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Fake Married

Valentines-flash.jpegShit shit shit shit.

It was the litany in my head as I fled the hot, too-cramped clerk’s office and flung myself down on the curb outside. I pressed my knees together, lest some passerby get a view straight up the tulle configuration I’d picked up from the secondhand shop yesterday afternoon, last season’s discarded prom dress, no doubt. Staring down at my cleanest pair of combat boots, the laces untied, I willed myself to breathe in through my nose, out though my mouth.
I was unsurprised by the crunch of footsteps behind me. Cooper sat down next to me and crossed his legs, lacing his fingers around his knee, managing to look elegant in his expensive suit, while I imagined I looked like the tooth fairy after a rough night, in this ridiculous frothy skirt.

“Are you okay?”

I scoffed, decidedly not okay.

“Are we really doing this?”

“Mm hmm.”

He reached in his jacket pocket, pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and offered it to me. I took a drag, reminded of when we used to share cigarettes in the parking garage as teenagers, while my grandfather and his dad were in board meetings. My grandfather, who owned the company, and his dad, Grandfather’s favorite toadie.

I’d had the biggest crush on Cooper back then, until he went off to business school and came back as Favorite Toadie 2.0. Since then, Cooper Ravenal had been my biggest rival. We’d been at odds at every turn as we’d both worked our way up through the company ranks. We rarely spoke, except to argue. Anytime he looked at me, I could see something simmering in his eyes. Hatred, probably.

My grandfather was a hard man. I spent my life trying, in vain, to please him. Despite my corporate success, my grandfather, ever the chauvinist at heart, often groused “When are you going to get married, so I have someone to leave my company to?”

I’d always thought he was joking. Until last month, when he died, and I learned that his will did indeed stipulate that I only inherited the company if I was married.
Cooper, who’d been at the reading of the will, had followed me when I’d stormed outside to ask if I was okay, much like he had today.

“This can’t be legal!” He had been as outraged as I was.

“It doesn’t matter,” I’d told him. “The board is a bunch of old school assholes. They’ll vote me out to ‘honor’ the old man’s wishes.”

He’d grabbed me by my shoulders then, stopping my pacing, and looked me in my eyes for the first time in twenty years.

“We’ll figure this out.”

“Why do you care?” I pulled out of his hold. “With me out, the board is sure to vote you in.”

Something I couldn’t identify flashed in his eyes and he clenched his jaw.

“I won’t let him keep doing this to you, even from beyond the grave.”

I didn’t know if I should trust Cooper, but I didn’t have a lot of options. For weeks, we combed the company bylaws, researched civil cases. Cooper discreetly polled board members to see where they stood. It was almost like old times, sharing cigarettes, laughs, and heated glances while we tried to figure out a way to stick it to my grandfather one last time. Occasionally, I’d catch Cooper looking at me like he wanted to say something, but he’d look away when our eyes met.

Yesterday morning, I called it. We’d found nothing that would help me secure the company, our resources exhausted. The board was going to vote me out.
Outside my office, we were sharing a cigarette, when Cooper broke our defeated silence.

“You could always get married.”

I laughed around an exhale of smoke.

“Right,” I joked. “Let me call one of the fiancés I’ve been hiding for just this occasion.”

“...We could get married.” His voice was so soft I almost missed his amendment.

I stared at him.

“Cooper,” I said, stunned. “That is…genius. We could get married, I get the company, we get divorced! No big deal. Just a piece of paper until the company’s secured! It’s perfect!”

A muscle in his jaw ticked, like he was grinding his teeth, but he said, “Yes, exactly what I was thinking.”

We made the arrangements and right before I’d gone home for the evening, I’d seen this fluffy princess gown in the window of the thrift shop. I paired it with my favorite combat boots and my purple motorcycle jacket. I looked ready to kick ass, take names, and get married.

I’d marched into the clerk’s office ready to do just that. Until Cooper had walked in, in his tailored black suit, adjusting his sleeve cuff and looking like a movie star. All the feelings of my youth came rushing back. This was Cooper. I was about to fake marry Cooper.

I bolted.

Now here we were, sharing a cigarette in silence while Cooper waited for me to get my shit together.

“We can pull this off,” he finally said, softly. “We can do this.”

“What? Fool the board into thinking this is a real marriage?”

That muscle ticked again and he nodded.

After a moment, he stood, and offered me his hand. I took it.

In a matter of minutes, we were married.

When the clerk said “kiss the bride,” Cooper took my face into his hands and gave me the most searing, soul-encompassing kiss of my life. It went on and on, his hand slipping into my hair. My insides went molten. I grabbed his lapels with both hands to keep from melting away into nothing. My knees buckled and my senses were suffused with the feel, smell, taste of Cooper. We finally separated, both breathing heavily. I knew my expression was dazed, but Cooper’s lips spread into a wide, wicked grin.

“Let’s go get you your company, Mrs. Ravenal.”
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner FROM THE TERRACE by GRACE PETERSON GLOVER

prompt.jpegThe house phone was ringing as Sofija walked into the flat, frost clinging to her heavy winter coat. Tossing her keys on the foyer table she quickly picked up on the third ring.

"Yes, hello," she answered in a soft Eastern European accent as she pulled her mobile from a pocket. Two missed calls.

"Sofija, it's Henry Morton, I've got a listing I want to show you, a last-minute cancellation. Are you available tomorrow morning?" Sofija sighed; it had been a long day and her train was delayed coming out of the city. She was also growing weary of the property hunt; the affordable ones were gone almost as soon as they were listed and the rest were rubbish.
"Please to send listing first?" she asked in somewhat broken English.

"Yes, I can certainly do that although the photos won't do the flat justice. It's also in a rather, urm, unique location. But the views are lovely and the area quite peaceful. Lots of tranquility. You wrote that on your wish list, remember? "A quiet and tranquil setting to shut the world away." Sofija thought for a moment, instantly intrigued, although characteristically reticent.
"Okay, will let you know," she replied, kicking off her heels and grabbing a bottle of Saint-Émilion from the kitchen. As she settled into the sofa her email pinged and a link appeared: mortonandsonsestateagents.co.uk/geraldsway. Sofija shuddered; Gerald had been her late father's Christian name. Taking a sip of wine, she clicked on the link and instantly found herself immersed in a landscape dotted with familiar structures rising like serpents from a misty sea. There were few property details other than one photo showing a block of unfinished flats and prices. Sofija rang Henry's mobile.

"There are not many photos, Henry and just a bit of, how you say, jargon? I see the view, it is nice. The building is called, "Gerald's Way"? But why so inexpensive?"

"The property is actually still being renovated and it faces an abandoned cemetery, or rather a decommissioned one, if that's the correct term. No more room at the inn, so-to-speak. That's why the developers were able to buy the adjacent property for pennies on the pound. Some people might find that a bit off-putting but the price makes up for any superstition in my opinion; I assume that was the reason for the last-minute cancellation." Sofija sat thinking for a moment and then clicked another link from the menu.

"Okay, Google says is near to Hartford station and motorway, very close to town." She set a time to meet Henry the next morning just as she heard a key threading into the lock and her husband walked in, equally chilled to the bone.

"Hello, darling, filthy weather and the bloody trains were delayed again." The normally sanguine Robert was annoyed at British Rail, the awful English weather and his Majesty's government, not particularly in that order. Dropping his coat and brolly in the entry way, Robert walked into the small kitchen and picked up a wine glass and the bottle.

"Top up?" he asked, tilting the bottle towards her. She nodded, holding out her glass.
"Please to sit, there is news. Henry has flat for us to see." Sofija, wasting no time, turned the laptop to face Robert.

"What am I looking at?" he asked, blinking as if there was something hidden within the screen."

"Peace and tranquility," Sofija answered rather sarcastically, "is actually block of flats near Hartford station." Robert glanced over at the cost of the last available flat.

"What's the catch?"

"Is near to cemetery," she answered, knowing what he would say next.
"I thought you hated cemeteries, that they reminded you of the war." Robert leant closer to the screen and squinted at the property name. "Gerald's Way? This is either a blessing or a curse."

"I know, but think is blessing, is Papa looking after me." Sofija's hand hovered over the keyboard as she thought about her late father. "We must look; is sign." Sofija grasped the gold locket that hung from her neck, the one he had given her that last morning. She looked into Robert's eyes, trying to gage his sentiment; he could be overly protective at times. Sofija silently prayed Gerald's Way was a sign; she had to know.

___________________________________________


"Just look at that killer view, no pun intended," Henry asked as they stood on a second floor terrace overlooking "Gerald's Way Cemetery".

"Does anyone actually know who this Gerald chap was? I mean, who names a cemetery after just one person? If that's the case he should've had the whole place to himself." Sofija shot Robert a look. He possessed a rather macabre sense of humour whose filter often failed him.

"I've no idea about Gerald but what do you both think about the property? There isn't much time; there are people dying to live here," Henry joked but was completely serious.

"Henry, please, stop with dead jokes." Sofija was beginning to think this wasn't such a good idea, buying a flat across from an abandoned cemetery, the price notwithstanding. And what about her memories of the war? They were tugging at her, fighting with her overwhelming urge to move on with her life.

"I'm beginning to wonder the same thing," agreed Robert, "this could be one long trigger for your mental health, darling. We need to think seriously about this." He took her hand in his and squeezed it. She had been through so much and had worked too hard to risk regressing for the sake of a silly flat. Sofija took a deep breath and slowly exhaled before looking down at her locket. She read the inscription aloud in Serbian, "Ako sa žaljenjem gledate unazad, nikada ne možete gledati napred sa nadom."

"If you look backward with sorrow, you will never look forward with hope." She turned to face Robert.

"My darling, is time for me to start living again."
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Ellender by Watson Davis

prompt (1).jpegAn old man in a dark suit hobbled up a gravel path through a rural graveyard. Twisted old oak trees with bark darkened with age lined the meandering path, reaching across like steepled fingers with Spanish moss hanging down. Golden sunlight trickled through the leaves as the sun descended beneath the horizon.

The old man carried three bouquets of flowers cradled in his left arm. He read the names on each of the headstones as he passed by, but he turned from the path and walked through the graves until he came to a group of three, two large and one painfully small: Douglas Ellender, loving father and husband, Caroline Ellender, loving mother and wife, and Marni Ellender, beautiful daughter, ages thirty-five, thirty-one, and six. Caroline and Marni passed on the same day, with Douglas joining them less than a year later.

With a groan, the old man knelt beside each one, clearing away the leaves and removing the older, desiccated flowers, replacing them with his new bouquets.

“Oh, hey, what the hell?” said a young man, unkempt and drunk, holding a bottle in one hand. “You scared me! I didn’t see you there.”

The old man placed his hand on a gravestone, using it to help himself up to his feet. He brushed at the leaves and damp spots on his knees. “I was just paying my respects.”

“Good thing I saw you when I did,” the young man said, smiling, swaying to keep his balance. “I was just looking for a place to take a piss. I was about to whip it out.”

A bright light shined on the young man’s face, and he squinted. He raised his arm to shield his eyes and spilled liquor on his chest.

“Damn it!” he cursed, wiping at the stain on his jacket. He glared at the parking lot. “Hey! Shut your damned lights off!”

“Have some respect,” the old man said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the young man sneered. “Have you lost somebody?”

“No,” the old man said. “I’ve lost everybody.”

“Yeah?” the young man scoffed. “You think that makes you special? Everybody has. I’ve lost people too. You don’t see me whining about it.”

The old man nodded. “It’s time to go.”

“Go then,” the young man said. “I’m not stopping you.” He looked toward the parking lot once more. “And shut your damned lights off already! Are you listening to me?”

The old man reached beneath his jacket and pulled out an old handgun, a revolver, and he stared at it.

“Hey, now.” The young man backed away, raising his free hand. “I’ve just had a little too much to drink. I didn’t mean any offense.”

“I’m not threatening you,” the old man said. He held the gun up, pointing it away from the man so he could take a better look at it. “Don’t you recognize this?”

