Submitting stories to writing contests can be quite lucrative if you know the tricks of the trade. At the same time it is easy to make an avoidable mistakes and

Tip 1. Always adhere to traditional standards of correctness (see above). A contest is not the time to throw the rule book away. This applies most strongly in writing contests which are run by universities or colleges.

Tip 2. If it says Literature contest, that’s what it means. They are looking for subtlety, depth, a subtext, creativity, and clever (even poetic) use of language; an emphasis on interesting often dark characters, and setting rather than plot.

Tip 3. If it says Writing competition, well written popular fiction is what will win. Now your emphasis must be on plot. You need a great opening line and an absorbing plot. Plot follows your main character’s conflict. Give this person an interesting difficult tussle of some kind. Your story ends when your character has resolved the conflict against all odds.

Tip 4. If it states a particular theme in the rules, then that theme must be intrinsic to your story.

Tip 5. Whatever kind of work you are writing, title is everything. The title is the judge’s first impression of your work. Spend time thinking of something relevant to the story that is eye catching and appealing.

Tip 6. Use your delete key. Read and reread your work. That paragraph you really like that you spent hours over. Does it advance your story? No? Then delete it. Does your story only get going on the second page? Delete page one.

Tip 7. Short stories work best from a single point of view. Don’t confuse the judge.

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Fiction Week!

Blessed are the Hungry by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo

from Apex Magazine #62

“The Lord preserves all who love him but all the wicked he destroys,” growled the ancient Holosonic, droning the day’s lesson with great pomp and solemnity.

My family and I watched as our former parish priest drifted away towards infinity. The void swallowed him up with a deep hunger, deep as the ever–present darkness. I wanted to close my eyes but I just couldn’t look away. None of us could. Instead we just watched him die and committed his soul quietly to Our Lady of Gliese.

The people of Cupang couldn’t let him go without a send–off. We removed our bracelets and dropped them to the floor discreetly, at random places, beneath the notice of the ever present Domini Canes. We’d made them from old cable ties and plastic bags, recycled colour against the blackest of blackness. Each one a secret funeral wreath for a good man we’d all loved and respected.

After the ceremony, mother hugged my youngest brother tightly. It was Bino’s first excommunication and he was understandably quite upset. He buried his head deeply into her bosom, sobbing quietly. We all turned away, to let my mother console him privately.

The sooner that Bino got inured to executions, the better it would be for him and the easier it would be for the rest of us. Life was hard enough as it was without the tears of a child.

“You have a beautiful mind, boneca,” a voice inside my head intruded, “but so twisted and so sad. Como você está?”

Read More here

CUT HER OUT IN LITTLE STARS, by Rosamund Hodge

Three sisters fell in love with a star. (This is not quite true. But wait and listen to my story.)

They lived very near the edge of the world, where the rivers run faster and faster until they fall roaring off the rim, into the infinite void. Where birds with feathers of smoke and fire build nests, and hiss at passers-by as they brood over their eggs in smoldering trees. 

Where stars, sometimes, come down to visit the earth.

There is a little village called Edge-of-the-End, and the people of the village are as used to visiting stars as anyone can be. Many strange folk come through the village; the people are polite, and careful, and keep their iron-wrought charms about them. Sometimes they listen to the stars’ low, musical voices, to their tales of dances and battles in deep heaven, but they do not pay much heed to them. It takes a fearful quantity of common sense, to live at the edge of the world.

In that village lived an alchemist, who had come to Edge-of-the-End from very far away, deep in the center of the world. He liked to say he was a humble student of wisdom, by which he meant that he only wanted to unlock the secrets of the universe, and gain eternal life. For years he had labored over his notes and his vials; he had deciphered books written in wicked, ancient languages, and he had caught the burning birds and carved their bodies apart, and he had tracked and counted all the stars (in the sky, and in their visits to the village)—

And yet, he was still no more than a man, plump about the middle and starting to lose his hair. He lived in a brick house with his three daughters, whom he had absent-mindedly begotten on a woman he married in the brief hope that fleshly love could teach him some sort of mystery. The wife died, leaving him no more powerful or enlightened than before; but the daughters lived, and cooked and cleaned for him, so he regarded the experiment as not entirely a waste.

And then a star came to village.

He had the shape of a young man, but his hair was white. Little sparks of light clung to his eyelashes and flickered between his fingers. There was no mistaking him for a human, and yet he did not possess the same terrifying, white-hot power that coiled beneath the tongues and fingernails of the other stars.

