The 1000 Words To Win An Editor Contest
Contest Winners Announced On 2019-09-21
I'd only looked away for a few seconds, momentarily distracted by a sound behind me. By the time I'd turned back to her, she'd wandered off.
I skirted around yet another rail of sequinned dresses and a poster promising me the perfect Christmas party outfit for less than £39, before ducking my head beneath the shimmering folds of slinky fabric. I'd strongly suspected she'd made a beeline for the glitter.
But no. I was wrong. She wasn't there. I straightened up and narrowed my eyes, scanning the shop floor for any sign of her. Nothing.
"Excuse me." I pushed to the front of the queue, heart pounding, the sound of frustrated women tutting barely registering in my ears. "Have you seen a little girl? She's only two. Red hair. My daughter," I added.
The heavily made up twenty-something behind the counter raised her meticulously designed eyebrows in surprise. She hadn't seen her. I felt a fresh flush of panic flooding through my body. If she wasn't in the store, then she must be...
My gaze fell on the glass doors that opened automatically as the shoppers entered and exited, bringing in a fresh chill and a few stray leaves with them each time. It had only been a few minutes. She couldn't have got that far.
I elbowed my way through the disgruntled shoppers, too preoccupied to apologise to the woman whose bag I'd knocked to the ground, causing the contents to skitter loudly across the floor.
I burst through the doors and paused, eyes darting left, then right. Which way would she have gone?
Across the road and to the left I could see a small and colourful toy shop, with a large bear grinning from behind the window... any small child's dream. I wagered my chances that she would have headed in that direction and my feet started to weave around the bustling, bag-laden shoppers before my head had registered where I needed to go.
I was operating on autopilot. I was a few tentative steps into the toy shop when I spotted a flash of red hair and the starfish shape of a pudgy hand reaching for a large plush giraffe. I let out the sharp burst of breath I didn't realise I'd been holding in.
"There you are." I swooped down on her, scooping her up and pulling her warm body close to my own. She gazed back at me with quizzical green eyes, her slightly sticky fingers still buried deep in the toy's fur.
I left the shop with her bundled in my arms, heading straight back towards my car. We'd had enough excitement for one day. A blood curdling scream rang out behind me, and her little head snapped up from its resting place on my shoulder, staring at the commotion that was happening behind us.
I gripped her small frame closer to me and quickened my pace. "Don't worry, petal. Let's get home and out of the cold." Her eyes were troubled.
"Mumma?" I smiled and gently smoothed a scarlet lock of hair away from her face.
"Mumma's taking you home, sweetheart." She kept looking back at the scene behind us, where a frantic woman continued to scream.
Something terrible must have happened to her. Perhaps her child had been stolen from her. Perhaps her child was the one I was holding in my arms.
I broke into a run and I didn't look back.
When I was a child, I could fly. Not all the time, but there were two moments. Both in deep Ohio summer when the yellow apples littered the ground, brown with rot. The wasps burrowed holes in the soft spotted skin. Two times. Alone and running in my backyard with that apple tree that hunched over like an old old man against the grass. As fast as I could. Running and then a jump and then I just…kept going.
Not high up like a blue jay, but with a momentum and size like swimming, just above the too high grass. And I flew fast enough to see that the grass moved like water, like an ocean blown by a breeze. A yellow-green churning that I could just barely see. The way a jumping fish or a dolphin imagines the size of the relationship between the water and the sky.
I have kept running towards that feeling, trying to remember that initial untethered joy, ever since. I came close when I met my future ex-husband. And again, during a panic attack speeding South on 75. The energy in that remembered moment manifests as a rising and a falling at the same time. It presents as a swallow of light and dark, amorphous and reified, and slick with sugar. It is this that lets you know it is close. And if I could just run fast enough and jump.
If I just do that... I will remember that feeling of being let go by the earth. Seeing the waves of yellow-green churning below. Quiet in the deep summer. Quiet in that hollow moment between. I will remember that the ground can release you, if you just go fast enough.
"Gentlemen, welcome to The Hall. Are you members?"
The two sharp-dressed men exchanged looks, then stared back at the Maitre D. The one in white shook his head. "Not exactly, no. We saw someone come in here... a thief. She stole something of, eh," he shrugged at his partner, "of importance, and we want it back."