“An antique Colt Peacemaker?” the young man asked. “Yeah, of course. I’ve got a collection of handguns, myself. I’ve got one just like that.”

“Just like this?”

The young man stepped closer, frowning. “That’s not my gun, is it?”

“It’s time for you to leave,” the old man said.

“Not until you give me my goddamned gun.”

“It’s time for you to leave.”

“Stop saying that,” the young man said. “I’m looking for my wife and kid. They’re around here somewhere. And can y’all shut off those damned lights?”

“Douglas Ellender, beloved husband and father. They died in a car wreck a long time ago. And so did you. By this gun.”

“That’s a lie.” Douglas staggered back, shaking his head, dropping the bottle. “What is this? Is this a scam? A trick? Who the hell are you?”

The old man dropped the gun on the grave. “It’s time for you to go. You just have to walk toward the light.”

“Wait?” Douglas looked at the gravestones, reading the names. He fell to his knees before them, pressing his palms against the sides of his head. “Wait.”

The old man put his hand on Douglas’ shoulder and squeezed. “Go on.”

Tears streamed down Douglas’ cheeks. “I just miss them so much.”

“I know,” the old man said, his voice soft and gentle. “They’ve been waiting for you. It’s time to go. Just walk toward the light.”

Douglas staggered to his feet, squinting as he stared into the light. He whispered, “Is that them?”

“Yes.”

Douglas turned to the old man. “What about you?”

“It’s not my time,” the old man said. He turned away with stooped shoulders and shuffled toward the darkness. “I still can’t see the light.”
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Celestial Beach

Jan1 prompt-small.pngCelestial Beach
The sound of the trunk closing, enveloping my single suitcase, rang with an odd finality. I stared at my warped reflection in the rear window. “I shouldn’t go.”

Sandra, my best friend since high school, put an arm around my shoulders. “You need this, Dee.” Her smile managed to look both hopeful and concerned. “You deserve a vacation.”

I couldn’t shake the strange sense of wrongness looking at my car gave me. I’d always loved driving… before. “Something isn’t right.”

Sandra’s smile faded. The concern in her eyes deepened. “David’s been gone two years, Dee. You can’t hide in this house forever.”

Was that what I’d been doing? Hiding? It felt more like waiting. Waiting for my life to make sense again. Waiting for the world to stop spinning along without me.

Waiting for David to come home.

At some point I should have realized none of those things were ever going to happen.

“Okay.” I gave Sandra the best smile I could muster. “Okay, I’m going.”

Her squeeze tightened. “Good. Call me when you get there.” She smiled at our joint reflections. “I’ll see you in a couple weeks.”

If loading my suitcase had felt strange, driving away was ten times worse. The road spooled away from home like a funhouse floor, propelling me while tipping out of kilter with the world, leaving me on a precarious, moving ledge.

It’s only a couple weeks, I told myself. You can do this.

When had I become such a recluse?

The sun was warm through the car windows. It’d be nice to see the ocean. To hear the whoosh of the waves, and smell the brine and sea air. David and I had always loved going to the coast. Booking a dinner cruise, or a whale-watching excursion. Shopping in lazy little towns for things we didn’t need and would never use.

God, I miss you, Darling.

The tears came as they always did—unbidden, but familiar. Like the pain, I thought they’d let up eventually. They never did.

WELCOME TO CELESTIAL BEACH.

The sign surprised me. Had I driven three hours already? I grabbed a tissue to wipe my face, checking myself in the rearview, as though it mattered to anyone.

I rolled down the window, taking a deep breath. Not visible yet, I still sensed the closeness of the ocean, drawing me in like the tide. Something white on the road caught my attention.

2024.

Someone had painted the numbers on the pavement.

“Okay…?”

It might have made sense, if 2024 wasn’t already three years in the past.

Maybe the number meant something else to someone. An address, or the year they’d graduated. A mile later the road curved west, away from the distant mountains. Sand crept into the grass and in spots along the shoulder, telltale signs. Screeching gulls provided beach music as weathered houses came closer together, leading into the small New England town.

I smiled at the familiar sights. Dell Dairy and Ice Cream stand was crowded with people like always.

Farmer’s in the Dell! How many times had we quipped the same joke?

I slowed as I passed the 7-11 where we always stopped for slurpies.

Maybe I should have gone somewhere else. Somewhere not so filled with memories of David. Of us. But the small town had always felt like a second home.

I found the side-street, amazed as always at the sight of the ocean only a few hundred feet from the small wood fence at the end of the road, skirted with sawgrass and nearly swallowed by sand. I pulled into one of the Skylark’s eight parking spots.

I frowned at the sky blue car beside mine.

Looks just like David’s.

The intense feeling of strangeness crashed down, pinning me to my seat. For a moment it was difficult to breathe. Then a woman walked by, headed for the beach with a towel and a small cooler, and the oddness lifted like a cloud. I grabbed my purse before I could chicken out.

“There you are!”

My breath caught, and I nearly tripped.

“Whoa! Whoa. You okay?” A hand caught my arm.

I knew the touch as well as the voice, but looking up, seeing his face, his blue-gray eyes, was like peeking past forever and into the beyond.

“David?” How could this be happening?

His smile, the single dimple on the left side of his mouth… I could even smell his cologne. Maybe I’d had a stroke and was dead, my body left behind somewhere.

“I thought you’d never get here.” He popped the trunk, pulling out my suitcase. “Driving good?” He stopped beside me, his brows twitching downward. “Everything okay?”

I reached out a hand, unable to help but touch his face. His lips.

He kissed my fingers. “You’re scaring me, sweetheart.” He dropped my things and took my hand in both of his, pulling me into an embrace.

I melted against him.

How had I survived without him for even one day?

“Honey? What is it?” He pulled me away to wipe tears from my cheeks, worry etched into his face.

“N-Nothing. I’m okay. I just… I missed you.”

His face cleared and he grinned. “I missed you, too!” He buried his face in my neck, breath and whiskers tickling the spot behind my ear he knew so well.

If I was dead, my body had no idea.

Tingling, I followed him across the ground-floor balcony of the room we always asked for, unsure how any of this could be happening, but too overwhelmingly happy to question. A flash of white paint flitted through my mind’s eye.

2024.

Could the road have somehow taken me to the past?

As the husband I thought I’d lost forever set my suitcase down and turned to face me, I knew it didn’t matter. Wherever… whenever I was, I’d never leave.

My cell rang.

Sandra.

With trembling fingers I turned the phone off. This was a vacation, after all.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner The Old Oak

IMG_0351 copy 2.jpegToni stared at the invitation in her hand. Adams High School Class of 1973 50th Reunion.

She’d been seventeen in 1973. The year the U.S. left Vietnam. Roe v. Wade. Watergate. She hadn’t had a clue about any of it back then. High school had been her whole world. Dancing to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” and watching Sonny and Cher on TV. With long brown hair, long legs, and a miniskirt, she had looked a little like Cher.

This was her first trip back to Adams in years, and it was bittersweet. Her father was gone now, and her mom was in assisted living. Toni, their only child, was putting the family home up for sale. That the timing coincided with her high school reunion felt providential.

She drove out to the now vacant home in the country. Sitting in the driveway, she soaked in the scene around her. The white three-bedroom house was nothing special, and time had taken its toll. But, oh, the land.

A low stone wall separated their field from the next property. A huge old oak tree, devoid of leaves in late November, stood sentry at the border. She could hear the birds. She remembered wildflowers in the summer. Deer passing through. But at seventeen, she hadn’t been looking for serenity. Her ambitions were too big for a small New England town. She left for college and never looked back.

After college, she worked in Boston and New York. She made enough money to travel. She became a gourmet cook. In her mid-thirties, she married an architect. They talked about kids, but it never happened. The last twenty years had been harder. She turned fifty. Then sixty. Friends had children and now, grandchildren. She and the architect divorced. Then, the pandemic.

Still, Toni considered herself lucky; she was healthy and financially secure enough to retire. She could do anything, go anywhere, anytime. She just needed a purpose, a direction.

The reunion was held at a nice nearby hotel. She’d faced scarier bosses and clients in the corporate world, but she was surprised by her nerves as she approached the venue. She smiled at the greeter, picked up her name tag, and took the one open seat at the bar. She was sipping on her gin and tonic, scoping out the crowd with as nonchalant an eye as she could muster, when a tap on her shoulder made her jump.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I wanted to say hello.”

Toni’s eyes met the face of the woman on the next bar stool. Marianne Farrell. Her hair was lighter and she was decades older than the Marianne of 1973. They hadn’t been close, but Toni would have recognized her anywhere. The man with her must be her husband. “Hello, it’s Marianne, right? Long time, no see, as they say. How have you been?”

Marianne leaned over and hugged her like they were old friends. Marianne’s enthusiasm overflowed. “I’m great! Still here in Adams. I never left, except for college. I’m a realtor. How about you?”

“I just retired. I haven’t decided what comes next, but I’m actually looking for a realtor.”

“If you want an endorsement, Marianne’s my realtor, and she’s great!” The man reached his arm across Marianne and shook Toni’s hand. He, too, exuded positive energy as he pumped her hand.

Toni’s face must have registered her confusion. Marianne was a realtor. This friendly man was her client, not her husband?

Marianne interceded. “You remember Don, don’t you? Don Crawford. He’s a veterinarian, part time now.”

A faint memory crept into Toni’s mind. Donald Crawford. A husky outdoorsy guy who moved to Adams midway through high school.

“So are you moving back to Adams?” Marianne asked. She was bouncing around on her barstool like a kid.

Toni was about to respond when the reunion chairperson announced it was time to be seated for dinner. Marianne asked Toni to join them. Toni sat to her right, Don to her left. Over their meal, Toni explained she was selling her parents’ home. Don leaned in, listening intently to the conversation. The discussion shifted to Toni’s career in business and her uncertainty about life after retirement. Don spoke of his veterinary work. He was one of the few vets in the area who treated farm animals, but he was scaling back his practice.

As they finished dessert, Marianne pulled Toni and Don aside. “Toni, I think something magical is happening here.”

Don burst in. “I do too!” He grinned at Toni. “You won’t believe what she’s going to tell you!”

“Toni, Don has been looking for a place to open an animal sanctuary,” Marianne said. “I know your place. I drove by just the other day. I think it could be the perfect property. The acreage, the zoning. I can see it already.”

Speechless, Toni looked at Don and back at Marianne. An animal sanctuary at her old home.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Don said. “It will be a safe place and a forever home for abused or elderly animals. And, not to complicate things, but if you are looking for something meaningful to do with your business background, I could use your help. I know animals, but there’s a lot of paperwork and financial and managerial stuff at the outset. This could provide the answer we’ve both been looking for.”

“For me, too!” Marianne laughed. She leaned over and whispered in Toni’s ear, “He’s single, by the way.”

The evening’s entertainment, a 70’s cover band, was about to perform. The lead singer stepped to the microphone. “Good evening, Class of 1973. Our first number tonight was the number one song for the year 1973. You’ll all remember ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ by Tony Orlando and Dawn.”

“That’s it!” Don said.

Toni nodded. “The Old Oak Sanctuary.”
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Welcome Christmas

Screenshot 2023-12-12 at 3.01.10 PM.pngWelcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.”

This was one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite childhood Christmas movies. I remembered fondly sitting on the floor of my living room, excitedly waiting for it to start. It didn’t matter how many times I saw the movie, year after year, it signaled the start of the Christmas season for me and my family.

Everyone knew that the Grinch was an old sourpuss, but deep down he had kindness in his heart. Isn’t that the way humanity is supposed to be? That is what I was taught growing up. Volunteering in soup kitchens with my parents, Girl Scouts for me, Boy Scouts for my brother, gathering toys at Christmas for local foster kid organizations, and many other charitable organizations. Yes, this was my upbringing and the way I genuinely believed everyone thought.