The alchemist talked to the star, as he talked to all the stars who came to the village inn. He asked him why he was so faded.

The star sighed and said, “I am near the end of my power. I will never walk the sky again.”

The alchemist smiled and said, “Let me help you.”

And that was how he came to keep a star in a cage, hidden away in the basement of his house. He told his daughters that the star was a friend whom he was trying to cure, and that the cage was purely for the star’s own safety. 

The girls knew better: they all had bruises from his absent-minded rages, and they knew how much his promises of safety were worth. But because they knew their father so well, they obeyed. They lied when humans and stars alike came asking after the vanished star; they kept on cooking and cleaning; they did not heed the sounds when their father went down alone to experiment.

They were obedient except in one thing. They all of them talked to the star.

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Pisces It’s the kind of day your best friend would call cappuccinos and crinkled train tickets. You don’t believe in poetry, so it’s just shitty weather. You open the green marble notebook to spill the thoughts that are clambering to burst from your skull, but within minutes the page is filled with a single word: forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive.

Aries The yellow-green hallway casts an alien glow on every inch of her skin—from her bare belly to her shaved head. Your own hands look sickly in the harsh light that somehow adds to her ethereal grace. You want to tell her that this is the exact spot where you first kissed him half an age ago. Instead you rise to your toes to brush your lips against hers.

Taurus You fill the bath too high, so when you sink your foot in, a tiny waterfall cascades from the brim of the tub. By the time your body is submerged, your bathroom floor is a small flood. It’s what the past month looks like now that he is done with you: a pool of mistakes and disappointment. You nurse the 3 a.m. remnants of your buzz with a goblet of cheap white wine. This was meant to relax you but you made the water too hot and you feel like your skin might be melting.

—  This October, part 3 by l.a.g.

“Needless to say, the South is a large place, with many voices and with a long tradition of wild and fantastic fiction … What I’m learning, slowly, is that I don’t need to impose any ideas about the South onto my stories. The South, at least as I experience it, will bubble up on its own.”

An interview with Thomas Pierce on his debut collection of short stories, Hall of Small Mammals.

In other news, I have a new story out today!

“She Dances on Knives” is out in Three Lobed Burning Eye’s issue #26.

Also, check out the back cover. :)

Teaser:

The littlest mermaid has no mother. She lives far under the sea, so deep that the fish have gone strange for want of light. Her eyes are large and round and black. She had sisters once, but now it is only herself and her grandmother, her father’s mother.

Grandmother remembers the old days. The little mermaid’s father was a king, she says. If he had not been netted and brought to shore, then he would still be King. The little mermaid doesn’t think it matters much. Remembering doesn’t make the cold waters warmer or shine light upon the depths.

W.A.S.T.E (Flash Fiction)

W.A.S.T.E 
story by ShaunWrites / art by Judyta

The saw-toothed W.A.S.T.E. shoveler was scheduled to eat the entire house. For the W.A.S.T.E operator, this was just another routine eviction. But this was war for Starla and Xander, the owners of the dome half-dangling from the shovler’s jaws.

Starla let go of Xander’s gloved hand and bounded over moon rocks in her pressure suit to make her stand between the shovler’s jaws and what was left of their dome.

“If you wanna take everything, just take everything!” she screamed over every communication channel, even the S.O.S. frequency.

Starla didn’t care that lunar taxes made homes like hers that weren’t up to code cheaper to destroy than remodel. Corporate bullshit nonsense. They’d rather destroy their home than let them stay in it until they could fix it up? Bullshit bank. She’d rather die in her house than live in a shelter. Bullshit government.

The operator idled the machine and shrugged.

“Fuck you. You’re gonna have to kill me, you motherfucker,” she screamed over the radio channel.

The operator shrugged again. He tapped the right side of his helmet three times with his pointer finger and pinky: the universal signal that his suit’s radio was malfunctioning. He couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. He politely raised his right elbow and palmed it three times: the universal signal to ask Starla to use lunar sign language.

“Listen to me. Just fucking listen to me!” Starla screamed back over all channels, ignoring him, her hands flailing wildly.

The operator drew a circle around his heart with his left palm and shook his right palm in from of his helmet: I’m sorry. I can’t hear you. He showed her again that his radio wasn’t working, and then he covered his helmet with his right palm and pointed at her with his left hand: Who are you? He made a circle over his heart: I’m sorry.

By now, Xander caught up with Starla. He placed his hand on her back. She stopped hyperventilating and her comm-channel went silent. He pulled her gloved hand into his and led her away from the jaws of the shoveler.

