imagined this poem as an Druid invocation: the high priest telling the new initiates, gathered among the standing stones, how their magic works. As a fan of economical language use, I find poetry especially pleasing. The poem also gives good advice to writers and other creators of things.

Dare Ye Stonehenge by Pattyann McCarthy: What a great opening line! I can see those birds, swooping as one to avoid Stonehenge. You do a lovely job conjuring both the threat and the draw of the standing stones that have inspired people’s imaginations for centuries. The story’s darkness beautifully echoes the storm brewing in the photo.

The Passing Seasons by AV Laidlaw: I love the crystal clear images of this story, rendered in details such as the son’s soft hand, the puff of dust, and the cowled faces of the sisters. (What a wonderful turn of phrase that last one!) Beautiful language also abounds in such phrases as “footsteps tracing spiral destinies on the black grass.”

The Dark Magic by Pratibha: I have to admit that I took some guilty pleasure in this story: the image of the perpetual tourist searching for the perfect shot rather than simply enjoying the location is familiar to all of us. (I think I have a photo of me posing in front of Stonehenge somewhere…) There is a delicious maliciousness in this story as well as an indictment of that tourist culture—we go places but we don’t always experience them. Perhaps we could learn from the tourist’s fate at the end of this story!

Rain Dance of the Isenji by Voima Oy: I love how the magic works in this story: to bring the rain, entice the clouds to join the people in their dance. There’s a sweetness, too, in the travelers from the stars staying to help the people and make some friends and then a bittersweetness in their exit at the end.

Tourist by Holly Geely: This story runs the gamut from amusing to heartbreaking, taking us from a pair of self-proclaimed Druids “doing the deed” at Stonehenge to a glimpse of the narrator’s dark past. The forced carefree attitudes and vacant smiles turned the story from comedy to tragedy in one simple, but very powerful image.

Third Place: Weather Magic by Sonya: What a little gem of a story! In so few words, we get a clear sense of so much: the characters’ personalities, their relationships, and the rules of the world. I’m reminded of set designers and their models in Ali’s miniature Stonehenge, a clever use of the prompt photo.

Second Place: The Trial by Steph Ellis: This story offers narrative tension right from the beginning: we start in the middle of the action and worry with the poet about the lord’s displeasure. The writing is strong with beautifully chosen verbs—growled, glowered, scrabbled, and quailed—that convey so much in a single word. I couldn’t help but think of the TV show The Vikings (one of my favorites!) as the story unfolded.

AND OUR WEEK EIGHT WINNER IS:

Outliers by FE Clark: This story has it all: narrative tension, a clear arc, fabulous word choice, and word play that tickled me (outlier, out, liar!). I love the details throughout the story: skinny jeans, specifically named trees: “Silver Birch, Beech, and the occasional rattled looking Scots Pine,” and the stone covered in moss and lichen (not to mention its resemblance to, well, you know). These details make the setting that much more vivid. Lovely verb choices add to the story’s power: wriggle, plod, barge, and sprinkle. Well done!

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Congratulations to Sonya, Steph, and FE! FE’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow morning.

We have FIVE ULTIMATE prize winners for our contest-wide prizes:

The first ULTIMATE prize goes to Mark A. King for submitting the most stories (10!). Mark, you will receive a signed and doodled copy of The Gantean by Emily June Street, probably in a year or so when the snail-riding elves who deliver international mail finally slither up to your cottage.

The four other ULTIMATE prizes go to Steph Ellis, FE Clark, Nancy Chenier, and AV Laidlaw, who all tied for the category of most winning writers in the contest, each with four stories that made it to the podium. Each of these excellent writers will also receive a signed copy of The Gantean. Ultimate prize winners, you will all be contacted via Twitter for your mailing addresses. Many thanks for participating in Summer of Super Short Stories 2! Look for our next contest, Winter of Whimsy and Weirdness, in early 2016!

Week Six Winners!

