WU received 119 entries to the Flog a WU contest. The challenge was to write an opening for a novel that compelled readers to turn the page.
Therese and I have scoured that boatload of fine and fun writing and offer to you six finalists for your consideration and vote. We agreed on three entries, each of us then added one other top pick, and one was most liked by WU readers. Each entry is followed by a poll. Please vote on each one. The polls have comments enabled.
The hurdle is the same as when we flog a pro: Does the narrative compel you to turn the page? We know 200 words aren’t a lot, but an actual first page isn’t much more than that.
Reminder of the stakes: The winner will receive a new Freewrite–a distraction-free writing tool/word-processing program.
The makers of Freewrite have also invited all Writer Unboxed community members to sign up for their free newsletter, which is filled with writing tips. To sign up, click HERE.
The finalists are below, in order of appearance in the contest comments. Please vote on each entry.
Polls have comments enabled: The polls offer an opportunity to comment within the poll, and we’re sure the writers would appreciate any accolades or constructive criticism you’d like to offer. The comments are moderated.
Email voting option: some are not seeing the polls, so they can email their votes for each entry to Ray, who will record them for the final tally. Sorry the polls are being hinky for some. Drat!
The polls will close after 24 hours. Polling opened at 7:00 a.m. EDT today, will close at 7:00 a.m. EDT Friday the 21st.
Thanks to all for taking part. This has been fun. Now on with Judgment Day!
I woke up with a sock stuffed so far into my mouth it tickled my tonsils. The tiny studio apartment tilted at a strange angle as I swam back to consciousness and a low, guttural groan escaped from somewhere deep inside me. I was face down on a filthy mattress that smelled like a fish market. The front of my shirt was stiff like cardboard and stuck to my chest hairs thanks to the cascade of blood that had poured from my nose earlier. I tried to move, but discovered I was hogtied with duct tape.
My last memory: The guy with the thick sausage fingers mumbling right before he shoved the sock into my mouth. “I’m going to take a big shit to make room,” he said with a voice so deep it could vibrate glass.
”Then I’m coming back to eat you alive, bit by bit,” he continued. “Sit tight.”
How long was I out? How much time did I have? My eyes went wide as I scanned the room for a way out, or a weapon, or just something to get this duct tape off my wrists and ankles. Then the toilet flushed.
Little Kira sucked at her thumb, unable to look away from a few grains of sand clinging to the mermaid’s eye. Confusion pooled within her six-year-old mind, flowing back and forth between delight that mermaids were real and horror that this one was dead.
The tide completed its voyage out and was coming ‘round again when the search party found her there, her small form hidden amid the debris of the storm surge. Squawking gulls took to wing as they approached. The smell struck them hard, a stench of rotting fish and decayed seaweed. Their jaws fell agape at the mermaid, hands flying to their mouths.
Someone clasped their hands over Kira’s eyes as a sand crab scuttled from the mermaid’s open mouth. Kira pushed the hands away, thinking that it wasn’t fair the summer sun had bloated the mermaid so.
A woman wrapped her in a blanket, murmuring to her companion. “What becomes of a little girl who sees something like this?”
Kira wondered what they meant.
She suddenly wanted to touch the mermaid, just once, before she had to leave. Without hesitating, she reached for the mermaid’s tail. A smear of silver scales came off onto her hand.
“They found your father.”
Ellie looked at the clock. It was 8:18 in the morning, but her mother had to be drunk. Dear old Dad had died eight months earlier. There had been a service. Ellie had rolled up her jeans and spilled the plastic bag of his ashes into the ocean off Santa Monica, careful to shake down wind. Her brother, Roger, had flown in from New York and said a few words. Nice words, even if they didn’t exactly describe the dad Ellie knew. And her mother had been there, playing the part of the still attractive ex-wife. She’d definitely been drunk that morning. Ellie had offered her the bag of gray dust and bone chips and she had immediately regurgitated Bloody Marys into the blue recycling barrel by the boardwalk.
He had died of a heart attack in a Santa Barbara diner. Ellie had driven from L.A. to the Academy Funeral Home—cut-rate cremation—to retrieve his ashes. She’d put the box on the passenger seat beside her, then pulled over and put Dad in the trunk.
“Impossible,” she said to her mother. “I have to get to work.”
“Work is more important than your father’s resurrection?”
Amena can tell you the difference between air bombardments and ground-level explosives as they detonate. “It’s the smell”, she tells her mother, but no one else remembers smelling anything. It’s the sound – the pounding, crumbling sound that shatters eardrums – that’s what they remember. Knowing the difference doesn’t matter, either way, death and raw wounds follow.
Every day Amena complains to her mother that her stomach hurts. It feels as if an assortment of explosions are tearing her up inside. Yesterday she almost died when a bomb hit their Syrian neighborhood. Two blocks west there are mounds of sand-colored, indistinguishable rubble. Her father hasn’t been seen for two months and he is feared dead. War has manifested itself on Amena’s face with crow’s feet and dark bags under dull eyes. Wrinkles have no place on a nine year old’s face. Her lips are cracked and laughter hasn’t escaped them in many months.
The only peace is a dream, each night the same, but longer each time. Amena loads her belongings on a tortoise. He waits, chewing a plant, while she secures each suitcase and box to his back, although the horizon burns black, orange, and acrid. Not even a sigh.
A hand grabbed the back of Bryce’s wool tunic and yanked – hard. Unbalanced, the teen yelped, dropping his knife and the piece of wood he was whittling. He wrenched away and snatched his shepherd’s crook to defend himself, until he saw his attacker.
“How many times,” sputtered his father, “must I tell you, our livestock . . . is . . . our life?” He punctuated each word with a backhanded slap. “The flock is gone because of you!” His disapproval saturated the air.
Bryce counted the sheep milling about their highland pasture. “They’re all here, Da. What did I do?”
“It’s what you didn’t do!” he snapped. “You left the chicken coop open. The flock is dead, you fool!” He stooped to retrieve his son’s carving and scowled at the tiny, lifelike lamb in his palm. “Daydreaming again.”
“Baa,” bleated the lamb Bryce was using as a model for his whittling.
“I’ll teach you,” the older man snarled and flung the piece to the ground, crushing it under his heel.
The lamb screeched and toppled over. Dumbstruck, the pair stared at the stricken animal.
“Da, no!” Bryce screamed as his father pivoted and lunged for him.
Margo had been sitting on her crumpled bed sheet for what felt like hours, when she finally realized it wasn’t all bullshit. She was amazed to find that her limbs were going numb, and her skin buzzed like television static. The temperature in the room seemed to drop, and she became increasingly aware of her body heat, the only source of heat in the room except…
“Hello,” a deep voice rumbled like the complaint of a starving belly.
Margo opened her eyes to find a creature that must have been eight feet tall, a beast the color and vibrancy of the flames dying at its feet.
Relief and fear jumped through her chest. “I need your help,” she responded, and was pleased to discover that her voice reflected the calm resolve that still sat inside her. “I need to die.”
The creature blinked at her and let out a sigh that sent motes from the dusty floors billowing up into the air. “No can do,” it thundered, “I’m trying to quit.”