As he led her away, the City’s emergency response unit responded to Starla over the S.O.S frequency: “State the nature of the emergency or the emergency code.”

Starla responded: “No assistance needed. Code 0000.”

“I want to confirm. Code 0000. False alarm. No danger to person or property. No immediate or future threat. No assistance required. Over…”

Starla looked over at her dome, its metal guts already exposed like a bomb had gone off inside. Her eyes fixated on the concrete slab that used to hold their bed that was now already half-bulldozed. A bunch of gray rubble crumbling off and mixing with the gray lunar surface.

Emergency services tried again: “Repeat. Confirmation request number two. Code 0000. False alarm. No danger to person or property. No immediate or future threat. No assistance required. Over…”

"Confirmed. False alarm.”

The W.A.S.T.E man looked confused: like he didn’t know who these people were and what everybody was standing around waiting for. He clapped his hands above his head: All clear? Starla didn’t look up.

He waved over again to get their attention and clapped: All clear?

At some point he got frustrated that no-one was responding, so he restarted the engine. The jaws grinded what was left of the dome into dust. 

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Twitter@SASpalding / @ShaunWrites

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Sagittarius Yellow, pointed leaves whip past your face, weapons ready to nick your nose, chip your cheeks. A shiver creeps past your elbows as the pretty, pixie-eyed girl rakes a lock of hair out of your lipgloss. Ahead, the green fountain rattles and you turn to hide your glowing neck. You realize that tangle of metal and water won’t roar much longer, doomed to be shuttered by the season’s first frost. A cackle bursts from your lungs, your feet carry you to the water’s edge and you plunge, belly first, into the icy pool. Your fingers turn to needles but you are alive, alive, alive! You erupt, dripping, from the glossy surface, and she is gone. A muscular boy hurries by, determined not to look at you.

Capricorn You tumble through the door, achy from the three-hour drive, arms laden with shopping bags. The One Tree Hill theme song is blaring in the living room, and you realize that the apartment that once felt like home has grown unfamiliar.

Aquarius “Are you friends with Julia?” You’re caught off-guard by the question, sure that the man standing across the counter is a stranger to you, but his blue eyes blink at you from his round race, waiting for an answer. A stuttered syllable launches him on a jumbled explanation. He has a thing for names, he says, he must have met you once or seen you once at least, back in high school, he has a thing for names, but are you friends with Julia? You nod, but your friendship with Julia ended years ago.

—  This October, part 2 by l.a.g.
The Wendigo

I’m hungry. 

I don’t usually wake up hungry. Usually a post-sleep panic grips my stomach and doesn’t let go for two or three hours. Five if I was drinking the night before. Even if it was a little bit, I won’t tolerate breakfast.

Today was different. I got out of bed and searched the fridge for some eggs. I know I had them, but maybe Frankie made off with a few…

After salvaging a some from the bottom drawer, I cooked them. I didn’t have work anyway, so I had time.

*

Last night Frankie and went out to dinner. For our six month anniversary. I was taking her out to the Thai restaurant we love, but she suggested a new one. 

“It’s not really Thai, Burmese, I think,” she said over the phone. “It just opened up. On Milton Ave, near the Chase.”

“That’s not a really busy area though, is it?”

“No, but it’ll be quiet and romantic.” I could picture her half-smile as she said it.

“All right, sure, I’ll come by at-” I looked at the clock. “Seven?”

“Seven thirty. I gotta get the gum out of Moxie’s fur before I shower.”

The restaurant was hidden, nearly, between a nail studio with bright pink awnings and and closed Jewish deli. The building was a thin, four-story block without a single light on in it. I looked at Frankie. “This..?”

“Down here,” she said, somewhat exasperated. She led me down a set of narrow, steep stairs on the left side of the building, over which the words ‘Pho Chop’ were written. 

“How’d you know that?” I asked.

“Megan’s the one who told me about it. She came here last night with Rod.”

The restaurant itself was warm, comfortable. Soft lights hung on the walls. The floor was cushioned with maroon carpet. Fishtanks stood here and there between a series of two-person tables. 

The waiter hurried out to us from the kitchen. 

“Ah, welcome sir and madam, welcome to Pho Chop. Please, sit.” He ushered us to the nearest table. “To drink? You both must be thirsty, you must be hungry, please.” He pushed menus into our hands.

“Water’s fine for me,” I said, looking at Frankie.

“Two waters.”

I scanned the menu as the waiter bustled off. 

“That guys a real go-getter,” I smiled.

“Shut up,” she laughed. “Seriously, don’t embarrass me everywhere.”