The writing community certainly likes to make it difficult for judges to choose. Lovely job this week, everyone. This was tough!

Second Nature by Madilyn Quinn: I wonder whether the little girl is seeing ghosts or slipping through dimensions? Either way, this story was a fascinating and well-crafted look in her mind.

The First World by Voima Oy: A clever spin on the creation myth. Now I know it’s dragons I have to thank for Wi-Fi! I love the idea of being a dragon’s creation. The description of the dragons is lovely.

Alexander at Delphi by AV Laidlaw: The elements of Greek mythology are wonderful. This Alexander, much as the original who made his foolish demands, bit off more than he could chew. The spoiled child and the bitter Oracle are wonderful characters. The ending feels like a just punishment.

The Pillars by Ophelia Leong: Sympathy for the lonely Amy turns into what feels like a happy ending. Whatever lies beyond those pillars, I hope she’s in for some grand adventure. This was a lovely take.

Peacefulness Among the Poppies by Pattyann McCarthy: The glimpse into this character’s world. I felt her pain and her relief. The vivid imagery took me on a trip (ha, ha – I’m so clever…). That she is doing something dangerous and sacrificing her health for happiness…a true tragedy.

Crystal Reign by Mark A. King: I wanted Kyle to succeed but the story spirals with the downfall of addiction. Realistic and heartbreaking. I especially like this use of the pillars. Another story of addiction; something so compelling in a world full of stress. Great job.

Not Exactly Magical by Nancy Chenier: The guide is a fun narrator. The light-hearted tour dissolved quickly into something grim. The ending was a delightful thrill. Scary, effective, and shocking. Wonderful.

Crystal Nights by Mark A. King: Poor Crystal. Her reluctance to return to her other identity spoke volumes. Her over-the-top lipstick was delightful. I’m still imagining her glittering in the club. This story speaks to me for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the heartbreak that shouldn’t exist – but does. I hope Crystal finds her way.

Third Place: Three Pillars to the Wise by MT Decker: You had me from the opening line and I was fascinated to the finish. There is so much wisdom in this short story – hope, sadness, an emotional rollercoaster. For a moment I thought I understood the meaning of life. This one touched me in a way I didn’t expect.

Second Place: One Day by Steph Ellis: The twist at the end is hilarious. I’m not a parent, but I know some (and have) parents. I can imagine this solution would appeal to tired mothers and fathers everywhere. This grandmother strikes me as fun. I’d like to invite her to a party.

Thanks for the chuckle – I loved this.

AND OUR WEEK SIX WINNER IS:

Madame Doofay and the Six Sugar Candy Skulls by FE Clark: First of all, I love this title. I was expecting something silly and the mental image of gummy skulls fizzing in gin is deceptively innocent. I can’t decide if I like this main character, or if they are too jealous. Why did Jason offer her the skulls? Who is this Felicity? Was this her idea?

Has she won?

The sinister ending is a perfect wrap-up of the eerie atmosphere. There are so many layers to this story. Well done!

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Congratulations MT, Steph, and, FE! FE’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Holly for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Seven, judged by the multi-talented Kristen Falso-Capaldi!

Week Five Winners!

Halloween starts early this year (my favorite holiday, so I’m completely okay with that). So much sinister spookiness this week. Nightmares seeping into waking, crawling bogs, sentient mists. First, thanks to Emily and Michael DelGuadio for the prompts, which combined couldn’t help but evoke the awful (awe-ful) and otherworldly. My short list was anything but. It was painful to choose a mere three for the winner’s circle.

Tried and Tested by David Shakes: One of two metas this week (and I loved them both—for very different reasons). I loved the two aborted attempts before crumpling the paper, the comparison with the giants of the genre, and the seeping of the author’s voice into Tammy’s journal writing. And even though I recognized (as the one of the characters did—ultimately the author POV did) that we were in cliché territory, the features were just different enough to catch me up and make me want to learn how the old bones and last fall’s journal entry match up.