The Matire D stood behind a podium, which simply said "The Adventurer's Hall" in faded gold lettering. There was a small bar to his right, though it seemed to be unmanned.
Hung in this entrance hall were two animal heads: a large python, and a lion. Both seemed a bit too large to be real. The Maitre D looked at the two gentlemen, then to the snake on the wall. The snake stared back.
"Noooo... admittancccce. Noooo... adventuresssss."
The Maitre D nodded. "Gentlemen, I am sorry. But the snake says no admittance for you two. You'll have to leave."
The two sharp-dressed men looked at each other one more time. The one in white shook his head. Then, he pulled out a gun from his jacket pocket, and pointed it at the Maitre D. "How's about now, eh? We'll just take a look around, no one has to get hurt."
Past the Matire D was a curtain, but it wasn't closed. Beyond the curtain, chairs, tables, and private booths could be seen. Many library shelves were in here, as well as a fancy-looking bar at the back.
From beyond the curtain, an older man yelled out, "Jack... do you need any help?" The older man was seated in a corner booth. He had khaki pants, lightly colored. A dusty, brown hat was hung on the wall, next to his booth.
The Maitre D spoke back out. "No, Doctor Jones. Enjoy your drink in peace."
There was no reply, except the man in white had pulled back the hammer at the back of his gun. He pointed it directly at the Maitre D.
"Sir, I have asked you to leave. The snake has asked you to leave, as well. You are not welcome here. And I will not be threatened by your... your peashooter. Get off the property, at once."
Jack, the Matire D, was angry. But more than that, he was insulted. In all his years at The Adventurer's Hall, this was the first time someone had pointed a gun at his person. At least, as the Matire D. And such a small thing, too.
The man in white moved just a little more forward, and squeezed the trigger as quick as lightning. He wasn't content with one shot. He needed three to make his point. "What do you think about my peashooter now, huh? Jimmy, look for that rat now!"
Jack looked down at his white shirt, which had begun streaking with blood. He sighed, and hoped it wouldn't stain. He reached forward and pressed a small button inside the podium. The curtain closed. The lion roared. The snake lunged forward and knocked the gun out of the man's hands, and pushed them both back to the edge of the room. Then Jack walked around the podium, holding what could only be described as a hand-held cannon. He pointed it at the man in white.
"I think your peashooter didn't have enough power to kill me, and I think it was a big mistake to think you were in control at my club. You have three seconds to leave The Adventurer's Hall. Three."
The men scrambled to their feet, and started to move toward Jack.
The lion roared again, and the Python had started to lunge forward, nearly pulling itself off the wall in the process. This caused the two men to stop, and start to move toward the exit. Both of them ran out the door. Jack moved to the edge of the doors, and pulled them closed. He turned around, and took a deep breath. He walked back to the podium, and pushed the button again, placing the hand cannon back in the podium shelf. Then he turned to the right, and offered his hand to the girl thief who had run in a few minutes before.
"Sir, you… you've been shot! We need to get you to a doctor!"
"Jack... you need any help?" It was Jones again.
He shook his head. "No, Doctor Jones. I'm quite alright. Young lady, come with me," he said, as he walked through the now open curtain. He walked past the mostly empty bars, and tables. It was midday, after all. She followed. She noticed that if he was hurt by the shooting, he didn't show it. He walked to the fancy bar at the back, pulled out a small red bottle from the back counter, and began pouring some into a clean glass nearby.
She sat down at the bar, staring at the man.
"There are three rules one must be aware of, to be a standing member of The Adventurer's Hall. Rule 1 is: violence is not tolerated, inside the hall. Though, if violence happens, we have healing potions on hand." He nodded at his cup, drank the rest of it, breathing deep as he did so. "The second, you must tell us your story. On your first night, preferably." He pulled up a chair behind the bar, and sat back. "The third rule is about the doors. Be mindful of the door you came through. And be mindful to close the door you came through. Leaving the establishment from any other door, will drop you somewhere else. Possibly somewhen else." He put his hand out toward the girl. "Lastly, welcome to The Adventurer's Hall. Everyone who has an adventure, is fundamentally changed by it. And soon enough, all adventurer's find themselves at my bar."
"So tell me, then: what's your story?" she asked him.
He smiled at her. "No one's ever really asked. How about we trade stories, then?"