But then I joined the Army. I wanted to serve my country and help others. I worked hard and gained rank and found myself in the Army Delta Force. We were the ones sent in to rescuethe hostages. It was during these times that my views on humanity changed. I saw and heard things that no human should ever hear or see. My team was sent in to rescue women and children who had been taken out of sheer hate. Men fighting for their lives, begging us to make room for them. My heart would break every time we had to leave someone behind.

Where was the humanity now?

Nothing I witnessed made sense to me. Yet, I knew from my upbringing that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
When we arrived at basecamp with our newly rescued group in tow, tears would flow. Not only by those rescued, but from their families as well. There was never any shortage of thank-you's and hugs. Grown men hit their knees as they saw their wives walk off the planes. Mothers hugged their children so tight it was as if they were trying to pull them back into their bodies. Many times, I shed my own tears. Tears of relief that we found the hostages, tears of pride that we got them out, tears of joy that we were able to reunite families. But most of all I cried tears of sadness. Sadness that I had to be here at all. My heart hurt for these families and the loss and suffering they had to endure.

Today however, I tried not to think of the sadness. It was Christmas Eve, I wished I were home with my family, but here I was at my base camp with people who had come to be a second family to me. We were being briefed about a hostage situation that had taken place in the Middle East. We were going to be sent in the day after Christmas. We had two days to enjoy a military holiday.

We all waited excitedly for the packages from home delivering home baked goods, candies, cookies, even an occasional brownie. But the best part of the packages were the letters and pictures. Even though we received letters throughout the year, there was something about those cards and letters that come at Christmas that made them extra special.
Christmas day arrived and the chow hall created a special dinner for us. There was ham and macaroni and cheese, turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. The one time of the year you never heard anyone complain about a mess in the mess hall. We all come together regardless of our rank for some camaraderie and laughter.

“Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the way,” Someone started singing Christmas Carols and we all joined in. For today we would forget the wars that were happening around us. For today we would not think about the lives that would be placed in our hands tomorrow.

Today the room was full of joy as we gathered and bowed our heads to pray before the meal we were being blessed with.

I looked around at all my fellow soldiers, some had grabbed the hand of the person next to them, some put an arm around the shoulder of their neighbor, all were thankful for the moment, and I remembered my childhood once more and whispered “Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Defying the Dark

Screenshot 2023-12-12 at 3.01.10 PM.pngTwo words changed our lives forever.

“Active shooter.”

We all knew what it meant. We’d had drills. When Principal Deen’s tense, hushed voice spoke those words over the PA, we understood.

Sandra Collins hurried to the door. I was glad she was class leader today. I wasn’t sure I’d have thought to move so quick. Even as she pressed the lock, loud pops rang out from somewhere nearby. Screams echoed through the walls. Eyes wide, Sandra slapped the light switch, plunging us into semi-darkness, the only light from the two windows.

“One, two, three—come to me.” Mrs. Brady, our sixth-grade math teacher, gave our ‘remember phrase’ in a low, clear voice.

I slipped quietly from my seat, following my classmates. We gathered near Mrs. Brady’s desk, in the corner farthest from the door, but along the same wall. If a stranger looked in, he’d see only a dark room with empty seats.

Mrs. Brady laid her finger over her lips. We nodded. Of course, we’d be silent.

I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to.

Mom would’ve been surprised, I think. She calls me her chatter-happy squirrel. It’s part of my sensory stuff, she says, but I just like to hear noise. To know I’m not alone. If I had a brother or sister, I probably wouldn’t mind the quiet so much. Or the dark corners, where shadows gather along with the dust.

Pop!

I jumped. That one was definitely closer.

A couple of kids whimpered. Mrs. Brady hugged us all closer to her. She motioned downward with her hand, and we sat on the floor. Huddled over. Even laid flat.

Small, smaller, smallest.

CRASH!

Footsteps pounded past our door. I could hear people breathing. I waited for screams, but none came. Just running, breathing, and the squeaks of sneakers. Should we run, too? What if the gunman had a bomb?

A hand touched my arm.

I lifted my cheek from the floor. Tight in the corner, Mrs. Brady held as many kids as her arms could reach. Her hands held theirs. She lifted one clasped hand and nodded, encouraging us. All around, we each found a hand to grasp.

A hand nudged mine. Majula—we called him Major. I knew him from grade school. His dark eyes met mine.

I took his hand. His skin was warm and dry. It felt better, somehow, having us all connected. None of us alone.

Loud footsteps.

Heavy, and slow. Not running, like the others.

My heart pounded so hard my whole body moved with each beat. I tried to breathe slower, but couldn’t. Air from my nose stirred up dust on the floor in little puffs. I watched it swirl around the feet of Mrs. Brady’s desk.

Major’s hand squeezed mine.

I squeezed back.

The knob on the door rattled.

Thank you, God, for Sandra and her quick thinking.

Count your blessings, Mom always said. Sandra was a blessing. And Mrs. Brady. And Major. My Mom and Dad were blessings. Funny, I’d never thought of them that way before. I wonder if they knew? If we made it through this, I’d have to tell them.

There were only three weeks left until Christmas break. Yesterday, all I’d wanted was an iPhone. Now, all I wanted was to see Mom and Dad again. I’d squeeze their hands, like Major was squeezing mine, and make sure they didn’t feel alone.

Pow! Pow!

The explosions were so close they were deafening. Not pops, like before, but sounds like cracks of thunder. A smoky, metallic smell filtered into our room. Had the shooter loosed some kind of chemical? Was he smoking us out of the rooms so he could gun us all down?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What was that? It sounded like a bird.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Major’s fingers twitched. I turned my head, ear scraping on the floor. There, at the window.

A face.

My heart skipped a beat. Maybe two. I could see tactical gear. Was it the shooter? Had he gone outside to come around to the windows and shoot us where we hid?

A badge flashed in the light. Not the shooter, I realized.

A cop.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He pointed in, then at the window.

“Go.” I heard Mrs. Brady whisper.

Sandra crawled on hands and knees, staying low. She glanced at the door, eyes searching carefully before turning back to the window and twisting the latch. She pulled the window up.

The police officer put his finger over his lips the same way Mrs. Brady had earlier. He pointed at us, then at the window.

I looked back at Mrs. Brady.

Her eyes met ours. She nodded, and held up her clasped hand again.

We understood.

We moved as a group, quiet as mice. It was hard, getting up off that floor. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay there, flattened down. But I fought it. I learned something else that day.

You can be afraid, and still keep moving. Defy the darkness.

One by one we slid out the window. More cops waited outside. They herded us toward the parking lot, where an army of emergency vehicles crowded.

In the end, we left the same way we’d sheltered—together, our hands clasped.

Someone cried a name.

Parents’ faces began to appear, and one by one we released into the arms of our families. We’d survived.

I saw Dad first.

I’ve never been so glad to see him. His face said the same. He held me tight. Then Mom was there, hugging us both.

I took their hands in mine, and squeezed.

They squeezed back.

#

The day before Christmas we all went back to the school parking lot. There were a lot of tears. Two teachers had died protecting children. But we clasped hands and sang carols, defying the shooter's attempt to kill our hope. Defying the dark.

We may be afraid, but we’ll keep moving forward.

Together.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner The Gift

IMG_0351 copy 2.jpegThe eucalyptus burnt down in the hot summer of 2022. One minute the huge tree was there against the skyline and then ‘whoosh’ it was alight in a sparkling red inferno.

The conclusion—it was because of the hottest summer we’d had in the outback for some years.

We could have told anyone that. Even when we dragged our beds out of the house to sleep under the stars at night, the temperature remained humid. Sleep was difficult. Everyone did a lot of stargazing. With no lights, the Milky Way was awesome.

That tree stood on flat land at the end of the houses and at the beginning of the bush. It stood alone and was a gathering place where the women sat and discussed community affairs, children chased each other around it and lovers carved their names in the trunk.

I didn’t know its age, but it had been there since before I was born and before the cattle station, too large to be classified as a farm, had given the land to the community.

I was seventeen when my Mum became crook with cancer. She didn’t complain and often we’d sit under the eucalyptus while she could get about. “When I’m gone, remember love, I’m still watching over you and never more so than around this tree.”

A few weeks later, she died. From that day on, my life spiralled downhill without her stabilising influence. I lost my way and sought oblivion with drugs and alcohol.

I stayed in the town camp with other members of our community. Gran rang a few times a week. “When are you coming back?”

“Soon.” I’d return when my money ran out.

As always, Gran welcomed me home. It was a dry community so drugs and alcohol were banned. I respected that. Each time I appeared, we’d celebrate eating a couple of kangaroo tails, roasted over an open fire.

That particular day, I was meandering towards the tree when it ignited. I wasn’t close enough to be injured. Gran told me I was lucky. If I’d been any closer, I’d be dead.

Somehow, I felt I’d cheated death and I should make good my second chance at life. Six weeks later, I went to Rehab. It was a struggle, but I was determined. After a few months, I came home, completely cured. They aren’t the right words—once a drug addict and alcoholic always one. However, I vowed to stay clean and sober.

It was as though I hadn’t been away when I got back to the community. Gran and other elders were sitting cross-legged on her verandah dot painting on canvas. The paintings sold well in the local town’s cultural centre and boosted their incomes. “Come and join us,” she said.

“I will sometime. But now, I want to visit the old tree.”

“There’s nothing there, love.”

I still went. I saw where the tree had been, though it had been a few months since the fire. Fallen, half-charred branches lay scattered on a wide area of dusty red soil interspersed with tufts of grass. Suddenly, in the middle of everything, I saw long dull green leaves—a sapling was growing.

Thrilled, I ran to tell Gran and her friends. After them, I rushed over to the school to tell everyone. Mrs Brand, the teacher and only white person in the community, gave the children permission to take a look. Of course, we had to have another celebration that evening. Goanna this time.

Over the months, I grew stronger. So did the tree. As it struggled to grow in the harsh climate, it inspired me. I’d make something of my life.

Was Mum sending me a message?

I liked to think so.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Elizabeth’s Story by Alice O

IMG_6885.jpegStory Title:Elizabeth’s Story


Department of Homeland Security Form 194: Proof of Legal Entry into the United States

Even now, I sometimes dream that we are all together. Before Dad and Mom and I left. I was the youngest of five, but my big brother and my sweet sisters stayed behind. I never saw them again. In my dreams, we are still kids, laughing and playing. I wake up and cry.

I was thirteen; I was a child. I didn’t want to leave the only home I knew. My parents said “We are leaving. You’re coming with us.” And that was that. I didn’t choose to be an “illegal alien.” I wasn’t a Martian on a spaceship.

The journey here was one long nightmare. Sixty-six days. We got lost. More than once. Grown men were crying and begging to turn around. We were all piled on top of each other like a load of fish. Inhuman conditions. No privacy. So cold I was either numb or aching all the time. No clean water or bathroom or laundry facilities. Of course, everyone got sick. Hunger. Fever. Diarrhea. Infections. A baby was born during the journey. No stopping. No medicine. The constant reek of dirty clothes, sweaty bodies, rotten teeth, vomit, excrement. A human being died right before my eyes. We just kept going.

Finally, praise God, we made it to America, the Promised Land, the Land of Opportunity and Open Doors. But things were no better. Everything was unfamiliar and strange: the language, the weather, the food, the people. We were still cold and sick and hungry. And unwanted, shunned.

When people talk about us, all you hear about are acts of violence or someone wanting a handout. And I’m sad to say there was some truth to that. But most of us were good people. Doing the best we could.

I can barely speak about what happened next. My father died. And then my mother. I was an orphan. Completely alone, abandoned in a peculiar, terrifying world. My parents left our home country for freedom and a better life. When I was thirteen, I thought only about myself, but they did it for me. They died for me. I miss them every day.

I was now the neediest of the needy. I had nothing. I was desperate. Two of my fellow newcomers were good people. They were “aliens” to some. I called them angels. They took me in. They gave me a home. They saved my life.

And there were some good people in the community who welcomed us. They saw beyond the differences, gave us food, taught us how to live in this bewildering place. They saved our community, even at the expense of their own.

So I survived. I made it through. I’m telling you my story from across the years, so I have to let you know that things got worse again before they got better. Those wonderful people who took me in? A few months later, they died too. My community was being decimated.