The Bog by Madilyn Quinn: Wonderful reverse-take on witch hunts, where muggles would accuse the gossips of witchcraft. Here, the witch is the authority with the power to condemn those who displease her. You’ve illustrated so well how common folk allow themselves to fall under the spell and support the tyranny of a strong personality. Talia’s a vivid character. The line “her lavender lips pull into a grin” highlights her affectation. I admire the MC’s spunk in the face of that. Talia’s parting challenge make her all the more formidable—and make the MC’s threat seem empty (and yet gives the reader a glimmer of hope).

Ghost of the Fog by Pattyann McCarthy: Clever! This was so deliberately overwrought that I couldn’t wait to get to the punch-line (although for a panicked moment, I feared the use of phrases like “languishing treacherously inside” and “fear encapsulates every cell” might not be ironic). They say it takes a great writer to pull off intentionally “poor” writing. Or was that dancers? I think it works for all artists. The voice is pure B-movie—and the perfect set up for the reveal of the true situation.

In the Zone by Voima Oy: Intriguingly surreal take. Makes me wonder what could be on the other side of the border to make crossing the Zone worth it. The parallels to immigrants crossing treacherous land-/sea-scapes keeps this one grounded. Fantastic how the zone affects each character differently. Delicious phrases like “flowers followed us with their eyes” and “flashed with the fireflies” made me think that the some might come to the Zone simply for the experience.

Living Forest by A S Gardana: Very cool premise. I love stories where the reader is asked to sympathize with a different species. The ending leaves us wondering if she’s managed to actually make it or if she’s hallucinating as she sinks into the mud. What really impresses me about this piece is how you’ve crafted a story replete with sensation yet with the absence of sight! I had to go back and check—yep, “imagery” without visual referents. I like the idea of closing ones eyes to “see” better.

Aubergine by Holly Geely: If I could have given an honorable mention, this would have been it. A surreal cavort through the creepiness, elephants and eggplants welcome. You had me giggling from the first sentence and kept me chuckling all the way through (haunted port-a-potty! “Crikey!” Aubergine-ious!). I fell in love with the rattle-spider immediately. I wouldn’t have enjoyed this story so much if it weren’t for the snaky trace of the dream crossing into reality. Thank you for the hilarity.

Delicious by K M Zafari: Ooo, creepy! What could be more horrifying than unwillingly participating in one’s own demise? The description of the creature is compelling especially as the different pieces of the MC’s sense organs take their places in the ugly decay of the creature. Some of my favorite lines: “I can almost taste the decay as it moistens the remnants of its rotting lips with my tongue” and “my pink tongue rests inside the decomposing mossy mouth.”

My Time Has Come by Ophelia Leong: A sad transition of a forest Fae becoming a fish, in the tragic way magic passes away from the material world. It starts off with a wonderfully gruesome image. Setting up the trees as the rivals is a refreshing angle as is the Fae as a tooth-and-clawed predator—making it very hard for me to decide which side to (ahem) root for.

Mother’s Milk by Tim Stevenson: The last line chills—especially in light of the title. Yep, that gave me shivers. You don’t have to work too hard to convince me that the beauty industry is evil and probably deserves such a fate, so my being creeped-out mixes with a perverse satisfaction. Clever incorporation of the “creeping fear” phrase. Loved the pervasive rose imagery (the symbolic contrast of the wilting ones and the thorns of the creation) and the organic description of the creation (at once strange and lovely).

The Canopy by Mark A. King: I love the message of this one–finding light in the darkness–and that Callum is the catalyst for that discovery. We don’t know how the MC lost his parents, and we don’t have to. It’s enough that the loss has kept the MC in the shrouded world below the canopy. The imagery is sublime. The treatment of fear as a companion to mortality is brilliant. Then Callum is born and the MC’s focus starts to creep upward. By the way, “cinereal” is my new favorite word.