She smiled. "How about a drink, first?"
"Give me back my phone, Geoffrey." The four-year-little monster I call ‘son' scrunches his nose at me, tucking away my phone into his armpit with both hands. Giving him the hard stare that he knows he won't win against, I extend my hand, cupping my fingers to my palm. "Now."
With an exasperated sigh, he relinquishes my stolen phone, not before giving me his most innocent smile. Checking the screen, I have twenty-two notifications from Facebook. Five minutes ago, there were none. I open the app. For the love of everything that is my sanity, the mini terror had taken a picture of me. While I was sneezing.
My current Facebook profile picture is an upwards-angle shot of me sneezing. And I now have more than enough comments to convince me that I should permanently disconnect from everything internet, in the hopes that one day, maybe this image will disappear from memory. First digital, then human.
'Your face exploding?'
'Why is this your profile pic?'
'Your face break?'
Thanks Maggie. You've been my best friend for fifteen years, but now, you have seen me sneeze from the viewpoint of my preschool wildman and mocked me. True friendship.
I quickly tap at the screen, deleting the image from my profile. Setting the phone on the kitchen counter, I look up toward the ceiling, taking a deep breath.
"Mommy?" asks the tiny human who has publicly humiliated me.
Looking at his cherubic face, full of innocence and love, I say, "Yes sweet boy," reminding myself that my small child unknowingly shared my awkward moment on social media.
"I think you are the most beautiful mommy," he says, rocking in place with both hands held behind his back. Sighing, I bend to give my wonderful child a full embrace. His round cheeks press against my neck, filling my arms in the most satisfying of ways. "Love you, Mommy," he says into my neck, patting my back with one of his small hands.
Releasing him, I look into his adoring eyes. But they aren't looking at me adoringly. Nope. I was played. A grinchy smile crosses the little nightmare's lips, holding up my stolen phone.
With an evil cackle, he charges out of the room. I trail behind him, shouting, "Geoffrey!" Of course he doesn't obey, choosing instead to race to the sanctuary of the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Pounding my fists against the door, my demands for him to open the door go unheeded. Using my sucrose voice, I say, "Geoffrey, darling, please open the door for Mommy."
"Do I get a cookie?" Does he get a cookie? Seriously, crazy extortionist? Ding. Ding. Ding. My phone is blowing up on the other side of the door.
Great, he wins. "Yes, darling. If you open the door, you can have a cookie." I have lost my place as alpha in my own home. The tiny blackmailer opens the door, pride beaming on his face. "Give Mommy the phone first."
He hands me the phone tentatively. As Geoffrey runs to the kitchen, I check the screen. Another round of Facebook notifications and a text from my mother.
I check the message from Mom first. Whatever she has to say has to be less painful than whatever I will find online. Scrolling through the series of texts, a dozen selfie images of Geoffrey making duck faces and an obscene number of emojis have been sent to my mother.
Above all that, the sneezing image of me. My son has been having some extended conversations with his grandma. Sweet, but I know better than to assume he is innocent.
Tapping the social media app, the sneezing photo has been uploaded again. This time, by my mother. The caption reads: My grandson took this picture. Had to share the lovely artwork my little Geoffrey created.
"No Way." It was a text from my wife. I stood at an auction house in Millbrook, New York, and I sent her a photo of a "mirror with woman"—that was not its name but that's what I thought of it as—to get her thoughts. We had a sterile loft in Dumbo, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought it would be perfect for one of the narrow spaces between the tall windows currently occupied by a large black-and-white print of which I had long tired. Abhorred even. If one can abhor a photo of the Maine coast.
"Mirror with woman" was some type of sculpture. A naked woman appears to be emerging from a body of water. Some kind of glass. She looks up, searching. Her left arm is completely above the water, and her left hand seems to be gripping something unknow. Her right are is still partially submerged, ripples surrounding the elbow, which is below the surface. Her right hand is more open than is her left, as if trying to catch or deflect something heading towards her. It—she—was in a heavy, mahogany frame. Victorian, perhaps, with intricate and symmetric carvings.
"No way"? My wife's text. So I called her.
"Honey. It is the coolest thing. It'd be like she is pouring into the apartment. A mermaid trapped in the East River."
"John. That thing is not coming anywhere near this apartment. Are you nuts?"
