It’s time to find the top three stories for the third quarter of Micro Bookends Year One. Below, I’ve compiled the winning entries from rounds 1.27 to 1.39. Below them is the voting gadget. Please take a moment to read the stories then vote for your favourite three. Voting is open until 5am on Thursday 16th July. I’ll announce the results on Saturday 18th July.
The authors of the three stories that receive the most votes will each receive a copy of Doing Creative Writing by Steve May. That’s a real book with paper and ink and that new-book smell! The winners will also go through to the Micro Bookend of the year competition to be held at the end of year one.
1.27: Just Maybe… by N J Crosskey
Silent treatment, that’s what she accuses me of. Then it’s all: You Never, You Don’t, You Aren’t.
Well maybe I don’t and maybe I’m not. But maybe Glynis, just freakin’ maybe, YOU don’t and YOU aren’t either.
And maybe, just maybe, you sound like a flock of constipated pigeons. Maybe you’re a shrill, controlling harpy who kicks me when I’m down, so MAYBE, just maybe, I Don’t and I’m Not because of YOU.
Maybe I’ll smash your skull in with a freakin’ shovel. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll bury you on the hillside with the other cows…
…Or maybe I’ll just turn the sound up so I can hear the film.
George waves away her smoke and reaches for the ketchup. Sunlight bounces off the dog tag but the cat’s seen it all before.
“Mind your uniform, George.”
“You know me.”
He’s already changed his shirt after tidying last night’s empties and ashtrays.
“I made lunch.”
“George, you’re a saint. Your father would be…”
Her fingers trace the familiar embossing on the metal ID hanging from his neck: name, service number, blood group.
Glancing down, George sees his yolk submerged in red gloop.
“Mum, shut up and eat. You know what you’re like if you skip breakfast.”
“I know. I turn into a right dragon.”
1.29: Away Sweet Child, Ride Away by R Matt Lashley
“Wild thing, you make my …” The Troggs’ tune, barely perceptible over the whir of tires, crackled and popped from the front left of the new-to-her dark blue ’82 Datsun. The radio received one station: classic rock. The one working speaker, like her life, was shattered.
But today, the lonely, abandoned, broken girl who sold five dollar handjobs on the subway would disappear forever.
She wiped the dollar store makeup from her eyes then floored the gas. Hot desert wind blasted her face, baking her cheeks like sticky, fresh biscuit dough. Then she cranked the volume, tossed her head back and howled with Axl, “Woah, oh, oh, oh, sweet child …”
1.30: Note to My Sister by Rebekah Postupak
First, I’ve brought your underthings, which are silk and smell of lavender. (That was a surprise!)
Second, your pantyhose, so nobody will guess how long it’s been since you’ve shaved. You crack me up! We don’t care, but I know you do, so.
Third, a new dress. It’s secondhand (sorry about that), but just LOOK at all those pearls!! It could be a queen’s gown, and the sea green matches your eyes.
Last is hair and makeup. I’m lending you my favorite lipstick. Just this once.
There, you wild angel, you star of my heart, you death-snatched sister, are you happy? You finally get your wish to be a lady.
1.31: Truth Silences Lies by Caitlin Gramley
“Face yourself,” The voice said. Cynthia looked in the mirror, “You’re hideous.”
She believed it. Her swollen eyes glared back at her, puffy from sobbing. Her hair, frayed yarn, looked as though it had been dragged through wet sand.
“No one could love you,” the loud voice hissed.
“I love you.” A still small voice whispered in the distance. Cynthia didn’t hear it.
“What did you eat today?” The loud voice filled her mind, gaining volume to attack the truth.
“You are beautiful,” the small voice sang.
Cynthia shook her head.
“Beauty. Precious. DAUGHTER.”
“Fear not my child, for I have written your name in my book.”
1.32: Phantom by Marie McKay
‘Fear me,’ he says- just as he hands me my change; just before the train pulls up; just before the guy behind me shouts, ‘What’s keeping you, Lady?’