The Dreamer by Foy S. Iver: Starts out whimsical, (loved “scolaughed and jeettered” so much!). Poor little Root. I was (erm—here I go again) rooting for him, but, alas, he meets a common arboreal fate. I adored the description of the alien, who very well might have been a moon fairy. Cool concept that “hope” of a tree can be used as fuel.

Going Underground by Mark A. King: Here’s one I want to give a special mention to. After two letters, I went straight to Wiki to confirm that these were all stations. Sure enough. My favorite part is the Underground likened to the roots of the city. The structure puts me in mind of the song “88 Lines about 44 Women” by The Nails (dating myself here): each line brief but gives us a real bit of the place. And the POV character dozes off before the last stop.

Blink by Sonya: A dream-messing-with-reality piece that managed to deliver a startling punch in a mere 100 words. I laughed out loud at the “movie I didn’t understand” reference to Inception. The final line got me, though. I’m completely chilled imagining what a hundred eyes blinking must sound like.

Isle of Roots by Catherine Connolly: This one lulled me with the siren song of its gorgeous language. I think this one contains the line that precisely describes the subject and atmosphere of the image, a poetically twisted sentence that just nails it: “The tree itself lies amidst a heart of knotted roots for those who swim tear salt tides to it, casting themselves towards the child-like keening reaching from the boughs into the ocean”. I got so tangled in the wonderful knots of phrases, I felt like pilgrim gripped in its clutches. My favorite: “Truth takes chances in the speaking”.

Whispers by M T Decker: Ha! A quick atmospheric whisper of a piece with a snappy twist. I love how we never really know what the first choice was that has brought the “we” to this state. Clever.

Sensing by Marie Mckay: Imaginative treatment, directly addressing the creeping fear as “you”, picking out facets of its character. We start in familiar territory, the spookiness of fear (blind birds, forked hands of tress). Then, fear becomes a predator. Finally, we’re left with fear being a goading motivator. And in so few words!

The Project by A J Walker: The cross-purposes are set up so well and with such economy. There is a definite beginning, middle and end of a full-fledged story, here. You lead the reader to want both Elizabeth and Mr. Martin to succeed in their goals: she to understand him and he to prove the truth of his visions. By the end, though, I realize that I’ve been set up in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for way. She does understand, and the truth of his “bad men” (that they’re hallucinations) comes to light in the most tragic way. I’m in awe of the seemingly effortless way the POV shifts from Elizabeth to Martin and then out to objective. It worked perfectly—and another example of knowing the rules (one POV per scene) and then breaking them as the situation demands. The situation does demand since the smooth shifts are the most effective way to tell this story.

Meta’d Out by David Shakes: The second of two meta-fictions, and yeah, I so very much feel for the voice here, fictionalized or not. Most of us have been there (at least twice a week). The deadly voice of doubt undermining the “just do it and enjoy” that has built up a passion for writing in the first place, the fear of not being able to do justice to a beautiful prompt, diminishing returns on novelty—yeah, yeah and more yeah. Loved the repetition of the creeping fear sentence.

Moving by Anita Harkness: Sweet! The entwining horror and lust reveals the elements that compel us regarding the awful/awe-ful. Exquisite comparison between arid Arizona and the Lovecraftian realm of Rhode Island. Thanks to Lovecraft, New England is the place where fear and passion meet. Love the echoes of the H.P. universe in details like “the oldest ones” and the mysterious swamp with things moving under the surface. A lot of great writing in here: “Here, whatever dies decays. It sinks into a sludge of terrifying possibilities” I also enjoy the take on “kindred spirits”—stripping all the rainbows and “woo” from the concept. Yes, these two are perfect for each other. May they live paranormally ever after.

Third Place: No Butterfly Wings by F E Clark: Oh, so painful and beautiful. You capture the frustration and agony of struggling to live with a pervasive yet inexplicable illness. The isolation, the loss of self, the unsung courage—and all in such incredible language. Phrases like “Tongue fumbling attempts at describing the hundred different intermittent symptoms” and “Crawling through the shattered glass of dependence, a creature half gone” and the comparison of self and friends “falling away” like autumn leaves eloquently illustrate the trials of disease. The breaking of the chrysalis to release not a butterfly but a partial morphed thing is as heartbreaking as it is heroic, leaving us with a sliver of hope that this will indeed be a new start.