I said I really, really wanted it and she relented.
"But," she added, "If it looks like shit on the wall it's going out. Just don't pay too much for it."
And I didn't pay too much for it. I'd been to enough of these auctions to know that interest flags late and that's when the good deals are to be found. And I found this one. $200. Plus a 15% buyer's premium. Now it was in the back of the Outback, carefully packed.
* * *
It didn't look like shit. Even Susan—that'd be "Honey" in the foregoing dialogue—came to like it. Perhaps more than I did. I'd catch her sitting on a stool in the kitchen and staring at it.
She stopped denying her interest in "Her"—it did not take long before we realized this was no object but a being of suspect provenance—by the third or fourth time that I caught her staring. Susan would interrupt me at times with her latest theory. But whatever the backstory it came down to a woman searching for something. Love. Life. A lost child. A lost love. Lost life.
* * *
I had to pee. It was about 4, 4:15. Leaving the bedroom I saw that one of us had, I thought, left a light on in the great room. But it was Susan. She'd taken a stool from the kitchen. It was a couple of feet away from Her and Susan was lost in Her.
She didn't notice my presence until I asked, nervously, "Honey?"
She shook. "Just lost in thought." She was embarrassed and quickly replaced the stool and rushed past me to our bedroom. I turned off the great-room light, peed, and returned to bed. Susan was asleep. Or pretending to be. It was the following Saturday when whatever happened happened. We were heading out to Jerry and Beth's place in Sag Harbor.
I had my overnight bag packed when Susan said in the bedroom, "I can't go." Something was wrong. "I don't know what it is. I just know that it is."
As I dialed Jerry to tell him we couldn't make it because something-had-come-up, she left. When I got to the great room she was standing in front of Her. Rubbing Her face gently.
I heard a faint whisper: "I will help you." She collapsed. EMTs were on site within eight minutes of my 911 call, and Susan was in the ER twenty minutes later after we wailed through early-Saturday Brooklyn-traffic. The tests showed nothing. Doctors from a myriad of departments were called in, to consult about or to gawk at my wife. Her vitals were strong. Nothing elevated. Nothing depressed. The guess, and it was just that, was a temporary loss of oxygen. Three hours after being rushed in, Susan awoke as if nothing had happened to her. Surprised when told where she was and how and why she got there, she just wanted to get home. She was discharged after promising to immediately call 911 if it happened again, even if she just felt faint. We haled a cab and were home about twenty minutes later.
I didn't notice until I looked to the window. Susan was smiling. She was staring at the mirror and she was smiling. And the mirror was a mirror.
She was gone. And Susan was smiling.
"Dave this had better be good, I had dinner plans" Mike said entering the lab.
"What's so important it can't wait until tomorrow?"
"Sorry dude but trust me you'll want to see this" said Dave
"I was playing with the emitters based on your latest formulas."
Dave danced around the test rig making several small adjustments before picking up the chess piece. The black knight was a long-running joke having miraculously survived countless experiments. The only constant in their complex calculations.
He threw the knight in the air and caught it before placing it carefully in the centre of the rig and flipping a switch. A high-pitched whine, barely audible, started to reverberate around the lab. As the sound built, slowly the chess piece magically floated into the air where it hung in defiance to the natural order.
Dave looked over at Mike expectantly.
"And?" Mike said flatly.
Dave flipped another switch. There was a sound like bubble-gum popping and the chess piece disappeared.
Mike took a double-take and scanned the rig. "Where is it?" he said continuing his search on the lab floor.
Dave pointed back to where the chess piece had been floating. Mike leaned in until he saw it. Just under where the knight had been was a black disk. The diameter of a tin can, it was impossibly thin and completely invisible unless viewed from above or below.
Mike peered up from the edge of the table into the inkblack disk completely perplexed "Is that debris? A hole? What the hell am I looking at here Dave?"
Dave switched the power off. With another pop, the black disk was gone along with the black knight.
They didn't sleep that night or much of the next week. When finally, they succumbed to exhaustion the lab was atangled mess of wires, components, frantically scribbled notes and broken pencils. After another frustrating day buried in theory, they'd had enough. It was time to sacrifice some pawns. They waited until evening before ransacking the offices. Back in the lab they jury-rigged their spoils into the dissected lab computer. Six web cameras trained on the test-rig recorded every angle as they offered up the first of the white pawns.