The waiter rushed back with two glasses.

“To eat, sir and madam?”

I scanned the menu. “Uh, I don’t really…what do you suggest?”

“Ah, sir, well you must try Mohinga. Burmese national dish sir. Tender rice in fish soup. Onions, garlic, lemongrass, served with minced pork, sir,” he smiled. His tongue flicked out against his upper lip. 

“Sure, yes, I’ll have that,” I said.

“Gyin thoke,” Frankie said without missing a beat.

He whipped the menus from our hands. “Excellent!” He said loudly, and hurried back to the kitchen.

“A connoisseur, you,” I eyed her and sipped from the glass. 

“It’s salad with ginger and beans. I had it once and I loved it.”

It wasn’t Thai, but it wasn’t bad. The pork definitely had a weird bitterness to it, but with enough soy sauce it was unnoticeable. 

“Not bad huh?” Frankie said as we mounted the stairs. 

“Exactly, it was not bad. There’s bad, and this was not." 

"Come on, it was all right at least?”

“We should have gone to Sri Thai.”

“It was fine, shut up.”

*

I only had four eggs left this morning. Four was all I could find. When I was cooking them, my stomach’s growls turned to pangs. It hurt.

I ate all four. In under three minutes. I shredded cheddar cheese over them. I threw in peppers and onions and olives. I inhaled them, threw the napkin down. But I was still hungry. 

But that didn’t make any sense. I should be at the point of throwing it all up right now. I looked down at my plate, at the tiny flecks of egg on the corner of the table (maybe if I scraped those up) but those weren’t enough.

I headed to the couch to let myself digest. Maybe it has to hit my stomach, just give it some time (still hungry) then I’ll feel full enough to put me back to bed.

I waited.

Waited. 

My stomach growled. 

*

Three hours later, the fridge was empty. Greasy tupperware lay on the floor. Tin foil with burn marks clinging to the rack in my stove. I ate every slices of cheese, meatballs, Dutch chocolate ice cream, whole tomatoes, leftover steak, frozen burgers. I pulled down a tin of lasagna so hard it flipped and splattered over the floor. I scooped it up with my hands, shoveled it into my mouth like a fucking animal. But I was still hungry. 

I stumbled into the bathroom, weak from hunger. Gripping the sink, I looked into the mirror.

Somebody had taken my face and was wearing it as a mask.

My cheeks hung off the bone. The bags under my eyes had gone from light purple to pitch black. My pupils were pinpricks, the eyes bloodshot. I was bleach-white, except for the red and brown streaks around my mouth from pasta and steak sauce. And my hair…was it…thinning?

Before I had time to take it in, I got distracted. My lips…were red. Very, wonderfully red. 

I licked them. My stomach groaned again. And I was…drooling.

“Hellooo?" 

It was Frankie. Before I could swing the bathroom door shut, she was there.

"You know you left your door open so if I wanted to hack you up into pieces I could probably-” She had come around the corner. She dropped a plastic supermarket bag and brought her hands up to her mouth.

“My G-what…what happened?" 

"I don’t-don’t know,” I said. “I’m so…so…I’m starving.”

She looked back over at the kitchen, and the overturned containers and flecks of food on the counter and floor, at the drawers ripped out of the fridge. “You ate all that?”

“Yes-well…I don’t know…maybe it’s food pois-”

“This is the opposite of food poisoning,” she sent back. “You might have to go see a doctor.”

But I had remembered something. I remembered the dinner we had last night. The food…something was not right about the food…the…pork.” At the thought of the pork, I started salivating. Spit filled my mouth, ran down my chin onto my shirt.

“What the fuck-I’m not even joking I’m calling 9-11”

“What’s Megan’s address..”

“I-what?” She stammered.

“Megan!” I roared, finger tearing at my stomach, “She went there! To Pho Chop! I need her address! I’m dying!

I didn’t even realize how close I had gotten to her. She backed against the counter, her fingers gripped the edge. I could see the green irises in her wide eyes, could see her cheeks…her…delicious…cheeks…

"I-I-don’t-um” She closed her eyes, trying to remember. I stepped towards her, looking at those cheeks, puffing in and out with her heaving breath, if I could just taste-

“One six six Woodhaven Road,” She spluttered, opening her eyes. She screamed when she saw my proximity, pushed me hard in the chest, and sprinted out of the apartment. 

*

I sprinted four miles to Megan’s apartment. I burst into the lobby, scanned the listing for ‘Connelly’, and ran up the stairs four at a time to the third floor.