I try to find a trace of the words on his face. In the lines across his forehead. In his pinpoint pupils. In the shiny gold between his yellow teeth. But they’ve disappeared.
Except, somehow, I am in possession of them. I carry them onto the train, feel them fluttering at my chest. I try to pull them into some other shape. But the train thrums, ‘Take care! Take care!’ I turn towards the squawking skies and watch the noises flying.
1.33: Thud by Jessica Franken
“Soap…he slipped…his head…” Squeak—thud. Ten p.m., my neighbor Jean at my door, backwards nightgown, barefoot in the snow.
Squeak—thud. I heard it through the bathroom wall. Squeak. So close I shot my arms out to catch him, but walls are still solid and living still cruel. Thud.
Squeak—thud. I heard it and knew Jean would come. In the seconds between thud and knock, even as I moved to the door I imagined myself far away, tending sheep on a quiet hillside.
But then the knock, then a deep breath, then Jean in my arms, her grief an aria in life’s savage opera.
Under the leer of a new moon, inky slithers melt into life.
A mermaid licks salt-crusted lips, flicks her scales and dives, breaking through the waves of skin that roll across your chest.
The rose unfurls its petals, nips at flightless doves, thorns snatching at banners declaring ‘Stella’, ‘Gloria’ ‒ ‘Mum’.
You wanted ‘ink’ ‒ to be a man. Now the pictures that smother your skin smother you.
They weave and warp to form a tattoo where you never felt the sting before – your throat.
You dream of the needle, of the sea, of Sleeping Beauty cradled in her bramble nest. You stir, gasp, swallow.
Ink is your final breath-taker.
1.35: Kiss of Death by Geoff Le Pard
Double vision, nausea, bone snapping pain.
They stack us up, serried ranks of decrepit bodies, left to corrupt.
You see it in their eyes. Once we were unique, individual. Now, in the throes of death we are ubiquitous, homogenised by decay and depersonalised by disease.
If you didn’t know they had abandoned you before, the perfunctory response to any request screams the truth. Yet even knowing their disgust, you still crave the careless spray of their spittle to moisten parched lips.
The irony isn’t lost on any of us for it was the self-same sharing of fluids that brought us here. Death determined by such a simple act.
“Urban Design” reads the self-adhesive sign on the closing door. Beryl wonders what became of that polished brass “Planning” plaque which greeted her for 35 years. Jim probably pocketed it when he retired. He got golf clubs. She has Amazon vouchers.
“Don’t forget us, Beryl!”
I already have, she thinks, glancing down at the 5pm gridlock. Jim’s idea, that one-way system.
As usual, one lift is dead. Such a shame they removed the paternoster. “On you hop, it doesn’t stop!” was Jim’s catchphrase. In the lift door, Beryl catches herself blushing. Those up-and-over journeys passed into legend.
1.37: Wish Lists by Foy S. Iver
No Bio Chem.
No stretch marks.
No take backs.
1.38: Dull Silver by Iskandar Haggarty
Childhood is supposed to be golden.
Fathers are supposed to wake up, bright and early, and make breakfast.
Bright and early, Papa put the barrel of his shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Mothers are supposed to tuck their kids in at night.
Mama cried tears of salt and cigarettes when the judge found me a new home, but she never visited.
Not even once.
Friends are supposed to stick up for you.
The whole baseball team disappeared the day the bigger kids came for me.
Childhood is supposed to be golden.
Mine was the dull silver of a dying star.
1.39: In the Control Room by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
“Six Five Seven through Seven One Nine — no response.”
“Reroute through the Eight Hundred block, but keep trying those pathways.”
The center worked furiously, busy hands moving wire after wire. But no matter how fast the girls worked, the systems collapsed faster.
The supervisor turned toward the monitor. A hazy picture showed the face of a woman. She should know who the woman was, but…
“Not getting through on the Eight Hundred block, mum.”
“Keep trying. The answer is there. Somewhere.”
Barbara kissed her mother’s cheek. She would not cry. Damn Alzheimer’s. Damn that death by degrees.