Power on, pop.
They carefully lowered a camera into the disk after the pawn. Eagerly they watched as it revealed the secrets of a new world, a world of total darkness. Another pillage of the offices yielded a half dozen spotlights all now trained on the disk and the second pawn.
With spot-lights trained from every angle, the camera revealed a rich tapestry of inky impenetrable blackness. Another pawn lost. Flashlight duct-taped to the webcam and another white pawn.
Finally, they could see the true nature of the void beyond, the flashlight illuminated everything within. Which was still the total sum of nothing. Attempts to increase the size of the disk proved elusive, seemingly a question of harmonics rather than power. Attempts at tinkering with the variables and the disk would rapidly become unstable. They had established it wasn't a portal between fixed points for items left stationary in one disk appeared to have wandered off in the next. Where the chess pieces went was anyone's guess.
So, the duo did what all good scientist do in such trying times. They sat down sharpened their pencils and proceeded to poke the disk a little bit more.
Mike shook Dave's hand as they held their medals up to the flashing cameras. The celebrity duo were a guaranteed shoo-in for the prestigious physics prize. Had it only been three years since they had gone public? The accolades had not stopped coming. Research labs around the world rushed to replicate their work but none could solve the harmonic enigma that uniquely created the stable disks. The most powerful lasers failed to illuminate. Rockets, micro-drones travelled forever in that inky ocean. Elon Musk's Boring team, experts in creating holes, turned their hand to plumbing them, all with little success.
Soon the world lost interest in news about nothing. Military and big-business struggled to deliver the promised revolution, but the technology had one useful application. It was a god-send for a polluted planet, a timely answer for the endless stream of waste. Nuclear became "safe" again. The disks would swallow any overly energetic rods preventing a meltdown and when spent, long-term storage was no longer an issue. A power-hungry worldre-embraced fission. Within two decades 90% of the global grid was powered from new, "safe" reactors. Much to the frustration of those investors that had backed renewables.
Another decade and the ‘Darkdisk" ™ technology had become integral to household appliances. "Tackling household waste at source" was the advertising tagline. Dave & Mike, now long dead, had faded into legend. Happy go lucky saviours of a beautiful and grateful world.
"You had better have a good reason for interrupting the Captain's Dinner, Chief" he said stepping onto the bridge. "My dessert is getting warm."
"Sorry Sir, but you'll want to see this" the Chief pointed to the beautiful turquoise planet projected onto the high-resolution bridge display.
"What am I looking at?" it took the Captain a moment "Are we off course or has Pandora V developed a ring system?"
"Well, it's definitely Pandora V' the Chief zoomed the display.
"Why is it shimmering?" the Captain said stepping closer to the display. "What the" his voice trailed off before exclaiming "Is that a bloody distortion field?"
"It's about 7 million distortion fields" said the Chief.
The Captain stared in stunned silence, slowly shaking his head as the distortion fields bubbled, grew and popped spewing their toxic tin can sized garbage into orbit."I want a full scan. Find the point of origin. Let engineering know we'll need to create a sizable gravity well and start charging the distortion generators. We'll be returning this mess to its owners" the Captain barked as he slumped into the command chair. "So much for my dessert."
- Full manuscript critique (not a line edit, max 100,000 words)
- Edit & critique of your first 5 pages
- Critique of your query Letter
- Edit & critique of your first 5 pages
- Critique of your query Letter
- Critique of your query Letter
- Critique of your next Twitter Author pitch (#SFFpit, #DVpit, #pitmad, etc; No more than 280 characters).
Contest will run from 2019-08-01 through 2019-08-31 London/UK Time
Winner Will Be Announced
No Later than 2019-09-21
Michele Sagan - Editor, Author & Prize Source
Robert D. McAdams - Author & Contest Sponsor
DB Carter - Author & Esteemed Guest Judge & All-Around Good Egg
What We Want
A very short (AKA micro-fiction) Science Fiction or Fantasy or Thriller story, or a story from any genre (non-horror, non-graphic violence, see below) that makes us laugh.