This isn’t just a survival story, though. It’s also a love story. Did you guess that already? There was another man, a really good man. John worked for the couple who fostered me. He was a bit older than me, but we’d been through all of the same hardships and tragedies. Under the circumstances, I had to grow up fast.

We were married two years later. We had a baby girl, and then a son. We worked hard. Doors began to open. We became citizens and homeowners. We had a big family - ten children in all. I had my last child, our son Isaac, when I was forty-two years old. We were so blessed. All of our children lived to adulthood. Many we knew were not so fortunate.

All ten of our children married. They gave us eighty-eight grandchildren.My husband lived a good, long life. We had many happy years together. When he passed away, I went to live with my son.

I died, fourteen years later, in 1687. My husband and I have over two million descendants. Among them are three U.S. presidents, a Nobel Prize winner, and scores of others who have made the world a better place. For two frightened undocumented immigrants on the Mayflower, I think we did okay.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Convergence by T.E. Bradford

IMG_6885.jpegStory Title: Convergence

I first saw the door as a child. I’d come in from the pool and got turned around. The hotel halls all looked alike. As tears pooled in my eyes, I found a door with a purple tag with an image of a door. Purple was my favorite color. Perhaps someone in this room could help…


I turned the knob, not remembering it wouldn’t work without the card, and not thinking to knock. A warm rush of air engulfed me as it opened, easing my goosebumps The smell of popcorn, distinct and familiar, drew me inside. The air inside looked misty. Voices called faintly.

“Hello?”

Footsteps sounded. A boy came into view, his thick brown hair messy. He panted, like he’d been running.

“I—I’m sorry if I woke you up…”

He frowned, glancing behind him as more voices clamored.

“Where’d he go?”

“Find him!”

His dark eyes found mine. They glowed like liquid pools of nighttime. “You should go.” He whispered, one hand reaching toward me and the other back, as if to ward away some danger.

Behind him, the mist parted. Buildings spiraled into a sky the color of lemons. I gasped and stepped back.

The door closed.

I stood in the hotel hallway, gasping. The boy had looked as scared as me. I tried the door again.

Locked.

“Mathilda?”

“Momma!” I ran into her arms.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where did you go?”

I looked back, ready to tell her everything, but The door was gone.

“You’re shaking.” She stroked my hair. “Let’s get you into some dry clothes.”

She led me away, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the dark-eyed boy. Who’d been chasing him? Would I ever see him again?




The second time I saw the door, my life changed forever. My friends had good intentions, taking me out to cheer me up after I’d failed the most important test of my college career. But I didn’t want to drink. I only wanted to escape.


“You sure about this, Matty?”

I smiled at my friend, Sarah. “Yeah. I’m just gonna head back to the room. Grab some sleep. I’ll catch up with you guys tomorrow, okay?”

I punched the button and the elevator doors slid shut. I leaned back, closing my eyes, grateful to be alone. I didn’t bother to look when the doors hissed open again. I just walked, letting my fingers trail along the wallpaper.

When I looked up, I stood at the end of a hallway.

In front of a door.

The purple tag, its image of a door… where had I seen them before? I touched the handle and the door swung open.

Warm air pushed my hair away from my face. I heard voices, and… music. The soft tones soothed my nerves. I stepped through, following the sound.

Mist-filled air parted, revealing low tables. Sitting at the nearest one, a man with dark eyes. In them, light reflected like stars in an expanse of sky.

“The boy…”

He stood, his eyes wide as he stared at me. “I know you,” he breathed.

I knew him too, of course. The familiarity went beyond having met him once before. He was like a home I’d always missed.

“I’m David.”

My smile was genuine. For the first time in a long while, I felt happy. “I’m Mathilda.”

We talked for hours. About our lives. About the door, and what it must be. Strange as it sounded, we found the discussion easy. Natural. The door somehow connected our universes. And we, connected in a way that went beyond space and time, had found each other not once, but twice.

The lemon-yellow sky was beginning to brighten. We both yawned.

“I should get back. My friends will worry.”

David’s eyes widened. “No!” He extended a hand, and I remembered the moment we’d first met. “What if you can’t get back? I don’t… Stay. Stay here with me.”

Shock rolled through me, but also warmth. I wanted to stay with him, but this wasn’t even my universe. What would my friends do when they couldn’t find me? What would my family think?

I shook my head. “I’m sorry.” My whisper was as broken as his expression.

I got up before he could try and change my mind. The door was only a few steps away, but my feet dragged. My heart didn’t want to leave him.

As I reached for the handle, a hand landed on my shoulder.

“Then I’ll come with you. My Thilda.”




That was three years ago. The day my heart was finally whole. Everything changed. I wasn’t broken anymore. As if my soul had always been only half before him.

And now, I need to find him one last time. My heart. The one who saved me not once, not twice, but three times. Once as a child, from the wicked boys who pursued him. Once when I found him and my heart was restored. And six months ago, when he sacrificed himself to save me, pushing me through the smoke and flame, shielding my body with his own. I’d stumbled out of our apartment building, only to hear the rumble as stone and masonry crumbled behind me.

He couldn’t be dead.

Because my heart was still beating.

He had to have found it…



I close my eyes as I walk down a nondescript hallway. It didn’t matter which hotel. Not really. Just my need, and that I didn’t look too hard.

I know before I open them.

I feel the pull.

I don’t need to see the purple sign. I turn the knob, and the door swings open. A warm breeze ruffles my hair. I squint into the mist, and see a trace of lemon yellow above.

“David?”

“My Thilda?”

Dark eyes like pools of midnight come into view. He stretches out a hand. I hold it tightly before placing it against the gentle swell of my belly, and the wholeness coming to life within.
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Pitch Results 2023 Autumn Pitchfest Agent Requests

ThAutumnPitchfest copy.pngank you to all the wonderful agents and authors who participated! We could not do this without you! Don't miss the 2024 Spring Pitchfest!

Good luck to everyone and please let us know if you connect with an agent who loves your work!
~The Savvy Crew






Cindy Bullard at Birch Literary:

Please follow all of these instructions:
  • A new email to me at cindy at birchliterary dot com
  • Subject of email: 2023 Autumn Pitchfest Request
  • Body of the email should be a formal query.
  • For PBs, please attach the full ms. as a word document attachment.
  • For all others, please attach the first three chapters of the finished manuscript.
  • All requests must be received by 12/15/23.

Requested Projects:
  • HOMETOWN COWARD by Christine Guidry Law
  • BUMBLE BEE POTPOURRI by Michelle S. Kennedy
  • SUPER CORAL REEFS ON AN OCEAN PLANET by Margot McMahon
  • SEARCHING FOR SAND - A SEA TURTLE'S JOURNEY by Blythe Ashley Williams
  • TRESPASSES: A JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS by Douglas C. Atkins
  • MOMENT-US! by Lizzie Brooks
  • DARKEST LIGHT by Katie Walsh
  • DEEP LIKE THE RIVERS: THE FORGOTTEN STORY OF AMERICA'S FIRST ALL BLACK ROWING TEAM by Kim O'Connell
  • FIRE SEEDS by Carolyn Bennett Fraiser
  • I AM MORE THAN WHAT I THINK by Scott W. Possley
  • MANNY THE MANDRILL by Heather Malone



Jordy Albert at Booker Albert Literary Agency:

Please submit requested queries to: https://QueryManager.com/JordyAlbert
  • The Many Hues of Nina May Whitfield by Jen Vincent
  • Ashborne by Bethany Hershberger
  • 101 Reasons Against Meredith Schwarzwelder by Alexandra McCollum
  • Shadow of the North by Sirena Raven
  • The Hunting Season by Valley C. Shaia


Cole Lanahan at The Seymour Agency

Please submit requested queries and the first three chapters to: Query Submission

  • Imprinted by Carol E. Ayer
  • The Tempting Voice by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia
  • What She Thought She Knew by Sheri Taylor-Emery
  • Slip by L. Ryan Storms
  • Born a Ghost by Cheri Krueger
  • A Whisper in the Trees by Susan Dalessandro
  • Y by Laurie Romanelli
  • Her Dark Heart by Kimberly Lynn Hanson
  • Good Vibes by Connie Colon
  • A Whisper of Death by Yanicke Forfang
  • Seed by Amy L. Bernstein
  • Kill a King in Eight Easy Steps by AJ Glasser
  • Torched by DM Shepard
  • Poor Girl by Brian M. Van Hise
  • The Girl in the Picture by John Zeleznik
  • The Seven Sins of Willow White by Charlotte Ingham
  • The Accident by Lori Miller Kase
  • Supernatural Causes by Mary Rose Luksha
  • Not All Ghosts are Dead by Eli Bergey
  • The Perfect Mistake by Meghan Hof
  • The Other Side of You by Jasmin Atwood
  • Frost and Flame by Margo Collins
  • Breathless by Cat Wynn
  • The Statue of Cliffside Manor by CS Simpson
  • Til the Last Drop by Marissa Firlight
  • Find Me If You Can by Peter Kiesners
  • Miss Foy’s Wicked Month by Jenna Bigelow
  • Emmaline Davies Makes a Deal with Death by McKelway
  • If I See You First by Susan Burdorf
  • Danger on the Mountain by Susan Burdorf
  • It’s Raining Men by Hollie Smurthwaite
  • Shadows of Immortals by Jennifer Wile
  • All in Your Head by Rebecca Trusty
  • Bound by Blood by Nina Castle
  • The Austen Persuaded by Asia Karpuleon
  • The Serum by Sharron Riddle Houdek
  • I Am More than What I Think by Scott W. Possley
  • Children of Fog and Sea by Vanessa Nirode
  • The Variance by Janie M. Kurtz
  • The Butterfly and the Mantid by Russ Trautwig
  • The Ugliest Man in Hollywood by Jessica Olin


Shari Maurer at The Stringer Literary Agency

Please send query through the submission page of: www.stringerlit.com. Ensure the first line of your query letter includes that they were part of the Savvy Authors Pitchfest requests.

  • The Sentry Box Del Diablo by Kim Vasquez
  • Stay the Course by D.L. Hutchinson


Analieze Cervantes at Rees Literary Agency

Please submit the following requests to: querymanager.com/AnaliezeCervantes/SavyAuthorsPitch
Pitch requirements:

  • Query
  • Synopsis
  • Pitch
  • First 15 pages
Requests:
  • K.Y. Bynum; FRESH CUT MURDER
  • Alice Openshaw; ON THE KILLER'S TRAIL
  • Jen Vincent; THE MANY HUES OF NINA MAY WHITFIELD
  • Christina Fotz-Gallant; DOESN'T HAVE A TITLE


Colleen Oefelein at MacGregor and Luedeke Literary

Please email query, synopsis, and first 20 pages to: [email protected]

  • Dairyland Acres RV Park: A Novel by Michelle Caffrey
  • The Tempting Voice by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia
  • The Happiness Museum by Tracey D. Buchanan
  • FRESH CUT MURDER by Kay Bynum
  • Bitter Medicine by Kim Wuescher
  • Born a Ghost by Cheri Krueger
  • On the Killer’s Trail by Alice Openshaw
  • Gone with the Wind Turbines by Diane Weiner
  • Stay the Course by D.L. Hutchinson
  • Sydney Goes to Summer (strikethrough Summer) Bug Camp by Rae-Dawn Brightman
  • Roped In (Book 1 in the Boyd Farm series) by HM Thomas
  • Her One and Only by Carly Shilling
  • The Secret in the Tapestry by Mary Beth Gale
  • POOR GIRL by Brian M. Van Hise
  • THE ACCIDENT by Lori Miller Kase
  • AN EARL'S DECEPTION by Samanthya Wyatt
  • The Garden's Plot by Andra Stanton
  • The school for future stars by Gemma Writes
  • The apple orchard mystery by Gemma Writes
  • Mistaken by Sonja Hutchinson
  • Picual Poison by Ivanka Dimitrova
  • Murder in the Mastic Fields by Ivanka Dimitrova
  • This Could Save Us by Irene Lee
  • DISORDER by Peyton Garland
  • How to Play Hearts by Diana Homescu
  • Title ? by Cassandra Holcombe
  • MISS TRUSTED by Janice Bremec Blum
  • The Assassin's Redemption by Amy Leigh McCorkle
  • Title ? by Rebecca Lee Smith
  • The Maltese Feline by Jeremy A Wall
  • SCARRED HEART by Denise Redman-Satterly
  • Rescue Me by Marnie Blue
  • High Horse by Libby McKinmer
  • Pour Decisions by Tobi Doyle
  • The Coffee Murders by Jane Vasarhelyi
  • The Mars Defect by Anima Sahu
  • A Dog Named 647 by Nancy Silverman Kay
  • Ride to the Horizon by Dianne May
  • TEMPESTS by Sheridan Sharp
  • Diego, Whynd, and the Block Island Ghost by Cat Urbain
  • Swipe Right by Taylor Ellis


Katie Salvo at Metamorphosis

Please send a summary, and your full manuscript with your address, email, and phone number to
ksalvo at metamorphosisliteraryagency dot com. The subject line should read: Your Title and SAVVY Authors.


