Tag Archives: winner

A Day in the Month of Leaves by Karl A Russell


Seventh bell peals.
The sound of the meditation bowl rings clear.
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō
Cicadas sing from the gardens.
It is the morning after the night without sleep.

Paper screen slides silently open.
Father stands before me, as big as all the world.
“You are awake?”
I nod, rise from my bed, kneel upon the tatami.

Leather armour creaks.
Metal plates jangle.
He kneels to face me.

“You have a choice.”

I nod once more.

He holds out his hands to me.
I long to fall into his arms.
But his hands are not empty.
In one, a lotus flower.
In the other, a blade.
The choice is clear.
The decision is not.

Father is old, a slab of granite of a man, tempered by the years he has spent on his path.
Scars make his face a map of his wandering.
The lotus is the softest thing he has touched since his war began.

To choose the lotus means staying in the monastery.
The gardens in spring.

To choose the blade means walking father’s path.

I think of my mother, as much as I can recall.
Cherry blossom lips.
Eyes of jade.
A slash of crimson blood on crisp snow.

I touch the blade.
The world holds a breath.
The monks chant.
I nod.

A servant enters, to see that it is done correctly.
The blade turns inwards.
Father’s stomach blooms across the tatami.
The servant raises my father’s sword.
A heron cries in the garden.
Father’s head rolls to rest against my knees.

The servant moves to clean the blade, but I stay him with a word.
The sword – the duty – is mine now.
I stand, take the sword, and walk from the room.
The dripping blade traces my father’s final path in blood.

The heron takes flight in the garden.

Follow Karl on Twitter: @Karl_A_Russell

Like a Flower of the Field by Mark A. King

Crossed Fingers II

“The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more”.

I have always watched him.

I watched him in my dreams of childhood—when I dreamed of success, of my love for a strong husband who would support my aspirations whatever the cost, a house of our own and a perfect son. I even dreamed his name, Nathan.

But in dreams, the truth is complicated by uncertain futures—by realities that seem so tangible that when you reach for them in the morning they are nothing but the heat-haze Pasodoble of a summer street.

I watched him in the loving embrace of my husband to be. I imagined his smooth silken skin. His eyes of viridian green. His inner strength and playful laugh. The best of both of us.

I watched him on the blurry monitors. Shapes of life in dots of indistinguishable fluid movement. A head? A face? A foot? Is that a wave he gives us? The cold gel on my swollen belly. The ultrasound crackle. Through the muffled sounds like an underwater swim, we hear the rhythm of his heartbeat.

In fleeting happiness, we see the training of their reassuring looks, and for the first time, we feel the words of the consultant wash over us like numbing tides. We feel the evaporation of dreams.

I watched him carried from my spilt open stomach, not concerned for my own health.

I watched from the side of his transparent box—a sanctuary for life, but a prison from us.

I watched his acceptance of the things that came to pass and I came to realise that he was perfect, in every way.

And I when he was eight, I watched his passing in the sterile hospital room. He placed his hands behind my head, his fingers crossed against my tear-filled skull. He kissed me. He told me the angels needed him and everything would be better.

Outside the room, the world still turned.

Follow Mark A. King on Twitter: @Making_Fiction

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.

For Mittens by Holly Geely

“Isn’t raising the dead a job for nighttime?” Stephen asked.

Jeff chose one of the perfect rows of tombstones, and counted fifteen in. He beckoned for Stephen to follow.

“Well? How are you going to make a zombie before noon?” Stephen’s tone was sardonic rather than amused.

“Have you done it before?” Jeff asked.


“Exactly. Shut up.”

Jeff emptied the cloth bag onto the grave. He had a sharp knife, a bouquet of red roses dipped in black paint, an assortment of gemstones and the skull of a cat. The skull still made his stomach twist when he looked at it.

“That looks like a pile of junk,” Stephen said.

Jeff regretted bringing a non-believer. The equipment was sinister enough to belong to necromancy and a believer would never have questioned it.

Stephen was only half-right, anyway.

“Do you want to do this or not?” Jeff asked.

“It sounded like fun last night when I was drunk, but now it’s just stupid,” Stephen said.

“Go home if you want.” Jeff always gave them a last chance.

“I’ll stick around. You’re my ride home.”

As far as assistants went, Stephen was among the worst. Jeff had met plenty of others who enjoyed the process. He couldn’t remember what had made him choose this one last night in the bar; he’d been more than a little drunk himself.

Jeff lifted the skull and turned the empty eye sockets to face Stephen.

“Touch the skull,” Jeff said.

Stephen rolled his eyes and stuck two fingers in the holes.

Jeff grabbed his wrist with what must have seemed a surprisingly strong grip.

“Don’t touch Mittens,” he said. He could tell Stephen was rattled, and rightfully so. Even non-believers could sense when the power was in the air.

“Let’s get this over with,” Stephen said.

Jeff placed both palms on his chosen grave. His arms tingled all the way up to his elbows.

“Read it,” Jeff said, nodding to the headstone.

“Here lies…” Stephen paused. “Is this some kind of sick joke? That’s my name.”

Jeff kissed the top of Mittens’ bald head. He released the tingles into the empty space where her brain had once been.

His father would disapprove of him using the magic this way. “It’s family only,” he’d say. Mittens was family enough for Jeff. Besides, Jeff had already delivered plenty of bodies for Father; he deserved one of his own.

“A soul for a soul,” Jeff said.


Jeff picked up the sharp knife and buried it in Stephen’s left eye. He was an expert by now and his chosen didn’t live long enough to scream.

He went back to the car for the shovel. He buried the body with the gemstones and painted roses. It wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t feel like carrying them home.

Mittens rubbed up against his leg and he stroked her soft fur lovingly.

“I’ll raise Father again tomorrow,” Jeff told her. He didn’t have the heart to murder someone else so soon.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @hollygeely or read more of her stories at: hollygeely.wordpress.com