What We Don't Want
Horror or Graphic violence (including, but not limited to, rape, torture, sadism, wanton and extreme violence, gore, human suffering, etc.) -- please keep any violence down to levels you would be comfortable showing to an average twelve year old child. (Yes, we realize that's subjective.) Racism, bigotry, trolling or other harassing behavior are also unwanted. Not even for fun. Not even as a "joke". No.
Who Should Enter
Authors who have a fully completed manuscript would gain the most from entering and winning the contest, as Michele cannot edit what hasn't been written. If you only have chapter one and a query letter done, and you manage to win 1st prize, even though you were aiming for 2nd prize, you'll only have a year to finish your manuscript before your prize must be redeemed or expire (and really you'd only have about 11 months, as Michele may need a month to edit a full manuscript).
Who Can Enter
Anyone may enter (so long as it is legal to do so in your place of residence). The only people who cannot enter (and win) are the judges and their immediate family members.
How To Enter
Submit your contest story entry in one of three ways: on the contest page on Michele's website (michelesagan.com), or as a comment to the official contest blog post on Robert's blog, or on Twitter using the hashtag #Michelestips
Rules & Contest Entry Submission Guidelines
- 1000 Words Maximum
- 250 Words Minimum
- Entries must be submitted no earlier than 2019-08-01 00:00 London/UK time and no later than 2019-08-31 23:59:59 London/UK time. No exceptions
- 3 Entries Max (you may replace a prior entry with an update (only one update!), but a max of 3 different stories from you may be submitted for consideration)
- No graphic violence
- No racism/bigotry/hate-speech/trolling or otherwise socially unacceptable language. Not even as a joke. Not even if your punchline is hilarious. No.
- Submit wherever you like (on Twitter, Michele's website (michelesagan.com) or Robert's blog) but keep in mind that wherever you submit, they all go into the same pool, and you are limited to 3 total entries (not 3 per possible submission location)
- If submitting on Twitter, you must use the hashtag #Michelestips on your tweet thread.
- If submitting to Michele or Robert's websites, you must submit only to the official page or blog post for the contest.
- Anyone found to be plagiarizing (yes, we will be checking), cheating, breaking the rules, or being dishonest can (and will) be disqualified from the contest and have their prize stripped from them if they've already been announced as a winner
- The decisions of the judges are final
Contest is sponsored and paid for by Robert D. McAdams, and will be operated under the laws and jurisdiction of the State of California in the United States of America. No purchase is necessary (or possible) to enter. Anyone (aside from the judges and their immediate family members) is eligible to enter, provided they follow the rules. Odds of winning will depend on the number of entries received and the quality of the writing as judged by the contest judges. Winners will be selected based on the personal and professional tastes of the judges. Each judge will be able to vote for their top 20, then top 10, then top 6 then top 3 in multiple voting rounds, until all prizes have been assigned. Prizes are services and have no retail value and may not be redeemed for cash. 1st prize's full manuscript critique is for 100,000 words or less (+/- 100 ~words). Any word count above 100k would need to be negotiated privately between the winner and Michele at her standard manuscript critique rates. Prize winners will be notified via Twitter or E-mail (depending on how the contestant submitted their entry -- a valid e-mail or Twitter handle is required in order to be notified of a prize win). Any prize awarded must be redeemed within one year of the date the winner is notified, or it is null and void. Michele & Robert will attempt to notify a prize winner 3 times over the span of 6 days (once every 2 days) -- if the winner cannot be reached (does not respond, or their contact information is unusable) then that winner's prize will be canceled and given to the next winner in sequence (1st goes to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd, etc.). Authors may not request a specific turn-around time for their editing prize, edits will be completed as Michele is able to schedule them -- any badgering or harassing of Michele to hurry or place a higher priority on a prize winner is cause for that prize to be canceled after one warning is given by Michele -- that being said, Michele will make every effort to get the edits back to the authors who win the prizes as fast as she is able. Any prize winner who is disqualified will have their prize stripped from them and awarded down to the next winner in sequence (e.g. if the 2nd place winner is disqualified, 3rd place becomes the second place winner, and 4th place becomes the 3rd place winner, etc.) Prize winners consent to having their names and Twitter handles published in the list of winners (which will be posted to these rules pages, and on the official blog posts for the contest, and on Twitter), and to having their winning story published on Michele and/or Robert's websites, as well as Twitter and possibly other social media platforms as well. Stories submitted remain the property of the authors who submit them.