Sunday 29 November 2015

November Short Fiction Contest Winners

"SteampunkProp(byMollyPorkshanksFriedrich)" by Mark Harding
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
That time of the month has arrived where I select the winners for the last Short Fiction Contest. November's challenge was to write a story illuminating the purpose of the rather strange device pictured in the contest image. And what a diverse range of ideas you all submitted! As always it was a hard task to pick just three, but here are the winners:

 - First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Tim Roberts for his story 'Lot 66'
 - Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Jon Jefferson for his story 'Dr. Killian's Portable Ray'
 - Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to John Moralee for his story 'The Translucidator'

Congratulations to the winners and a big thank you to everyone who entered and those who support this contest.

Here are those winning stories:

Lot 66 by Tim Roberts

That year, the snow came unseasonably late. My driver collected me at dusk and guided our carriage through the muted streets. When we arrived at the grand hall, the only person in attendance was a hastily dressed young man; the owners of the auction house never came to midnight bids, nor did they publicly associate themselves with collectors like my employer.

Beside the young man, seated atop a repurposed drinks trolley, was Lot 66. To the untrained eye, it might have resembled a phonograph, save for where the horn would normally reside was a fat glass tube connected to an intricate series of bronze machinery.

“It looks like you are the only bidder,” said the young man, his voice trembling.

“Then I only need meet the reserve,” I said.

The young man nodded. He shifted from foot to foot, keen to have our transaction over with.

There should have been 3 bidders, but my business with each of them, earlier in the day, assured my exclusive position. Lord Perkins was easily bought; a deathly looking man of 74 years who until this morning had a ledger of crippling debts to the gambling houses and unfortunate women of the city. He was now free to amass his debts all over again. Minister Travis, a ruddy faced man who financed his lifestyle through the collection box, was not so easily swayed. Fortunately, the raven arrived before lunch with whispers of the Minister’s penchant for collecting the shrunken heads of tribal leaders. My employer furnished me with 2 items from his own private collection, and Minister Travis was all but drooling when I revealed my offer.

I handed a snakeskin briefcase to the young auctioneer. He reached out and took it with the care of someone who was placing their hand into the fires of hell.

“Inside, you will find double the reserve price,” I said. “The briefcase you may keep.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Lord Bingham is contained within?” I said, gently tapping the glass tube of Lot 66.

He pointed to a small brass switch. “This opens the audio vent. If you do so, you will hear the screams of his eternal torture.”

“Very good,” I said. “One last question. Where was he found?”

The young man glanced around, then leant in to me. “Whispers say a shaman found him living on the streets on Cape Horn.”

I smiled. My employer would be pleased to hear my embellished report on the capture of the man who murdered his sister.

I took a quill from the band of my hat and jammed it into soft flesh between my forefinger and thumb. Once it was loaded with enough blood, I signed the auction ledger with my own crimson ink; my employer was a stickler for these things being done in a certain way.

“See it be delivered before sunrise,” I said, and then made my back onto the ghostly streets.

Dr. Killian's Portable Ray by Jon Jefferson

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” Garret said. “Step right up. You don’t want to miss this. There are wonders galore and many such more. Come one, come all and see this show you won’t believe, even when you see it with your own eyes.” The crowd was warming to his call. Third town, third engagement that day. His throat was running next to raw with all the calls and proclamations he had made over the past few days. But they had a deadline and sales to make before it.

“That’s right miss, step right up.” He offered his hand to the blond woman that had come close to the stage. “I want to introduce you to Dr. Killian’s Portable Ray.” Garret picked up the device, covered with tubes and wiring. An electrical spark traveled between the tubes as he held it before her. “I can hear your questions now, ‘What’s it for? What does it do? How can I get one of my very own?’”

She mumbled and then looked across the crowd.

“Can it find you a husband?” he said. “Madame it can do that and so much more. You will be shocked and amazed by all the things this box can do.” He pushed it into her hands and then twisted a few knobs while standing beside her. “Keep it pointed straight ahead. No ahead of you, toward the table over there.”

She jumped and almost dropped the device when the beam of light burst from the biggest tube. The light illuminated the table and burned a hole through the wood.

“Ooops. Sorry. That was the wrong setting,” Garret said. He fiddled with the dials and yanked out a tube. He then replaced the tube on an opposite side of the device. “That should set it to rights.”

She pressed a button again. This time the beam of light flashed a soft red then blue. A bowl of fruit appeared on the table. She mumbled and pressed the button again. A duplicate of the first bowl of fruit appeared beside the first.

“Astounding, and a healthy choice.” Garret picked up an apple from the first bowl and held it up for the audience to see. “Perfect and red, better than picked from the tree.” To emphasis the point he finished with a crunchy bite into the fruit. After he swallowed the bite, “And no worms. I can hear you asking it now, how can we, get one of these great devices from Dr. Killian? Heck, how can we get two?”

He turned with a smile and a wink to the woman that had the device still in her hands. The smile dropped from his face when he saw her fiddle with the device one last to time. The beam slammed into him and he fell the ground, a bag of apples.

“I thought he would never shut up,” she said.

The Translucidator by John Moralee

One morning in July 1876, Nathaniel encountered Professor Webb on an airship crossing the English Channel. The old man wore a cumbersome mechanical walker supporting his weak body – but he looked in excellent spirits, smiling at his former pupil. “Nathaniel, it must be years since I saw you. Where have you been?”

“The Colonies, mostly. I met a beautiful lady out there called Veronique. We’re marrying in August.”

“Ah, young love! How I wish I was your age again. I’m afraid these days I find myself alone, working on what will probably be my final invention. Would you like to see the prototype?”

“I would be delighted, Professor.”

In a dark corner of London’s East End, where unlicensed engineering works generated illegal copies of trademarked mechanical devices, Professor Webb had a secret “black” laboratory, filled with inventions the Royal Society of Atomic Engineering would never approve. Such machines were considered too dangerous for public use – so they were forbidden. Anyone caught manufacturing them risked a long time in prison. “Good grief, what are you doing, sir?”
“Time waits for no man,” the professor answered. “To expedite my latest idea, I needed to ignore the petty rules. Please look at this wonderful machine. I call it The Translucidator.”
Nathaniel stared at the machine, which was on a table in the middle of the laboratory. He had never seen so many glass tubes, switches, dials and brass pipes joined together. “What does it do?”

“Sit down here and I shall show you.”

Nathaniel took a seat at the table. The professor picked up a diving helmet wired to the machine, placing it on Nathaniel’s head. The helmet clamped onto his shoulders quite painfully. “Ow! It hurts.”

“Do not fear. Any discomfort will soon be over. An alchemical compound injected into your spine.”

“I feel like I’m underwater. Can’t move.”

“You have been temporarily paralysed.”

“Professor … why?”

“I have a confession. We did not meet today by accident. I lured you here – just like I lured you last week, though I know you do not remember that. I affected your short term memory, making you forget our previous encounter, where I used my translucidator to give you false memories – of Veronique and The Colonies. Those memories were from my life. I translucidated them into you as test to see if they appeared real to you.”


“I am dying – but I do not want my life to be forgotten. I will live on in your brain.”

“Professor, w-what will happen to me?”

“You will wake as an old dying man.”

“No! Don’t do this!”

Nathaniel watched helplessly as the professor sat and put on another helmet. He operated the machine.

Something clicked and whirred. Nathaniel’s scalp tingled as drills and scalpels sliced into his skull and rendered him unconscious.

Hours later, Professor Webb walked out of his laboratory in his new younger body, ready to live his life again, leaving Nathaniel locked in the dark, trapped and dying.

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