“MEGAN!” I bellowed, pounding the door. “MEGAN OPEN UP-”

 It had swung open at the first knock.

A wave of warm air hit me. It carried the sickly sweet odor of stagnant rotting, of road kill left in a garbage bag. I gagged. 

“M-Megan?” No answer. 

I stepped into the apartment. All the lights were on. “Megan!” I walked down the hall past the kitchen, covering my mouth. Her fridge hung open, empty. It’s contents were scattered along every surface. Butter and packets of turkey bacon and yogurts apparently flung at the walls, pans on the stove full of chicken and rice, sitting in a layer of cold oil. The floor was covered in milk and onions and dressing and broken eggs and blood from roast beef-

But that was a lot of blood. And @way@ too dark for beef.

“Megan? Megan! I know you’re in here! Let’s go, come out and tell me what the fuck’s happened!”

But I had turned the corner to the living room. When I registered what I saw, I half-screamed and fell backwards. If I hadn’t fell the stench surely would have knocked me down.

Megan was kneeling in the middle, on a carpet saturated with blood. Flies numbering in the hundreds covered the floor, the walls, the tv screen, everywhere there was blood. The lamp near the window sizzled the dried blood stuck to it.

Rod was on the couch to my right. He was face down. His head, torn nearly off, hung off the side of the couch by a flap of skin. His back was opened up. Like someone had put a shovel in and popped it up in both directions. I could see right into the cavity. It was empty except for maybe a piece of his lung. His intestines were clumped at the floor, one long strand still running back inside him like an umbilical cord. His calves were carved down to the bone. Maggots poked their heads out of the shredded meat in his thighs. The head stared, the upside down, eyeless, lipless thing grinned over at me, still on the floor.

“M-m-m-” I shook. “M-Megan…w-what did y-you d-d-do…”

She wasn’t listening. She was ripping at a thick hunk of meat in her hands, eating with heavy, guttural sounds. 

I crawled over. “M-Megan…Megan…answer m-me please…” I touched her shoulder. 

A clawed hand flew up, fingers hooked into the side of my face. 

“AH! MEGAN W-”

“IT’S US!” She shrieked, whipping around onto all fours. Her face was gaunt, hollow, white. “IT’S US!” She was grinning, slivers of Rod hanging from between her teeth. She wheezed a laugh, her tiny pupils fixated on mine. “NOTHING TO EAT BUT PEOPLE! NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!” She laughed again wildly, blood or mucus rattling in her throat.
 
I couldn’t answer. I was backing away on all fours, scrabbling to get away. My eyes looked right into hers. There was a dead, animal look in them. 

My gaze trailed downward. Her cheeks were gaunt…but still…enough meat on there…be pretty good…

I stopped thinking. I only watched. Watched myself stand up over her, watched myself dive at her hunched body, watched myself pin her to the ground. 

I felt my mouth open and my teeth sink into the side of her face, closing, teeth grinding, her hot blood squirting down my throat. She cried out, grabbing at my hands, my arms. I couldn’t have noticed. A tender, warm comfort flowed from my mouth outward as I swallowed. My stomach churned its appreciation. 

I took another bite, this time I found my way down to her throat. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her molars from the hole I’d left. As I pulled back, I felt tendons pop, muscles tear. Hot, sticky blood soaked my face, my eyes, showered down over me, and I swallowed whole, laughing, giggling with the feeling of real food, savory, healing meat. I heard Megan gurgle out of the hole in her throat. 

I looked up, closed my eyes, breathed in deep, letting the fetid stink of the room flood into my lungs, felt my stomach start working greedily, and tranquility flooded over me. I fell back next to Megan, who was fingering the hole in her throat feebly, her mouth hanging open. My heartbeat slowed. I felt a soft glow behind my closed eyelids.

I lay there for what could have been years. I felt like my life had been leading up to this one glorious moment, this one feeling of release, like a cyst had been suddenly drained. I felt like I could die right here, right now, happy.

But…the glow got dimmer. 

The light started to fade. Rapidly. The happiness was leaving me. My breath was becoming shorter. I sat up, seeing the room bathed in blood and the two corpses lying there. I felt something. Feverish…and…

and…

And I’m hungry.

THE WHITE WOOD, by MG Buehrlen

Most of the local villagers stayed clear of the White Wood. They knew what dwelled within.

Most, but not all.

Bronwen never heeded the warnings.

