It's that fun time of the month where I read all of the entries for the latest short fiction contest and pick the winners. I'm always impressed by the standard of entries that I receive and this month proved no exception. Considering the image there was also a wider range of stories than I expected. So I've had a fun day reading through them. Picking the winners wasn't easy, but I've picked three that I think you'll appreciate.
Before announcing the winning stories I'd like to thank Tom Long for allowing me use his incredible picture. I'm sure you'll agree that it provided excellent inspiration!
And now for the winners:
- First prize of a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to John Boden for 'The Going Rate'
- Second prize of a £20 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Kath Middleton for 'Dead End'
- Third Prize of a £10 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Matt Porter for 'Friend or Foe'
Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who entered and thanks to everyone who supports this contest by sharing the links. Please continue to do so your help is much appreciated.
The Going Rate by John Boden
Cloth over mouth, her breathing slowed. She looked so much like her mother. If it weren’t for that bitch, he wouldn’t be doing this now. She left him with their daughter so she could “Find herself,” left him with a replica of herself, one that called him Daddy and a mountain of debt.
It was a tax month and Denny had to pay in. He rubbed his eyes and watched the clock. The Collector would be by soon. Looking at the bill and the amount owed, he picked up the shears.
He knelt beside the sofa and stared into his sleeping daughter’s face. He took her hand in his, folded the fingers, allowing only the pinky to remain extended. Holding it between his thumb and finger, he slid it between the blades. The bones snapped with a small crack. The girl winced but did not wake. He grabbed the ice pack beside him and held it against the spurting stump, then took the shoelace and tied off the base of the finger as tightly as he could.
He picked up the finger and wrapped it in the proper form, stuffed it into the red envelope and went to the porch. The porch lights winked on one at a time. There were three lights crying red.
He slid the clear pane from the light box and swapped it for a red panel of glass.
At the end of the street, a shadow broke free, a long shape that took on more detail as it stretched to the center of the street. Denny stepped back into the house ,closing the door. He peered through curtains as the Taxman approached.
Tall as time and as long as hours, it strode down main street, boots clicking on asphalt. Its fish-belly skin glistened like fungi. A black suit, stitched with black hole and strychnine. Taxman's arms ended in hands like squid. Impossible fingers, like lengths of living rope. He stopped at Ordini’s house, stepped on the porch, knelt and picked up the red envelope from the mat. The thing swiveled in the direction of Denny’s house. It smiled at him. The smile was stitches and railroad ties. The eyes that nested above it, were beetles in cataract flesh.
The Taxman tore open the parcel and extracted something red and dripping. He ate it, reached into the mailer and with a bloody finger, drew a large circle on the door. The light went out on the porch and the Taxman was back in the street.
Denny had watched it collect its wages. A tongue from the Melvoins; Old man Mellick must have owed more than anyone, for his envelope bulged ,a hand dangling from the unsealed end.
Denny sighed and sat on the floor, he could not bear to watch this thing eat his little girl’s finger, to see its face up close. His wife had always done the taxes, knew the ins and outs, not him. Had he still had a tongue, he'd have screamed.
Dead End by Kath Middleton
It has been reported in some of the more dubious press outlets that 3.7 million Americans believe that they have been subjected to alien abduction. Ridiculous. Why would aliens choose one nationality above others? I know that they don't. They took me.
I lost a week from my life last year. I went to bed as usual and when I woke I assumed it was the following morning. I felt a bit sore but otherwise I had no reason to think anything was amiss. People asked where I'd been when I went into work 'next day' and I didn't know what they were talking about. Reality came back slowly, like the snatched morning memories of nightmare.
I went to bed one night and woke, sedated and partially anaesthetised, in a gleaming laboratory staffed with metal ‘workers’. I never knew where it was situated: on a ship: on another planet? An ovum was removed from my body and returned fertilised. I was left alone then, but for the metal beings which brought me food and drink and removed my waste products with mechanical efficiency. My belly swelled at a frightening rate and three days later the true nightmare began.
The hot, tight mound of my abdomen began to lurch and writhe. It appeared that the gestation period was mercifully short. I lay upon the couch, groaning as my body tried to wrench itself apart. I was mortally afraid. I did not see any of my abductors so, thank god, I didn’t know what the father of the hybrid child looked like. I struggled to expel it, screaming both in pain and in rage at the violation of my body.
With one final lurching contraction I expelled the monster in a slurry of stinking mucous and it lay, writhing and tormented, between my trembling thighs. It was unnaturally thin and long and had been curled, folded, within me. It stretched and opened a ghastly mouth ringed with needle-like teeth and I could immediately see that there was no throat, no oesophagus. This thing could not feed! I felt elated and hoped they would discard this as a failed hybridisation experiment.
They returned me to my bed at home but the horror is not yet over. Unwilling to admit defeat, the alien beings seem bent upon keeping this creature alive, perhaps to backcross it and introduce some element of its genetic make-up into their moribund species. I am not expected to feed it as I would a human child. Thank god! But they return it to me every night to clutch at my body, lie along the length of me in a travesty of a human hug, and leech the life-force from my body as it grasps me with its cold, sticky limbs.
This cannot go on. I am losing weight and will not live much longer. When I die, it will die too, this hybrid disaster; this evolutionary dead end. I am happy, on both counts.
Friend of Foe by Matt Porter
Children are born without prejudices. They won’t make assumptions based on skin colour, or gender. They’re pure, a piece of clay to be moulded. Of course, some things have to be taught. Don’t touch the flame, it’s hot. Don’t touch the knife, it’s sharp. Other things we take for granted though. Little Tori’s parents didn’t think to tell her to stay away from the infected. Because why would they? It was obvious.
So the first time Tori encountered one, she didn’t know what to do. To her, it was scary looking, sure. Its face was barely human anymore. Colourless, unblinking eyes constantly surveyed its surroundings. Faint, wiry strands of hair were all that remained on top of its head. Its mouth was the most terrifying of all, sharp fangs interlocked each other across the front of its face. She wasn’t actually afraid though.
In fact, she thought this man looked quite sad, but she didn’t know why. She had stumbled into this room accidentally, and found him huddled in the corner, shying away from the light. His breathing was heavy, perhaps he was sick? His beady eyes watched her as she skipped towards him. With the man bent over, she was just about as tall as him.
“Hello, I’m Tori. Are you okay?”
The man in front of her didn’t reply, he averted his gaze, scanning the rest of the room. Tori frowned.
“We have some medicine if you want it, my daddy keeps it in a box.”
Still no reply. The man was panting harder and harder, almost trembling. She put her tiny hand against his forehead.
“You feel warm.”
The man suddenly stopped heaving and simply looked into Tori’s eyes.
“Do you need a friend?” She asked.
A commotion erupted outside.
“Victoria?! Where are you?”
Suddenly, Tori’s parents burst in through the door.
“Oh my God, Tori, get away from it!”
Her mother rushed towards her, grabbed her up into her arms and dived onto the floor. The creature huddled in the corner quickly straightened out, and seemed to seethe with rage at the incursion. It snarled, but before it could act, Tori’s father aimed his shotgun and fired. The headless creature twitched once, and crumpled to the floor. As the noise from the shot died down, Tori’s screams still echoed around the room. Her father moved over to where her mother was cradling her child on the floor.
“What were you doing? Those things kill people!”
“I thought he was lonely, I was going to be his friend.”
Tears were pouring from her eyes. Her parents explained to her what the infected were, and how dangerous they could be. Despite that, for the rest of her life, Tori never forgot her friend in that small room, and the frightened look he gave her just moments before he died.