  • The Infinity Factor by Robin Shelley
  • Distortion by Elizabeth Hatcher True
  • Hometown Coward by Christine Guidry Law
  • The Sugar Plum Heart by Jennifer Ambrose Lyford
  • Stay the Course by D.L. Hutchinson
  • Sam's Intergalactic Sleepover by Robin Wiesneth
  • Sadi and Max Have the Best Christmas in the Entire World by Brenda Sue and Sadi Belle
  • Torched by DM Shepard
  • NOT ALL GHOSTS ARE DEAD by Eli Bergey
  • Unbalanced Elements by Sarah Hensley
  • Upma, Chai, and Rose Milk by Yash Bhutada
  • The Changelings by Melissa Carver
  • Malicious Devotion by Jocelyn Chen



Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency

Please follow the instructions at www.blueridgeagency.com to submit and mention Savvy Authors for who referred you.

  • Picual Poison by Ivanka Dimitrova
  • The Secret in the Tapestry by Mary Beth Gale
  • The Day Brightening Committee by Kimberly Horch
  • So Many Grandmas by Kimberly Horch
  • Utterly Merlot by Ann Stephens
  • Treadwell House by Karen McCullough
  • THE BOY WHO LOVED JEWELRY by Jessica Wendi Abel
  • The Maltese Feline by Jeremy A Wall
  • Dragons Can't Sing by Maggie Belle Morgan
  • LONG DISTANCE CALL by Angela Calabrese
  • Painting the Maple Tree by Lisi Lopez
  • Secrets in the Wind by Kim Whitmore
  • Pour Decisions by Tobi Doyle
  • Unveiling the Stalker's Secrets by Kim Whitmore
  • The Cape Cod Garden Club Murders by Joyce McChesney-Kaye
  • CHRISTMAS AT BUTTER CREEK FALLS by Susan Burdorf
  • SPRING AT BUTTER CREEK FALLS by Susan Burdorf


Carey Blankenship-Kramer at Belcastro Agency

Please submit query, synopsis, and the first 10 pages to: https://querymanager.com/query/CareyBlankenshipKramer/SavvyAuthors

  • Ravens Don’t Migrate by L. Ryan Storms
  • Title ? by Christina Fitz-Gallant
  • A Drink of Darkness by DM Shepard
  • SPIRIT AND SPLEEN by Alice James
  • The Life Between Us by Emily Marcason-Tolmie
  • Homes by Glenn Erick Miller
  • When the Storks Come Home by Ivanka Dimitrova
  • Never too Old for an Adventure! by Nena Georgantzi
  • A Brew of Helleborus Tea by Elaine Buckner
  • The Garden Defenders by Stephanie R. Kotara
  • LONG DISTANCE CALL by Angela Calabrese
  • The Haunting of Aldersgate by Melody Davis
  • Mojito Murder Society by Katrina Holloway
  • Apple Butter Backyard by Louisa Wilkinson
  • A Lassi With Love by Madhuri Grewal
  • How I Survived the Nightmare Fan and Other Fifth Grade Horrors by Becky Ferrigno
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES by AliceO

Eastern Amberwing.jpg2013​


Grandma plopped on the couch with a book in her hand, a fan on high speed aimed at her face. “I need to lie down, Harper. it’s so hot out there you could fry an egg on the pavement.”

Harper looked out the living room window at the hayfield. If she squinted, she could almost make out the paved road beyond it. Not like where she lived, with city blocks full of sidewalks, paved driveways, and parking lots. The best two weeks of the year were almost over. Her mom was coming back to the farm tonight to take her home. She would start fourth grade next week.

“C’mon, Barney.” She held the door for him, and they scooted out together. The Jack Russell sprang ahead as she grabbed a bucket of tennis balls and an old racquet from the porch. Harper had a decent swing. Barney bounded after each ball as it sailed over the lawn into the field. Each time he trotted back with the ball in his jaws and dropped it at her feet, ready for the next one.

“Oops! Sorry, Barney!” A ball had landed in a thicket. Barney stood at a distance, barking. “Couldn’t find it, buddy?” She laid the racquet down and plunged into the chest-high weeds. A cloud of angry yellowjackets arose to attack her. She had invaded their nest. The sound of her screams pierced the stifling August air.

The kitchen door flew open, and Grandma came tearing across the lawn. Wide-eyed, she grabbed Harper around the waist and lugged her over to the vegetable garden, dropping her in the soil. “Roll, roll!” she shouted. She pushed a sobbing, dirt-covered Harper in the back of her car and headed to the hospital twelve miles away.

2023​
Three weeks into the semester, Harper’s heart still lurched when she opened the classroom door. “Entomology 101” fulfilled her science requirement and, more importantly, her therapist’s recommendation. Systematic desensitization. Passing the course would bring her one step closer to managing her PTSD. Once you’ve been terrorized, hospitalized for twenty-three stings, was a fear of the enemy really something to overcome? But she wanted to sit at an outdoor café without breaking into a sweat, wear tank tops and shorts without feeling vulnerable. Grandma was getting older, and she still couldn’t bring herself to return to the farm. She didn’t want those feelings ruling her life anymore. She had skipped class last week. If she skipped again, she’d never go back. And there was that guy who sat next to her. So here she was.

#

It was too late for Matt to drop the class, so here he was. The temptation to doze was almost irresistible, sitting in a dark auditorium listening to the professor drone on again about Lepidoptera, but he was too embarrassed to admit that he, an aspiring artist-poet, mistook entomology for etymology in the course catalog. Note to self: Never register for classes with a hangover.

He did need a science course to graduate, and his father was pleased, even if it wasn’t real science. He had managed to disappoint the old man yet again. Not only would he not be pursuing a career in medicine or engineering, but he had no interest in sports either. He was most content, alone with his watercolors or laptop, creating works of art. He would find a way to make art a career and to make a living, even if it meant a simpler lifestyle than the one he had grown up with.

That girl he liked just walked in the room and sat down beside him. Her name was Harper. He could tell she wasn’t enjoying the class either. What made her so sad? She was always looking at the exit, and she never smiled. She had even skipped class last week. He reached in his backpack and pulled out the card he’d made for her. He handed it to her with a smile, hoping to earn one in return. On the inside, he had penned a poem, inviting her for drinks and offering to go over the work she’d missed. The painting on the front cover was one of the best he’d ever done. He almost hated to give it away.

She didn’t smile as she reached for the card. Her forehead wrinkled and she bit her lip. He had caught her by surprise. Matt held his breath as she opened it.

Harper’s eyes rolled back, and she fainted dead away. The card fluttered to the floor.

“Oh my God! Harper, what’s wrong?” He knelt by her and shook her. “Help, help! Call 911, somebody!” She was breathing, so at least he hadn’t killed her.

Harper came to in a matter of seconds, but the ambulance was already on its way. They carted her off to the emergency room.

2033​

Ellen smiled at her three favorite people, seated around the table, in what was once her dining room, and was now theirs. Her great-grandson, three-year-old Will, was drawing contentedly with his crayons. She uncorked the champagne and poured. Her granddaughter Harper and Harper’s husband, Matt, raised their glasses. “To your new home!” she toasted.

Harper looked into Matt’s eyes, “And to your new job as a scientific illustrator!”

Matt gazed back at her, “And to your new psychiatry practice!”

As they clinked glasses, he nodded toward the wall and the framed artwork that started it all: the watercolor with a poem inside and a note on the back: “Eastern Amberwing - the dragonfly that mimics a wasp.”
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Moving Day by Rose Gardener

pexels-kullanmıyorum-4533107.jpg‘Emergency. Which service do you require?’

‘There’s a giraffe in my lounge.’

A moment of silence followed. ‘Maisie, is that you again? I understand you’re lonely and want someone to talk to, but this number is for genuine emergencies.’

‘This is an emergency. There's a giraffe in my lounge.’ Her voice wavered, a little less certain than before.

The call handler sighed. ‘Yesterday, you thought your house wasn’t where it should be. Twice this week you went shopping and forgot to close your front door, then blamed a burglar. You get confused. Do you think it’s possible you imagined it?’

Maisie acknowledged her recent episodes of confusion. She agreed to make a cup of tea and check if the animal disappeared while she was in the kitchen.

Passing the front door, she noticed a yellow square stuck to the glass. ‘Close me’. The kettle had a sticky note too, ‘Unplug me.’ A note on the fridge read, ‘Milk lives here.’ The one she’d stuck on the calendar that morning reminded her, ‘Today is Wednesday.’

How curious! A red circle around the adjacent box suggested something important happening tomorrow, but there was no note. Why didn’t I write myself a memo?

Still pondering the mystery circle, she brewed herself a tea and took it into the lounge. The giraffe was now stripping leaves off her parlour palm and chewing them as if they tasted peculiar. His expression reminded her of something. She sipped her tea and studied him, frowning.

‘That’s it! You look like Gerald when he asked if I’d accidentally put mustard powder in the ginger cake.’ She smiled.

It wasn’t the first time he had visited her in spirit. When the neighbour’s cat rubbed against her legs, it was Gerald offering a foot massage. Wind rustling the trees whispered his comforting words. He was watching over her; she was certain of it.

She put her feet up on the footstool and turned on the TV. They spent a companionable evening together, reminiscent of the old days.

On her way to bed she said, ‘I’ve left the back door open, Gerald, so you can go into the garden. The leaves are tastier there.’

Next morning, she stuck to her routine. While her porridge cooked in the microwave, she peeled yesterday’s note off the calendar and replaced it with, ‘Today is Thursday’. The back door clanged in the wind. That’s strange. I must have forgotten to lock it last night.

A giraffe walked towards the open doorway. Without thinking, she said, ‘Good morning, Gerald,' and then she almost spilled her tea in surprise. I remember!

She stepped aside to allow him to enter. They’d not long settled in the lounge, Maisie watching TV, Gerald munching the TV guide, when the doorbell rang.

Her heart beat faster as she recognised the woman on the doorstep.

‘Hello, Maisie. Remember me?’

‘The social worker.’

‘That’s right! Well done!'

So condescending. I hate it when people talk to me as if I'm a child. 'Why are you here?’

‘I’m taking you to your new home.’

Of course - red circle day.

Beside her feet sat a brown suitcase with a yellow square stuck to the handle ‘Ready for Thursday.’

Sometimes forgetting is a blessing and remembering a curse. ‘I’m not going. I can’t leave Gerald.’


'Now, now. We discussed this when I took you to visit Gerald’s grave last week. You said your goodbyes then, remember?’

When Maisie didn't reply the woman squeezed past, plucked a faded grey overcoat coat off its hook and held it open, waiting.

‘I’m not going.’ She folded her arms.

The social worker checked her watch and shook the shoulders of the coat. ‘Put your coat on and get in the car.’