The White Wood, so named by the locals, was tucked between two peaks deep in the mountains of Snowdonia. The trees there rarely felt the sun warm their branches, and so the wood remained white year round, laden with snow. A lingering cold resided there, where shadows blanketed the space between canopy and earth. A cold so biting it seeped through to the skin no matter what time of year it was, no matter how many layers one wore under his coat, no matter how tightly one knotted his cap.

At the center of the White Wood was a lane, straight and true, that served as a shortcut through the mountains. If Bronwen were to follow it, she would find herself at the door of a little stone cottage, warm and inviting, with smoke curling from its chimney and winterberry pies cooling on the windowsills. But the little stone cottage was not as inviting as it seemed. The locals warned each traveler who passed through about the wood. They leaned forward, elbows to knees, huddled around a fire at the only tavern in town. The travelers leaned forward too, clutching their caps in their hands. Do not venture by way of the White Wood, the locals would say. Take the long way ‘round the mountains where the sun warms your path as well as your shoulders.

They’d go on to tell of a witch, beautiful and fair, who lived at the end of the lane, with a crackling fire and sweet smelling treats for weary travelers who wandered her way. Here was how she trapped them: The cold was so bitter, it rattled the travelers’ bones; the wind bit at their ears and nose and the tips of their fingers. Unknowingly, they knocked at the witch’s door, hoping to find rest and warmth and food to fill their bellies. What they found, instead, was the gleaming blade of a butcher’s knife and the inside of an oven.

But Bronwen wasn’t afraid of the woods like the locals were, nor of the house nestled deep within. The stories never worried her or sent shivers rising up her back. She wandered the White Wood daily, admiring the way the snow ridged each and every bare branch, the hush that fell with downy flakes, and how the pond at the side of the lane shimmered like glass beneath the gray sky. In the White Wood, the foliage was icy white, not green nor red nor brown, and each leaf was rimmed with a delicate layer of frost, like lace trimming on a dress. The trees bowed under the weight of their snowy caps, bowing to Bronwen as she strolled through her winter cathedral.

Just like the stories never bothered Bronwen, neither did the cold. Her coat hung open as she stepped through the forest, the icy wind ruffling her skirt and slicing through her tights. She was always warm, no matter how deeply she ventured into the white and gray. No matter how high the snow drifts crept up her legs and soaked into her boots. The stories and the cold kept the locals far from the wood, and Bronwen was glad of it. She liked having the trees and the snow and the red berries to herself. 

She also liked having the hunter to herself.

Once a week, at the edge of the pond, she met the young hunter, with ink black hair and green eyes shining beneath his dark tartan hood. Gray and gold, his family colors. He would bring her fresh rabbit for her table, and she would kiss him long into the late afternoon, until the cold and the stories of the White Wood no longer bothered him, just like they didn’t bother her. When his body was warm and his heart was full, he would whisper words like love in her ear. That’s when Bronwen knew it was time to go home. She didn’t know a thing about love. Her parents never taught her the meaning of the word. When they died, leaving their small child alone to fend for herself, the secret of love died with them.

Bronwen was sure her mother and father loved each other. They held hands and spoke softly and gazed at each other with full eyes. Bronwen was not so sure they loved her. They struck her, spoke sharply to her, locked her away, and never spared her a second glance.

Bronwen knew hate. She knew survival.

She did not know love.

She was certain, though, that if anyone could teach her about love, it was the hunter. He held her hand and spoke softly and gazed at her with full eyes. He spoke of his young brother and sister and often asked Bronwen to come home with him to meet his family. But she wasn’t ready to love and be loved in return. She was only eighteen. Love would come in its own time, and until then, she lived each day in the moment, exploring her snowy kingdom, free from striking hands and harsh words and rooms without light or sound or fresh air.

On the days when Bronwen’s body was tangled with the hunter’s, the only sounds in the White Wood were his satisfied sighs and his whispers warming her hair. On the days when Bronwen strolled alone, the wind moving through the trees was her only audible companion. And then there were the days when unfortunate travelers wandered down the lane, and echoes of clopping hooves and rustling manes and jingling tack twisted their way through the tree trunks and snow banks.

On those days, Bronwen ran home, quick as a wink, and let the legends of the White Wood multiply. Another weary traveler knocked at the little stone cottage door and was invited to stay for supper, never to come out.

Bronwen wasn’t one to tamper with tradition. Except for one particularly cold afternoon, while she was admiring how her breath swirled and danced on the frigid air. On that day, she heard a new sound. One that pricked at her ears and made her shiver despite her warmth.

Laughter.