Second Place: The Things That Live Here by A V Laidlaw: The first sentence pulls me right into the mystery, a mystery that casts a shadow over the intimate moment between mother and son. Loved how you set up the metaphor to take care of the photo prompt early on—but then it turns out that the metaphor is not merely fancy imagery. All the figurative language is just perfect—they never merely describe the physical reality of the thing described, but they also drop hints of the essence of the thing. The description of the father is a clear example of this (“laugh as solid as oakwood” and “scented of the rich earth”). The smallest details speak volumes: a stubborn cowlick, the iron key used to lock up. The slow pursuit of the trees coming after the boy is an excellent reason for “creeping fear”.

AND OUR WEEK FIVE WINNER IS:

Returned by Steph Ellis: So sinister, chilling, creepy—and that it stood out from the marshlands of exquisite creepiness this week is really a testament to the writing, here. From the imagery of the opening—perfectly reflecting the hauntingly evocative photo–to the ominous dramatic irony in the final image (a child running to join her parents), this one won me over. The double conflict between the hopefuls and Granny, between the living and the returned, layers the tension. As do the options Granny gives (What if Maryann chose “below”???) and the swirl of Maryann’s past swamping the present. The moment of taking over is a devastating swirl of sweet and awful. That poor puppy! Killing small animals might be in danger of becoming cliché in horror, but every once in awhile it wells up like fresh blood—as it does here, precisely because it’s incidental to the already established eeriness of the family and the take-over. The pair of sentences, “Someone else’s tear rolled down her cheek. Maryann laughed,” torture me: evil innocence shredding my sympathies to bits.

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Congratulations FE, AV, and Steph! Steph’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Nancy for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Six, judged by the incomparable Holly Geely!

The Return, by Steph Ellis

my forest dream

“There are more this year,” said Red, looking out from her Grandma’s … no, her … cottage window, an inheritance she had been reluctant to accept.

Nobody heard. She was alone with her memories and the wolfskin rug.

Entering the kitchen, she noticed her father’s axe behind the kitchen door, long unused. That was why the trees had crept nearer. No one to thin them out. No one to cull them.

Red shivered, picked up the wolfskin, wrapped it round her shoulders. Just as she had done as a child.

She sat in her Grandma’s chair, rocked backwards and forwards. Just as she had done as a child.

“Tell me a tale,” she whispered into the silence. But that story had finished long ago.

The air, dry and stale was suffocating, driving Red out into the small garden, taking the axe with her. The trees had crowded ever closer, even in that short space of time. They bowed over her, branches reaching out, wanting to touch, to hold, to claim.

A lone howl caught her attention, a mournful sound that drew nearer with each heartbeat. A wolf appeared.

It advanced fearlessly towards Red, despite the axe she held.

She stood her ground. Remembered.

“You lied, little girl,” he said.

Red hefted the axe, felt that old sense of power. The animal didn’t flinch.

“We both know the truth, don’t we?” said the creature.

The truth? Yes, they both knew the truth. How she had hated her Grandma. Had lost patience with the woman one fine summer’s day. Had taken the axe …

Red looked down at the shaft, the stain had deepened over the years.

The moonlight dimmed. A passing cloud she thought. But as she looked up she saw a dense canopy form, boughs intertwined to create a tree-borne roof.

Now Red stepped back.

The wolf followed.

“We have our witnesses, little girl.”

The trees shifted closer, the light grew dimmer, the wolf’s breath hotter.

“Time to write another story,” he said. And the darkness became complete.


Follow Steph Ellis on Twitter: @el_stevie or her blog: stephellis.weebly.com

Image credit: “My forest dream is still a dream” by Vinoth Chandar from flickr (CC 2.0)
Image has not been altered from original form.