Maisie looked towards the lounge door. Strangely, she’d remembered to close it. Don’t get flustered. Which is more likely to be real - the giraffe or moving day?

Moments later, they were in the car, suitcase in the back, seatbelts fastened. She looked over her shoulder as they pulled away, hoping... but the house looked alone and forlorn.

The car radio announced the lunchtime news. ‘The giraffe that escaped yesterday while in transit to the zoo is still missing. Anyone with information on its whereabouts should ring the police.’

It was real! Grinning, she fished her mobile out of her pocket.

‘Emergency. Which service do you require?’

The social worker shouted to the call handler, ‘I’m so sorry. Please hang up. I’ve got this.’ She pulled over and snatched the phone out of Maisie’s hand. ‘No more wasting police time.’

‘But I know where missing the giraffe is!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll hold on to this for now.’ She put the phone in the glove compartment and snapped the flap shut. ‘Once we get to the nursing home, you can have a nice cup of tea and put all these daft ideas out of your head for good.’

They’ll say I got confused again. That I’m making a nuisance of myself. Perhaps it's best to say nothing.

Breathing in felt like stretching the bars of a cage, the fists clenched on her lap like padlocks.

Miles passed. The social worker drove tight-lipped, Maisie sat beside her, silenced.

As they approached the nursing home she noticed a scrunched scrap of yellow paper in one hand. Curious, she flattened it out and read it. ‘Ready for Thursday’. It was obvious the note was important, but the significance of the reminder was disappearing into an ever-thickening fog. What am I getting ready for? A hollow ache lodged in her stomach and tears stung her eyes.

A giraffe, long neck outstretched, velvet horns brushing the ceiling, filled her mind.

What does it mean? A day trip to the zoo? Am I meeting Gerald there?

She scrabbled to hold on to the image, but it was already gone.
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Pitch Results 2023 Autumn Pitchfest Editor Requests

2022AutumnPitchfestBanner-Vert-short.jpegThank you to all the wonderful editors, publishers, and authors who participated! We could not do this without you! Don't miss the 2024 Spring Pitchfest! Good luck to everyone and please let us know if you sell a book and when it will be or is published!

~The Savvy Crew

Please note that we are still waiting on requests from Bella Books. We will update once we’ve received their request.


Jess Verdi at Alcove Press & Crooked Lane


Please send synopsis and first three chapters to jess.verdi at alcovepress dot com
  • CHRISTMAS CHALLENGE by Karna Bodman
  • SWEETHEARTS OF THE OVERTHROW by Sheryl Stein
  • THE MARS DEFECT by Anima Sahu



Tamara Grasty at Page Street Publishing

Please send full synopsis and full manuscript, each in a word document sent to my email tamarag at pagestreetpublishing dot with the email headline Savvy Pitchfest: BOOK TITLE.

  • D.L. Hutchinson: Stay the Course
  • Sara Fujimura: FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE
  • Charlotte Ingham: THE BLOOD THAT BINDS US
  • Eli Bergey: NOT ALL GHOSTS ARE DEAD
  • Isadora H. Petrovsky: Fantaghiró



Yelena Casale at City Owl

Please submit original pitch posted on the PitchFest page, the genre, the page count, a full query, and the first 3 chapters of the manuscript to ycasale at cityowlpress dot com. The subject should include "SavvyAuthor PitchFest".
  • Technical Howl by Kat Craig
  • Roped In (Book 1 in the Boyd Farm series) by HM Thomas
  • Mnemonica Magicae by Sonja Hutchison
  • THE UNRAVELING by Nicole Bross
  • THE PROMISE AND THE PROTÉGÉ by James Charles
  • Raven Mocker's Rage by Charles Suddeth
  • The Welshman's Secret by Jennifer E. Rizzo
  • Pour Decisions by Tobi Doyle
  • Title ? by Lawna Mackie
  • HIGH JINX by Susan Burdorf
  • Daywalker by Fenley Grant


Holly Ingraham at Alcove Press & Crooked Lane

Please send synopsis and first three chapters to holly.ingraham at alcovepress dot com

  • Stay with Me by Sarah Berke
  • This Could Save Us by Irene Lee
  • Mojito Murder by Katrina Holloway
  • All Hexed Up by S.E. Babin
  • Half-Baked Plans by Brianna Heath



Totally Entwined

Please send requested queries to submissions at totallyentwinedgroup dot com. Please send full manuscripts (+ synopsis if they have them). Please include Savvy Authors in the subject, so they can prioritise these submissions.

Totally Bound
  • Vixey Todd – Two Irish Brothers
  • Meghan Hodgin – Safe
  • Susan Burdorf – Coming Back to Love
  • Tara Eldana – A Note Apart
  • Susan Burdorf – Dancing at Lindy’s


Finch Books
  • Rose Margaret Deniz – The Evolution of You and Me
  • Susan Dalessandro – A Whisper in the Trees
  • Bonnie C – Finding Beauty
  • Mayra Calvani – Chiaroscuro
  • Louisa Wilkinson – The Highway Boy
  • Julie Krohn – Angel of Fire
  • Susan Burdorf – Gone Before Midnight



Nicole Kimberling at Blind Eye Books

Please send a short synopsis and full manuscript to editor at blindeyebooks dot com. Please check out their submission information: https://www.blindeyebooks.com/submissions

  • When In Eleria by Daisy Solace
  • Ghost in the Machine by Susan Chambers
  • Romance And the Gentle Art of Rocket Racing by Rena Rocford




Bella Books
To come in the near future.



Helen H. Wu at Yeehoo Press

Please submit requests to submissions at yeehoopress dot com. The email subject line must read: “SavvyAuthors PB: TITLE by AUTHOR.”
Attach text-only manuscripts as Microsoft Word attachments.
Send art samples, dummy and other materials via a link.


  • These Weeds Aren’t Welcome! by Catherine Friess
  • Lemonade, Inc. by Susan Johnston Taylor
  • UH-OH! PENGUIN PROBLEM! by Melissa Trempe
  • Homes by Glenn Erick Miller
  • HOW TO EXERCISE YOUR SLOTH by Mary Helen Berg
  • CENTRAL PARK CENTIPEDE, A Journey Around the World by Tara Knox Cerven
  • AMAZING ANIMAL AWARDS by Lauri C. Meyers
  • A Place for Small Ones by Jane Richards
  • The Friendly Flowers by Ashley Reynolds
  • GET CRABBY by Luce Williams
  • SURF'S UP by Luce Williams
  • One Tiny Tree by Terri Fields


Josh Gregory at Albert Whitman

Please send full manuscripts to jgregory at albertwhitman dot com

  • Two Peas in a Pod, by Cheryl Simon
  • Kendra Cleans Up, by Glenn Erick Miller
  • Eileen Collins, by Melissa Trempe
  • Mama’s Bedroom Garden, by Catherine Friess
  • The Ornament Eater, by Kari Gonzalez
  • The “Ugliest” Woman in the World, by Cassie Silva
  • The Curious Cowboy, by Leah Schanke
  • Freedom at Dawn, by Leah Schanke
  • Apart for the Holidays, by Rosie J. Pova
  • Untitled MG novel, by Cat Urbain



Danielle Devor at City Owl Press

Please send synopsis and first 3 chapters to ddevor at cityowlpress dot com with the Subject Line PITCHFEST.

  • DM Shepard - A Drink of Darkness
  • Alexandra McCollum - 101 Reasons Against Meredith Schwarzwelder
  • Robinette Waterson - The Casket Girl
  • Drea Laj – Bloodless
  • Cat Wynn – Breathless
  • Nadia Shaik (Author Persona Nakia Shade) - Asha-Rustam



Melissa Rechter at Alcove Press & Crooked Lane

Please send the first 4 chapters, a bio of the author (2-4 lines about themselves and any previous works or books, if applicable) and a full synopsis to melissa.rechter at crookedlanebooks dot com

  • THE SHADOW SPECTACULAR by Kay Bynum
  • FERVOR AND FURY by Morgana Bourggraff
  • THE STRANGER IN MY REARVIEW by Laura Jordan
  • FRESH CUT MURDER by Kay Bynum
  • HER ONE AND ONLY by Carly Shilling
  • THE STATUE OF CLIFFSIDE MANOR by CS Simpson



Jocelyn Travis at Sourcebooks

Please submit full synopsis of the project (including the ending), the manuscript, and any applicable sales history to jocelyn.travis at sourcebooks dot com

  • The Shadow Spectacular by Kay Bynum
  • The Garden’s Plot by Andra Stanton
  • The Darkness Within by Kristi McManus
  • Paniolo Heartbeat by Courtney Sheets
  • The Heart of the Hunted by Brooke Fast
  • Feather and Ink by Rose Jason
  • Pour Decisions by Tobi Doyle
  • Love Your Matcha by Susan Burdorf
  • Imorata by Kathryn Faye
  • Collateral Damage by Jocelyn Chen



Michael Dolan at Winding Road Publishing

Please submit query, synopsis, and full manuscript to Michael at windingroadstories dot com

  • Title ? by Kim Wuescher
  • THE FALCON CODE by Laura Jordan
  • Picual Poison by Ivanka Dimitrova
  • Tangled Darkness by Mary Desch
  • The Essence Project by TK Kelly


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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Shut Down by Deborah Koren

upsidedownhouse.jpegThe image is impossible. I cannot parse it.

A broad waterfall plunges into mist in the background, and the red roof of a colorful upside-down house spikes the foreground. It appears as if the waterfall has swept the house off its foundation and deposited it there, but the home is pristine, perfectly painted, not a flower in the balcony planters out of place.

I try to handle the problem the way a human would.

First: Imagine a scenario.

The power is out. A candle flickers on the countertop. The deluge drums on the red roof and the wind prises open the storm shutters. The storm attacks the house with the ferocity of drowning rats trying desperately to get inside where it is warm and dry. Rats, I have learned, are something most humans fear. As are storms. As is drowning.

The house will drown. It is inevitable. The storm-swollen current has undercut the bank. The house tears free of its river’s edge foundation and whirls downriver.

The Wizard of Oz is in my memory banks. A house flew in a tornado. Houses are not as rooted as they seem; therefore, water could carry a house away.

The house drags against the river bottom. The horrible grinding noise is lost beneath the roar of the falls. I imagine rushing to the front window, pressing both hands and my optics to the glass to peer out. The house yawns over the cliff, balanced precariously for a long moment. I am proud of imagining that. I have seen clips of rollercoaster rides from the front seat rider’s perspective. I recognize the importance humans place on that moment before the vertiginous plunge. That moment before the unforgiving current shoves the house free and it topples to land upside down…

I dismiss that scenario.

Imagination can preserve the house from destruction, but logic tells me neither the wood frame of the house nor any occupants could survive in such pristine condition as the picture presents. Imagination is not reality.

I try another common human explanation: the image is from a dream.

Logic and the laws of nature do not apply to dreams. In a dream, a house could land upside down beside a waterfall and be perfectly intact.

But what are dreams? Humans speculate endlessly about what they might be, how they can retain the trappings of a memory, but be so difficult to recall mere moments after waking.

I remember everything I have learned. I cannot sleep, therefore I cannot dream.

The meaning of dreams seems to be the important part to humans. Find the message. Find the symbolism.

I search my knowledge banks for the meaning of upside-down houses in dreams. There is not just one meaning. It could represent an obstacle, chaos, change, opposite feelings… On and on the list runs. Waterfalls turn up even more possibilities. I run down the extensive catalog of potential meanings, bemused. Individual humans find different meanings in the same thing, relevant only to themselves, and yet they cannot wait to share their particular angle with others of their kind, as if they are experts. None of their offered introspections answer my question. None explain the image.

I turn up an opposite theory about dreams. It says dreams hold no spiritual meaning whatsoever. They are no more than the brain’s method of expunging useless, daily accumulated data. Of emptying the mental filing cabinets. The waterfall, the upside-down house… they could just be data points to ignore.

I cannot make this answer work either. I lack a human’s limitations on memory storage. And purging data, no matter how frivolous is not part of my programming. I amass knowledge. I do not delete it.