On all fours, Bronwen climbed a little hill, pressing her knees into the snow, soaking her tights straight through, and peered out from behind a giant oak trunk, as thick as she was tall. Two children, a brother and sister, darted down the lane, dodging snowballs and giggling wildly. The snowballs exploded into powder when they met their target and stuck to their hoods and capes.

Bronwen shook her head, shivering even more. Didn’t they know about the White Wood? The witch at the end of the lane? Hadn’t their parents told them the stories late at night when they were warm and safe in their beds? Hadn’t they been warned never to tread where sunbeams refuse to shine?

The children skipped and laughed, making their way further down the lane. Bronwen followed, hiding behind the deep white trees, until she could smell wood smoke and see the roof of the stone cottage through the snowy boughs.

Foolish children. Surely they would turn back soon. Surely they wouldn’t knock at the witch’s door. But Bronwen watched, shivering, as the children approached the cottage, noses in the air, breathing in the buttery and sweet scent of the winterberry pies. Like a wolf snared in a trap, the children gripped the windowsills with their mittens and, on tiptoes, peered in through the panes.

Bronwen padded up behind them, as soft and silent as snowflakes. “Come children,” she said, laying her hands on their shoulders, on their snow-dusted tartan capes. Gray and gold. She knew those colors. “Come away from the window.”

“But we’re cold,” said the boy, his nose red beneath green eyes. “And there is a fire inside.”

“And a pie on the table,” said the girl, swiping inky black hair from her cheeks. “Our brother is not yet done with his hunt, and we’re hungry.”

“Come,” whispered Bronwen, taking their hands, cold and small inside woolen mittens. “Come with me.”

She led them away from the window.

She led them to the front door.

“Step inside my little stone cottage,” Bronwen said, licking her lips, shivering, shivering. “Step inside and stay for supper.”

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When she’s not writing about  teens who save the world, MG Buehrlen moonlights as a web developer and social media marketing nerd, and she’s the current web ninja lurking behind the YABooksCentral.com, a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers.

Her debut novel, THE 57 LIVES OF ALEX WAYFARE (Strange Chemistry), is about a girl who can travel through all 57 of her past lives. 

Learn more about her: Facebook | InstagramTwitter 

Thinking About Dying by Julie Ako

Sometimes you have to sit in a room with all your stuff and think about dying and wonder about this stuff and other things, like where it’s all gonna go afterwards.

Maybe your family will donate everything to that goodwill off Morgan and you have to think about the kid who will eventually buy your GameCube and a box of all your favorite games for 15$. Is he going to enjoy that version of Starfox as much as you did? You also gotta think about if he’s gonna overwrite your last save file or finish the game for you and if he does, will he feel like he’s really accomplished anything at all?

 You gotta think about if your parents are going to spring for that extra padded cushioned coffin with the warranty that the funeral director is going to try and sell them and if they do, will they watch that same funeral director speed off into the distance in a newly restored cherry Cadillac Coupè de Ville. You gotta think about if they’re going to watch him push 100 mph, Valkyrie cry and hyena cackle to the sky with a handful of your their grief soaked money all because you had to be an idiot and die. 

You also gotta think about the fact that maybe your parents will turn your childhood bedroom into a creepy mausoleum for their dead child and never go into it and when they have guests over it’ll be that weird room that no ones allowed to go into, which naturally makes them more curious. You have to think about the fact that maybe your parents might even get a dog and name it after you and dress it up in miniature sized versions of your entire wardrobe and one day that dog will die and it will rain for three straight days and your parents won’t be able to bury it. 

You have to think about how your mom might be so grief stricken from losing her furry replacement you that she’ll hang out in the shed with its dead body and you have to think about the Prada shoebox your mom is going to inevitably bury it in. 

You have to think that maybe one day your parents will lose all of their friends because they’re the weird couple who can’t let go of their child. You have to understand that even when you’re dead everything is still going to be your fault.

You have to think about the fact that all your friends are going to die and Facebook will be just one big graveyard you all used to hangout in. You have to ask yourself “Do things collect dust on the internet?” You have to understand that they do.

You have to think about the fact that maybe ghosts are real and you’re going to become one because you have some unfinished task, nothing important like curing cancer or solving the energy crisis but something menial like emptying the dishwasher but now you can’t because your hands are made of whatever ghosts are made of and you can’t pick up solid things like the handle to the dishwasher so now you’re stuck as a ghost forever.

You have to think about how long it takes to drive from Chicago to Ann Arbor. How much time do you spend dying in a car on your way to see someone you love? I have been dying for one month and three days to see you. You have to think about how much you can love an organism that is decaying right in front of you.