Week One Winners!

Judge’s confession time: I sort of hate the notion of a writing contest. Why do you sponsor one then? you might ask. The answer is that I’m a story junkie. I like to find prompts that move me and to see what writers make of them, so the line prompt for this week, the opening line from my book, The Gantean–“Tell me a tale”– was particularly apt for my judging week. All you participants did not disappoint. Every story I read this week had merit (that’s why I don’t like contests! How to judge something as personal, varying, and multifaceted as STORIES?) Whittling them down to a short list was a difficult task. Of the four stories I had on the final list, I truly felt any could have been the winner. I am including a line or two of feedback for every story, in no particular order, until the final three placers:

Grandpa’s Trees, by Stephen Shirres: This story offers a striking contrast between its past and its present, full of a melancholy yearning for (simpler?) better times. Solid and authentic.

The Bone Tree Copse, by Mark A. King: An elegiac tale with vertical and horizontal layers! It earned extra points for an evocative title. Clever, moody, and full of wordsmithery.

The Trespasser, by Sean Fraser: A lovely, smooth meditation on confronting the world beyond this one. The Trespasser no longer trespasses. Atmospheric and vivid.

The Cat in the Woods, by Voima Oy: This had a crafty narrative set up— by starting in second person and moving into first, the author offered a coy, cat-like invitation to the reader, while also forcing complicity. The ending lended a perfect tightness to the story. Well-designed.

The bit left over, by Liz Hedgecock: A sweet, sad, simple tale, grounded in realism and emotion. Well-rounded and told with restraint and delicacy. Memorable.

Jem’s Not-Wish, by Holly Geely: Rich characterization drives this story—overtly, with the old woman and Jem, and covertly, with the traveler-charlatan lurking behind it all. Solidly constructed and enjoyable.

Where There Is Willing, by Catherine Connolly: Mythic and eerie, this is a true fairytale of the dark and discomfiting variety. The shadowy, arcane tone and the Eastern European flavor suited the prompts.

Errors, by Foy S. Iver: With a world that explodes off the page, this story should be tagged by the author for development into something longer. (I’d be happy to beta read!) Reveals a unique imagination. Stirring and exciting.

The Darkside, by Anita Harkess: A tight, psychological tale that might be a parable showing the difficulties of maturing, or might be something darker. Nice layering.

Formalities, by Holly Geely: A sweet story with strong characterizations of mother and son. Well-written and realistic.

Song of the Muse, by MT Decker: A skillful personification of that elusive and abstract concept, the artistic muse. Shows a love of language and a subtly poetic voice.

Where She Belongs, by Sal Page: A well-structured story with a startling but graceful twist. The narrator has a strong and distinctive voice. Smart plotting shows an expert’s deft hand.

Third Place! Wolf, by AV Laidlaw: Ripe with vivid images and cinematic details, this clever play on Little Red Riding Hood hooked me from the start. Oh, the poor, weary character tropes of fairytales, forced to replay the same conflicts over and over again! I feel for them! The author chose hard-working verbs and wove in description with sprezzatura.

Second Place! A Mother’s Plea, by Nancy Chenier:  A dark and dangerous tale, full of beautiful, evocative images. This story does a great job of showing itself through a small aperture; a vast, tantalizing world exists beyond the parameters written here. I want to know more, but I’m also satisfied with the possibilities presented. A lovely interplay of imagination and language.

AND OUR WEEK ONE WINNER IS:

The Return, by Steph Ellis: A confident, clear voice and solid writing craft rounded out this inspired reframing of a traditional legend with an unexpected twist. The author juggled action, description, dialogue, exposition, and revelation of information adroitly, keeping a perfect balance from start to finish. A work of polish and panache!

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Congratulations Steph, Nancy, and AV! Steph’s winning story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared. We will be back this Thursday with Week Two prompts, and we hope you will be, too! Week Two’s judge is Tiffany Aldrich MacBain, maven of English and essays.