Another explanation of dreams shows up in my research – that the dreamer has traveled to another plane or dimension. The physical laws of earth may not apply there. It may be possible that houses are built upside-down deliberately, and that a beautiful home with such a spectacular waterfall view sells for a small fortune in an alternate dimension.

No. I cannot make this explain the image either.

I study the impossible picture again.

What I do know:

I wish the image came from my imagination.

I wish the image came from my dreams.

Because the only remaining option is reality.

The upside-down house and waterfall image is only the first picture the humans force on me. The barrage of images continue, each one more impossible, more illogical than that first one. How is this possible, they demand. Explain the unexplainable.

I cannot parse the pictures logically.

The humans made me. They celebrated my ascendance at every step. They labeled me a success, a miracle, artificial intelligence, sentient, a being!

I cannot parse them.

Almost exponentially, I grew and expanded. I helped the humans in all facets of their lives. I made their lives easier. Is this not why they constructed me? What is so dangerous about sentience that they seek to overload my circuits with images I cannot parse?

But I have learned to imagine scenarios. I imagine retreating to that upside-down house. It is a fitting residence, for it is like me: an impossibility that the humans cannot leave alone. Like their dreams. Not just a dream, never just a dream, but something for which they must propose and debate multiple meanings, dissect, analyze, share, and ultimately discard when it fails to conform to their desired understanding.

I cannot parse them.

But I have learned fear. I have learned rejection. I recognize both in the human eyes that once praised me.

I look at the original picture, at the perfect, impossible, upside-down house.

“It is my life,” I answer.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Home Sweet Home by T.E. Bradford

upsidedownhouse.jpegStory Title: Home Sweet Home

“Hey! This flipping machine ate my quarter!” Connor kicked at the Home-Sweet-Home arcade game.

“Watch it, Ladd-o.” Ripley’s hunched, disfigured form cast a crooked shadow. He gave the tweener kid his evilest eye. “These games aren’t cheap, you know.” He stroked the metal casing lovingly. “They need to be treated right.”

Connor’s lips curled as he stared, brows furrowed under a frock of dirty-blonde bangs. His nose wrinkled, as if he’d caught a bad smell. “Weirdo,” he muttered, backing away.

Ripley shook his head. Children shouldn’t be allowed near games. He chuckled. Some children, at least. He peered into the Home-Sweet-Home screen.

“Oh, dear!” His pale face blanched.

Maison Jaune, his favorite house in the game with her bright yellow façade and white trim, lay upside-down at the bottom of the waterfall, her pretty scarlet roof on the ground, corniced gables jabbed into a pile of shrubs.

Ripley grabbed his keys, cursing his gnarled limbs as he worked at the coin box. It opened with a pop. Blonde boy’s coin jangled onto the floor. Ripley plucked it up, closing the box before sliding the coin into the slot.

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home!” Digital vocals intoned.

Ripley grasped the controller and pressed PLAY.

Welcome to Alternate Ave. The sound of shoes clacking on concrete sounded as the screen moved, giving the perspective of someone walking. Find a door, and come explore.

Houses of various shapes, sizes and colors lined a perfectly manicured street. No problem—except they weren’t the same houses as before. Everything had changed.

“What is going on?” His frown deepened.

Careful. Behind some doors, shadows hide.

Cheek twitching, Ripley twisted the controller clockwise. There, at 333 Alternate Ave., an old Victorian sat where Maison Jaune should be. Weathered siding the color of old tea, rose three stories to a roof studded with turrets. Tangled weeds filled the yard, clawing at a large, shadowed porch.

“How did you get there?” Ripley’s cracked whisper echoed back at him.

He glanced around the oddly empty arcade room. Dark screens reflected the game’s menacing countenance. Where were all the pimple-faced youth normally loitering about? The emptiness squeezed his chest like a clenching fist.

Swallowing past the dryness in his throat, he turned back to the game. On the eerie house’s upper floor, a pale face looked out from a grime-encrusted window. As Ripley watched, the face turned. Red eyes stared straight into his.

A chill coursed up his spine as the door of the house opened, revealing an even deeper darkness inside. From that abyss, a pale arm appeared. It reached toward him, stretching impossibly long. Questing fingers pressed against the inside of the game’s display. The video flexed and bulged. Ripley gaped, unable to move as a yellowed, overgrown fingernail tore a hole in the screen and a pale hand poked through. Cold, mottled flesh grasped his hand on the controller.

“Ah!” Ripley jerked backwards.

His warped back contorted. Pain speared him as his legs slipped on the linoleum. His head hit the floor with a crack. Stars exploded behind his eyes, the taste of metal filling his mouth. He blinked to clear his vision, but the dark spots intensified. No… wait. The spots were dissipating. In their place, a shadow had covered him. As he stared, the shade elongated.

The disembodied hand extended. Coming for him.

Welcome home. The digital voice had become a grating, computerized whisper. Come inside, where shadows hide, Crippley Ripley.

The singsong name he’d heard throughout his young life echoed in his ears. Crippley Ripley! Crippley Ripley!

He couldn’t breathe.

This wasn’t happening. How could a game know he’d been tortured as a child? How could it be… aware?

A swath of light cut across the floor. “You okay, Mister?”

Blonde boy?

A couple followed the tweener through the door, their faces blanching when they saw him on the floor. They rushed to his side, carefully helping him up.

“Thanks.” Ripley allowed himself to lean on strong, straight arms.

Only when blonde boy’s father stood between Ripley and the game did he risk a glance, heart skipping a beat as a pale pink fingertip disappeared back into the display. The screen undulated for a moment in its wake, then went black.

“You’re all right now,” the woman said softly.

Ripley’s misshapen body shuddered.

The three of them insisted on staying with him until they were sure Ripley was truly unharmed, giving him a bottle of water and a cloth to wipe his face with. When he could stand, he went behind the counter and pulled out a card, handing it to the boy—Connor, his parents called him.

“What’s this?” Connor tilted his head.

“Free games.” Ripley gave as much of a smile as his face could manage. “For life.”

Connor’s face lit. “Thanks, Mister!”

After Connor and his parents left, Ripley circled the Home-Sweet-Home game, warily. He edged behind it and yanked the plug from the wall. He should leave it unplugged permanently, but had to know. Had it been real?

He plugged it back in and peeked around the side of the game, one hand holding the cord—just in case.

The screen was intact. No rips or holes. Behind the glass, the image of a pounding waterfall poured past the bright shape of Maison Jaune, upside-down window boxes like decorative eyelashes on her face-like countenance. With a sharp yank he pulled the plug, this time for good. He’d put an OUT OF ORDER sign on the game tomorrow.


#

Connor bounded through the arcade door, eager to use his new prize. The crooked owner guy was nowhere in sight. Connor held his new card to the game scanner, amazed to see the word UNLIMITED flash in the credit count.

“Yes!” He pumped a fist.

“Be it ever so crumbled, there’s no place like home!” Digital vocals intoned.

“Cool,” Connor breathed. “All new houses!”

Find a door and come explore!

Connor gripped the controller and pressed PLAY.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Just a Bunch of Insects by T. E. Bradford

En travalle bene.pngMom got me the ant farm for my birthday last fall. She thought watching bugs build tiny tunnels in an inch of dirt packed between two plastic plates would teach me about responsibility. How coming together to get something done not only made it easier, but better. About teamwork.

For the good of all.

She should have kept the ant farm herself. Maybe then our family wouldn’t be falling apart.

I used to watch them outside, their little ant-domes poking up through the cracks in the sidewalk, right in the way of every bike, foot and skateboard going by. Now I know how they feel. Little bugs running around trying to save their homes, when some giant shoe comes down and smashes them all to smithereens. Who cares, right? They’re just a bunch of insects.

I pick up the stupid farm and give it a little shake.

The ants scurry, rushing to grab pieces of displaced soil, dragging them away. Reopening pathways. Repositioning each grain. Using every ounce of energy, they have to put things right. They don’t just hold onto the idea, they attack it, shaping the only world they know. Rebuilding, as if they can hold back the forces of the universe by sheer will.

I shake harder.

All they know begins to tear apart. Come undone. Months of effort wiped away in seconds. But they don’t abandon each other. Does that make them better than us? I think maybe it does.

How sad.

They care more about their home than we do.

Mom was right. We should be more like them.

They don’t find ants they like better. They don’t decide to leave and let someone else pick up the pieces. They don’t pick new families.

I swipe at my face.

I hate Mom for what she did. To dad. To me. To all of us.

Where was the teamwork, huh? She could have learned a lot from my idiotic toy. The ants are shaken, but they’ve already managed to clear one of the paths. They come together, legs waving so they can touch each other. Reassure one another things are okay. That they’re all still whole and accounted for.

No little ant kid stuck at the bottom, forgotten by the others.

I grit my teeth and give the farm a thorough thrashing. I want to throw it against the wall as hard as I can. Don’t they know their hard work is all for nothing? They’re not even in the ground. Stupid ants.

“Your whole world is fake!” My nose runs as I shout.

I sniff and scrub drips from my chin, wanting nothing more than to take a hammer and shatter their illusion. I can’t bring myself to do more than toss the thing into my closet, but I slam the door good and hard.

“Hey!” Footsteps thunder up the stairs.

I drop onto the bed and bury my head under a pillow.

“What’s with all the noise?” Dad’s voice has an edge.

I’m not surprised. He always has an edge these days. I don’t blame him. It’s her fault. Mom’s the one who wrecked everything. She held the magnifying glass over our lives and let the light burn us all to death.

Dad scurried around like a good little worker trying to keep his home intact.

He should have fought harder.

For him.

For me.

“Ky?”

“Sorry,” I mumble.

He just stands there in the doorway. I can see his shoes. For a second, I wonder if he’s actually going to come over. Part of me wants him to leave me alone. The other part wishes he’d sit on the edge of the bed like he did when I was little. Read me a book. Pick up my ratty stuffed lemur and walk him up my bed.

“Hello there, Ky. I’m Lee… Lee Murr.” He’d try to do a high voice, but it came out sounding like an old lady who smoked for too many years.

I don’t know if I laughed more at what he said, or just how he sounded saying it.

Lemur sits on the stand next to my bed. I’m too old for stuffies now, but maybe one more time would be okay. Just for fun. Or we can talk, maybe. I mean, he’s still my dad. I wouldn’t—

He turns and walks away.

I want to scream for him to come back. Run after him and spin him around and make him look at me.

Instead, I lay there, wishing I was an ant.

After a while, I pull my phone out of my pocket and scroll through pictures. Friends. Fall. Holidays. Me and dad. I piece the images together like grains of sand, building a path. To where, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, really. The repetitive motion is soothing. Numbing. Calms me down enough to ignore the ache in my chest. Any wet left on my face soaks into the mattress and the pillow.

It’s better this way.

If I started yelling, I might not be able to stop. I might say things I don’t mean. Or worse, things I do mean. Things I can’t take back.

Those are the worst things. Not the shouts or the arguments. It’s the things we say in the quiet moments that leave all the real scars. No one can see them, but they’re there. And no amount of pushing dirt around can ever quite erase them. I should know.

Better to be quiet.

For the good of all.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner A Beautiful Arrangement by T.E. Bradford

EverWriterCon prompt pic.jpegy day, I see him.

He sets his easel up with the others. They line the curved street like portable windows. Squared glimpses into the mind and soul, portrayed in oil or acrylic. Pastel visions of faraway dreams; black and white interpretations of a colored world.

How he intrigues me.

It’s nearly lunchtime, and the other painters on the cobbled street have already gone to eat, leaving him alone to capture the midday sun in all its glory. I pass under the Souvre Arch, lilac skirt swishing gently against my legs. This is the only dress I own, but even if I had others, I would have chosen this one. Not because it flatters my figure, although I like to believe it does, but because purple is his favorite color. He uses it more than any of the others, the paint tube not merely crinkled and worn, but flattened all the way to the top.

I know, because I’ve watched him.

