Before we get down to business let me introduce you to my friends. Those little fellas on that fig leaf aren’t really extraterrestrial lifeforms. They are the much more benign (unless you’re a gardener) Ceroplastes rusci, or fig wax scale. It was great to read a couple of stories that used real plant pests as the antagonists.
Thanks to everyone who came to write, bringing their Halloween spirit with them. Before I hand over to judge Geoff Holme, here’s my thoughts on the entries that didn’t make into the winning circle:
Be All That You Can Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be by Matt L.
A delightful take on space exploration and training from the point of view of a species of sentient slugs (perhaps a sign of things to come for our own planet?) I love the descriptions of boot camp and the menial duties that any raw recruit will be familiar with.
The Savior by Image Ronin
Yet again IR crams his story full of excellent description, atmosphere and back story. From the claustrophobic opening to the chilling ending, this story grips and doesn’t let go. The main character is the saviour of humanity, but not in the way he had planned.
Hellfire Is a Subjective Term by Craig Towsley
Wow. What an opening paragraph full of vivid descriptions running into each other much like the tectonic plates it describes. I love the alliteration in “gobbling up glaciers, crunching on coasts.” The opening paragraph alone is story enough. But the cherry on the cake is the reveal: it is a sermon given by a (perhaps dubious) priest to convince his flock they are safest with him.
Emerald Earth by Voimaoy
There’s not a single word wasted in this story and every sentence deserves to be lingered over and digested. It’s a great take on the prompt too: not a dangerous species from another planet but a real invasive species threatening the ash trees of North America. As beautiful and invasive as Voimaoy’s writing!
Down to Earth by Brett Milam
I love the description of bacteria fornicating under fingernails. This story really puts us in our place – “the slugs of the galaxy”. A superior being watches from its vantage point as we go “slogging around the sun, spilling each other’s blood”. I also love the reference to Genghis Khan which adds a time perspective.
Last Chance by Holly Geely
“Earth to Susan”. I love this inappropriate in-joke of the colony that fled the dying Earth. This is a small snippet of conversation between two characters, but it has real peril running through it. In the colony a little fungus on your leaves is a big deal.
Death by Rhubarb by Stella Turner
I was expecting comedy given the title, but Stella delivers a terrifying story with a lot of truth to it (see Emerald Ash Beetle in Voimaoy’s story). The last woman alive in the New Colony doomed by bugs on the rhubarb plants. A lot of atmospheric details in this story: the may-day call unheard like her tears, leaving the Grim Reaper behind only for death to board. Shivers.
Once by Casey Rose Frank
I’d like to be able to pick out a few of my favourite lines from this, but I’d just be reproducing the whole thing. Wow. Okay, go on then: “Were we gods? No. Maybe.” A tiny little mistype [But we now we are small] brought me out of the moment, but this is stunning writing. And only 91 words, and it should have been only 90!
Blue Sky Thinking by Geoff Holme
A fun story from Judge Geoff. A solution to prison over-crowding perhaps. Support staff? Colonists? The Minister was really ticking all the political correctness boxes. A great title and New Australia is a perfect name for the new colony. I just hope they don’t beat us at rugby.
Make Believe by Grace Black
A lovely story of childhood and later life. Horace ‘call me HG’ and Aubry are imagining what other worlds might be like. Horace is unoriginal (Earth) while Aubry is imaginative (Zondor with colonies of slugs). Looking back Aubry remembers her late husband with fondness. Perhaps it was his rock-steady predictability she loved.
Rebirth by Stephanie Ellis
What an opening line packing two major hooks: “Earth is damned” and a crowd “gathered to see my end”. This is a real scary Halloween story and a character I want to read more about. A nod to the Salem witch trials perhaps. The parasitic community burning someone they didn’t understand. Only it wasn’t her end; it was her rebirth, and the community had brought about their own damnation. Love it.
Now here’s what judge, Geoff Holme, had to say about it all:
Thanks to David Borrowdale for devising and hosting this stimulating contest. When I told David that I was willing to judge MB 1.04, I said that I would be sorry to miss entering this week. He suggested that I could submit a ‘just for fun’ judge’s entry.
But seriously… I found this week’s contest the trickiest yet. But you all rose to the challenge, with a wide spectrum of entries from humorous through lyrical to darkly sinister.
I’d like to make it clear that, to avoid any bias, entries are judged anonymously. So let’s get to it.
The full rules of Micro Bookends include the caveat “You may add punctuation to the bookends. Otherwise leave them bookends alone!”. These two entries that would have been contenders for podium places failed to comply – one only by the addition of apostrophe s to ‘Earth’. I ran this situation by David. He said:
Rules is rules, Geoff. Writers can add punctuation to the bookends but nothing else. Even that little s after the apostrophe is naughty. Of course people can submit their own interpretation of the bookends and their stories will receive feedback from their fellows, will be seen by the judge, and may even get an honourable mention, but they will be ineligible to win. Using the bookends exactly as supplied is all part of the challenge.
Silent Slumber by Marie McKay
With its mention of “patients’ bedsides”, this entry evoked memories of the opening to the classic Day of the Triffids but the story told of a much less violent takeover. The mood is maintained by lovely descriptions of the soporific effect of the invaders: ‘all pain has gone, all conflict and desire’. Almost makes it seem like a desirable situation.
Punctuated Equilibrium by Ed Broom
From its punning title (a reference to my overemphasised pickiness when it comes to punctuation), this entry is full of gems. ‘Erdmann’, when translated from German, is ‘Earthman’, ‘Fancy Plants’ is a great name for a garden centre and there’s even a very topical reference to Halloween in this spooky tale.
(I assume ‘the Herald’ in the opening line is the paper that the reporter works for. I would have made it ‘The Herald’ to make this clearer; and, at the end, after ‘…MY torch…’, I would have had ‘THE beam…’. But these are minor quibbles.)
‘James, eyeless, stared back from the centre of his colony’ is a chilling last line. Great work.
Autochthonous by Nancy Chenier
Very erudite title – had me reaching for my dictionary! Great interpretation of the photo prompt with the abandoned home planet clinging “like a barnacle to a distant star” and the indigenous parasites, the “scalies”. Wonderful description of the alien skyscape too. Good work.
Infectious by Chris Catt
Being very uncomfortable in confined spaces, I found the opening sentence almost too atmospheric. Fear suffuses this piece throughout, leading inexorably to its conclusion. A great tale for Halloween.
Salvation by KM Zafari
I like this one very much – a cautionary tale, a grown-up version of WALL-E. I loved the idea of the scout carrying an ancient crayon drawing of Earth that his ancestor had made as a child when the planet’s inhabitants departed. The last line makes for a fully rounded story. Excellent!
by KM Zafari
Earth was a myth, nothing more than a fairy tale used to teach children about the horrors of war and the dangers of overconsumption.
And yet, here it was. The blue and white marbling matched the crude picture drawn by his father’s great-grandfather.
But it was not ready; nature had not yet recovered. The air was still noxious, the rivers poisoned. The only remaining creatures fed on the carrion of the Earth, and its bones were nearly clean.
He returned to his ship and set the autopilot for home, the unknowing transport for a legion of hungry stowaways.
Humans, after all, weren’t the only ones looking for a new colony.