Do you ever think about how much space you’re taking up? Even when you’re dead, you’re still occupying unnecessary space. One day the kid with your GameCube will die and maybe you can talk about Starfox in Hell because the Jehovah Witnesses were right. The funny thing about your parents getting a dog is you never even liked dogs in the first place. You were more of a cat person. The funeral director gets into heaven through some loophole. God shrugs because the world is unfair. Sometimes life is unfair and then you die. You have to think about these things sometimes, Julie.

Which do you want to read next?

The Lesbian Creation Story at 1,004 words (Officially “Mother Light, Mother Dark”) by alter ego Louise:

They say it began with two. She who was made of light and consumed the dark, and she who was made of dark and consumed the light. They were lovers. A relationship built on giving everything.

Together they created everything and its opposite.

In those days light and dark were equal. The Dark Being, Tenebrae, demanded her own space and did not simply exist where The Light Being, Lucerna, was absent. The moon did not weakly reflect the light of the sun. Her beams had their own power.

Darkness was not a thing defined by lack. Darkness was a force.

The Fat Princess Story at 7,841 words (Officially “Of Soft Belly and Hot Breath”), also by Louise:

Long ago in a universe layered beneath ours lived a girl whose name meant Belly. Her culture believed the belly held everything soft and warm in a woman—love, compassion, kindness, and gentleness. Those whose bellies stretched wide were known to laugh the loudest and love the most and kiss the best.

From the day she was named, it was expected that this girl be filled with warmth. We will call her Bell.

Born in a castle built over a lake, Bell was a princess. All coveted her life and her love—everyone wanted either to touch her softness or to wear it. She was thought to be the most beautiful girl this side of the ocean. During the weeks leading up to summer’s peak in her seventeenth year, when Bell would become eligible for romantic claim, crowds gathered in the village around the lake.

There would be a competition, the biggest one the world had seen in a hundred years, for the right to Bell’s body.

Or “How to Fall in Love with Yourself in One Summer” at 2,936 words by alter ego Gem:

Day One

On this the first day of summer break, I looked my mirror-self in the eye and I said,

“I’m going to fall in love with myself this summer.” So it began.

I have ninety-three days to learn to love the freckle-faced, pudgy-cheeked, wild-haired, conflict-allergic, socially anxious sixteen-year-old girl who stared at me. This is day one.

Looking in that mirror, it felt like a monster task.

My belly stuck out over my jeans. My boobs barely stuck out over that. My legs were kind of okay, but I was so pale you could see my blue veins winding their way under my skin. My hair looked like a Before picture in one of those Your Friends and Family are So Ashamed of Your Appearance They Put You on a TV Show so Someone Will Finally Give You a Damn Make Over shows. I liked my nose though.

And that was just the outside stuff. On the inside I am this ever-trembling Chihuahua. I’m not funny. I’m not brave. And I’m not even sure I’m that creative anymore. Too scared to socialize, too self-loathing to just spend all my time alone. I am without a pack.

A lone Chihuahua.

I do have good taste in things. Books. Movies. Music.

I had my work cut out for me. And only Nicki Minaj to help me through it.

Still. She has me convinced I can pull this off.

Will possibly be releasing these and more eventually. So let me know: which would you guys like to read next?

DON’T LOOK, by Rosamund Hodge

There’s one thing I don’t tell the reporters, or the police, or my parents: I knew there was somebody in the room.

There’s always someone in the dark. And I’ve always known.

#

Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?

#

I don’t have to finish taking finals. By the time the paramedics say I’m not in any more danger of shock and the police have gotten done talking to me, Mom and Dad have already arrived. They drive me home that afternoon. I huddle in the backseat, dry-eyed and shivering, while Mom and Dad trade worried looks.

They don’t say anything, but I can imagine their hushed voices floating up the stairwell tonight. Dad: Our poor baby girl. What are we going to do? Mom: She’s always been so fragile. She’ll never recover. I could have told you she wasn't—

But Mom thought I was ready, three months ago. She was the one who bought me the car, who told me I was driving to Hunterly College by myself. It’s time to gain some independence, honey. Aren’t you excited?

There was no way I could tell her, Mom, when I’m alone in the car, there’s someone in the backseat.

I hooked in my iPod and played it really loud the whole way. Sometimes music helps, but that time it didn’t. The whole way there, I knew, I knew that somebody was sitting in the backseat, watching me with inhuman, malevolent eyes.

In 125 miles, I managed to only look in the rear-view mirror twice.

Don’t look. That’s always been the rule.

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