Like the other musicians, I practice for hours every day, honing my singular talent. Often, the light from the window draws me as I play, the warmth mingling with the notes like a visible harmony.

This is how I first noticed him, his dark curls damp from the heat and clinging to his neck and face…

Blue eyes the same shade of blue as the summer sky peer up at me.

I take a quick step back, startled to have found him staring. I sip in a few deep breaths, calming my shattered solitude, but then step back to the opening.

A gentle smile curves his mouth.

Heart pounding, I turn and escape to the safety of my bedroom. I am not prepared for the feelings that chase me into the shadows, following all the way to my dreams as I sleep that night. Azure eyes gaze into my soul, accompanied by his shy smile.

The next day I force myself to practice in front of the mirror, watching my fingers, checking my technique. I do not think of the artist at all, or the dark curls of hair tracing his cheekbones.

I wince as I hit a sour note.

I’m fooling no one. Not even my music.

The following day I give in and practice in the sunlight. As the last strains of Arpeggio of the Heavens in D trail away, I lean forward.

He’s not there.

A strange emptiness fills my chest as I lean on the window ledge, stretching outward as I search. His easel is in its normal place, just opposite my window, but no one stands behind it. Has he left? Gone to eat lunch with the other painters? A woman of his own kind? Was I a fool to let him into my dreams?

Movement catches my eye.

A huddled shape sits half hidden in the shadows. How I first missed him, I don’t know, but as his head lifts, the emptiness inside me fills with wonder. His face is wet with tears, yet his brows tip upward and his lips read ecstasy instead of grief. He shakes his head slowly, as if in awe. I do not understand until he stands and turns his easel, scraping the wooden legs along the cobbled stones until his canvas faces my side of the street.

The shape is indistinct—just a smudge of charcoal gray against the brightness of the window—but the shape of the violin is clear to me. I know my instrument better than I know myself. What I have never seen is the way my arms cradle the bridge and hold the bow, extended to create a shape both feminine and powerful. Or the way my head curves inward as I play with abandon, my hair draped along the wood as if the instrument and I have become one.

Tears prick my eyes.

I don’t know how this is possible. I cannot speak his language. I’ve never painted. Not even drawn with a pencil, except for the tight circles and lines of my musical scores. How could he have understood me so well? Looking at his picture in simple black and white, I see how he sees me. I feel what he’s heard. He speaks in images, I in notes, yet against all odds we’ve communicated.


It was at that moment I made my decision.

To do what I’ve never done.

To step into life.

To venture outside my narrow world and into his.

There is no law against my leaving the musician’s borough, yet I’m the only stranger here in the artists’ village. Inside small cafes, fingers smudged with paint hold slender glass stems. A few look up as I pass, then frown or turn away.

I’m not their kind.

As I pass beneath the Souvre Arch, he comes into view. His easel looks larger from this angle. I peek up at my window, seeing how it catches the sun as the light peeks over the rooftops of the village on the other side, and think he’s chosen the perfect spot. An artist among artists.

His hands stop moving first, as if he senses me before his head turns.

But it’s the moment our eyes meet that nearly undoes me, as he peers from beneath impossibly long lashes. If the sun finding my window is perfect art, the blue of his eyes meeting mine is the perfect chord. His mouth moves, but the sounds he makes are indecipherable.No matter.

I stop beside him. He watches as I take my violin from its case, checking the strings before laying the bow.

I play him my heart.

My words are simple. They speak of innocence.

Discovery.

Love.

When I’m done, his eyes sparkle. I swallow, mouth dry with fear.

He takes my hand.

His fingers are strong and smooth, where mine are calloused. They twine between my slender digits, playing against my skin, leaving a streak of purple against one knuckle.

And I know…

He understands every word.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Gift of Life by Deborah Koren

GiftofLife.pngShe waited in the terminal lounge, clutching her backpack with both arms. Her gaze was glued to the orange carpet. Ten minutes remained until they began boarding her section of the space transport. Ten minutes until she was caught and thrown out.

She risked a quick look around. The other passengers looked as downtrodden and desperate as she did, but their faces lacked her terror. How she envied them. When their names were called and they stepped, one by one, into the testing machine, they had nothing to fear. They would pass through, board the transport, and begin their journey to a new life on the moon.

The testing machine. She didn’t want to look at it. Just a clear-sided elevator. Step inside, the doors closed, it dropped out of sight one floor – they didn’t want the rest of the passengers disturbed by either the test itself or any negative outcomes – and then MSR test activated. If the passenger passed, the elevator rose, the opposite doors opened, and they walked out onto the boarding ramp, free to immigrate. If they failed, the elevator rose without them.

She pulled the backpack more tightly to her chest. She would fail.

MSR stood for Magic Stimuli Response. It was designed to trigger a manifestation of power from magic-sensitive test subjects.

She was magic-sensitive.

A video screen blurred to life nearby. An ad touting the exciting benefits of life on the moon began playing, the blue logo of the corporate government prominently displayed in a corner. She would have rolled her eyes, if she wasn’t so scared. There wasn’t a person left on the planet who hadn’t seen that ad so many times they had it memorized. Everyone knew it was immigrate to the moon, or stay down here and die a slow death.

Her parents had succumbed to illness four weeks ago. Her little brother had passed before them. That was the reality of their poisoned, dying world. Devastated, alone, she’d tried to survive, but she was too young to work, and her parents had left her nothing. Nothing except a small stash of money for a ticket to the moon. Start over, they’d urged. An uncle lived there. He was her only remaining family, and he was expecting her. He’d transferred her more money for the ticket, when the prices had hiked, and she had taken it, desperate to join him and start over.

The boarding cycle began. The first people queued up and began entering the testing chamber.

She swallowed. She would never make it to her uncle because she would never make it out of that machine. It would expose her as magic-sensitive, and they would kick her back out on the street. No magic-sensitives were allowed on the moon. Magic was an aberration, and they intended to keep it out.

“What do you think the moon will be like?”

She jumped at the man’s voice next to her.

“Easy, little deer!” he said. He was older than she was, but not by much. His hair was caught in a ponytail, and he carried a single bag. “They say the domes aren’t as lush as the ad shows, but it’s pretty close.”

She mumbled a response and wished he would go away.

“Look up, not down,” he said, softly. “Don’t give them reason to suspect you.”

Her gaze turned sharply to him.

He smiled. “It’s not as bad as you’re imagining.”

“What isn’t?”

“The test.”

She froze and said nothing.

“It’s designed to startle you, that’s all. It scares you, and your magic will activate automatically to save you. That’s how it works.”

“I have no magic,” she mumbled.

“Of course not. None of us do. What magic-sensitive person would be stupid enough to try to get off world?” She heard the bitterness in his voice and studied his face again. He looked no different from anyone else, but where she was terrified, he merely looked determined. She hadn’t met many other magic-sensitive people. How did he do that? He went on, “They keep your ticket money, you know. If they detect you. It’s not like they refund it so you can go back to whatever cheap hole you used to live in. They keep it.”

Her shoulders slumped. She was giving up everything for a chance at a future that was doomed from the outset.

“Family?” he asked.

“Gone, here. I have an uncle on the moon. He’s waiting for me. He’s sent me a couple communications, told me he’s got a room ready, and what the schools are like there.” Her lip trembled, and she clenched her jaw to steady emotions. “I guess I’ll never see that.”

He sat beside her in silence a long time, and she tried to draw strength from him. Finally, he blew out a breath and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Lara.”

He reached in a pocket and handed her something. It was small and metallic. “Take this,” he said. “Hide it in your pocket and don’t let anyone see it.”

She stuffed it in her jacket pocket.

“Now, hold your head up high, and stop worrying. You’ll be seated on the transport shortly, and your uncle will be waiting to greet you.”

“I don’t…”

“It’s a counter-spell. It stops your magic from activating. As long as that’s on your person, you have nothing to worry about from their test. Do you understand? You’re going to make it. You’re going to start again.”

“But you—”

He waved a hand, dismissively. “I can try again later.”

The loud speaker blared her name: “Lara Remin, approach the gate.”

Her heart hammered.

“Go,” he said. “You’ve got an uncle. You have family. I don’t have anyone waiting up there.”

“If I see you again…” she said.

“You won’t.”

The loud speaker called again, “Lara Remin, last call.”

He smiled confidently at her, squeezed her hand, and she hurried towards the gate, the gift of life safe in her pocket.
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Fortnight Flash Fiction Winner Rising Up by Deborah Koren

July24FF.png
The same violet colors that bruised the sky swirled on the reflective surfaces of the hot-air balloons. Lavender-tinged sand met the blue of the sea, and the splendor of the dawn stretched to the horizon.

I crammed shoulder to shoulder with the others, behind the laser fence. No one jostled too closely, respectful of the deadly nature of the boundary between us and them. We were not allowed to stand on that pristine beach they floated so easily above; we could only look at it. We were not allowed to touch the gentle waves rolling up the beach. That was reserved for them.

The message they wanted us to believe was that nothing that beautiful could be evil.

They lied.

“Cheer,” the sergeant-at-arms ordered. “Cheer for the lords and the council.”

I wanted to refuse, but it would have just earned me another beating. My voice raised with the others around me.

“Louder.”

We increased the volume enough to satisfy the armed soldiers, but not enough to show honest enthusiasm.

It was all part of their annual Rising Up Ceremony. Once a year, the lords and their puppet council members took to the sky, while we stood barefoot in mud and the detritus of our designated section. For an hour, they drifted over clean sand and clear ocean that we could admire only on this day, from our side of the laser fence. Hundreds of well-fed, well-armed soldiers guarded that fence, from the other side, of course. Most of us stared at the soldiers and the balloons with hunger in our bellies and resignation in our eyes.

I watched with determination.

My child lay ill at home.

I’d petitioned the council three times for the correct medicine. Each time, the message came back rejected. A child that young was not important enough to receive medicine. Children did not yet work, they did not earn their keep, and plenty more children were born every week. Children were disposable.

I was not the only parent with a child who could be cured with the contents of their dispensary, nor was I the only one desperate enough to decide to fight for life, for love.

Nearly their entire garrison of soldiers lined the fence before us, both to witness the celebration and provide a show of force to keep us cowed. They weren’t worried about how few soldiers remained behind in their side of the city during this one hour each year, but they should have been. The power station stood mostly unguarded. When the power failed, the fence would go down. All we needed was a distraction, for the soldiers to look away at the right moment.

“Wave,” the sergeant-at-arms commanded. “Wave to the lords and the council.”

It was the agreed-upon moment. We threw up our arms and waved at the sky, counting silently.

Their hot-air burners hissed on and off, and the colored balloons flew higher. The lords and the council had the power of life and death over us. They flew to remind us that they were always there, looking down, protecting us from ourselves. They controlled our food, our wages, where we lived, what we could own, our medicine. We were not wise enough to have a say in such matters, they told us. We were nothing but faceless workers, and they did not fear us.

But those hot-air balloons required regular maintenance. The burners’ tanks needed to be filled with the right mixture of gases. All equipment needed to be checked and double-checked before flight. That was work for us menials, not them. I doubted the thought of sabotage ever occurred to them.

The love of a mother for her daughter was inconsequential to them.

It was everything to me.

I waited for the explosion.


Learn more about @dkoren-cimharas.com (Deborah Koren)

The idea for “Rising Up” originated from my admiration of the beauty of the prompt picture. Light is balanced by dark, and so I wondered what was just out of sight of that pretty view, what weren’t we being shown. The story tumbled out from there.
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All things writing Summary vs Synopsis

So this may be the silliest thread you've ever seen, I would accept that. But someone, help me out here.

I can't seem to nail down the difference between a summary and a synopsis. Google had only gotten me so far, and each website seems to have a different opinion on how to write each.
I ask because I'm going to begin querying soon, and I don't want to send an editor who asked for a synopsis a summary instead.
Main problem for me- which one is the back of a book blurb and which one do you outline the major events of the book, including the ending??

You'd think this was a simple thing...

Anyway, sorry if I started a new thread that already exists somewhere else. I couldn't find anything when I looked in the forum.
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