Iron Writer 2015 Spring Equinox Open – She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

I did not win my bracket for the Iron Writer Challenge and won’t be advancing forward in the competition. But I did win the popular vote in my bracket. I just didn’t wow the judges. Below is my entry for the The Iron Writer Challenge 2015 Spring Equinox Open — The Kurt Vonnegut Bracket. Entitled “She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through” my entry is a continuation of the story I started with “Carried Away By a Moonlight Shadow” which was the winning story for the Iron Writer Challenge 102. You might recognize the titles of these stories as the lyrics of a song…I do plan to continue the story on from here; I have an outline that will eventually be a longer short story.

The Required Elements

  • Artemis
  • A Dilettante
  • Jello Wrestling
  • A Moon Rock

Artemis

She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

When the ghost that lurked in her home was eaten by shadows, she began to doubt she had ever seen him at all.

The quiet old house became alien. She couldn’t make the finish on the second floor bannister match and three posts had to be re-turned. She began to doubt herself; she was a dilettante. Her plaster work was uneven, and she couldn’t sand and smooth it properly. Maybe seeing him was mold-induced madness from this house. Weeks passed. In frustration she left off restoration and began cleaning out the attic. She daydreamed of a beach somewhere warm.

It was April when she saw him in the mirror above the fireplace, when the moonlight hit it from the plate glass window in the parlor. Her own reflection was missing. His pale face was pressed against the glass; his expression one of terror, body hidden behind the fireplace as though it were a wall. She touched his hand against the glass and felt it give. She could feel him for a moment, until the shadows in the room behind him came to life and dragged him away as they had that night in the kitchen. The next night the same thing happened, and every night until the moon waned. Her reflection reappeared.

In May she was ready. The jeweled pin he left behind had no reflection either. She pressed it through the wavering glass, and he took it, but he couldn’t use it to banish the shadows. They swallowed him up each night, until the moon waned.

In June she used mirrors to direct the moonlight and saw him for five days instead of three, but couldn’t save him. She found his trunk in the attic. An army uniform, a sword, a photo and papers. His name was Delias. His sword had a reflection; he could not grasp it.

In July, she discovered a marble statue of Artemis from the attic had no twin on the other side. She placed a lunar meteorite in the parlor and the statue glowed an unearthly blue in the amplified light. She touched the huntress and fell inside her, and the statue grew and molded to her like armor. The air around her was thick, like wrestling through jello, but she forced her way to the mirror. Her face was unseeing stone. Catching up his sword, she heaved herself over the mantle and through into the mirror room beyond.

The shadows leapt forth immediately in response to her arrival. She stepped in front of him, brandishing his sword. A voice in her head said the weapon was wrong; Diana preferred a bow. But she did her best, cutting through the dark like fire. She banished the shadows back to where they belonged.

Danger past, she turned to him. “My darling!” he said, and put his hand to her face, but it passed through her skin. On this side of the mirror, she was the ghost.

“I’m afraid you’re trapped,” he said in sorrow.

Judge’s Feedback

Here is the spreadsheet of rankings for my story (judges names are blacked out) and the written feedback I received.

2015 Spring Open Rankings

2015 Spring Open Feedback

I’ve posted several questions about the spelling/grammar scores, given that I had the piece professionally copy edited, but I haven’t received any response about why they marked down to 9 what should have been 15. Lots of vague answers, but nothing specific, and a lot of deflection of my questions.

The Iron Writer’s Challenge is a flash fiction writing competition where you construct a 500 word story using 4 assigned elements. Your story competes against 4 others and is judged by official judges and also voted on by the general public. Winners compete in a tournament and stories are gathered in a published anthology each year. It’s a fun challenge to get you to flex your writing fingers, learn how to make your writing as lean as possible, and work with some potential obstacles. I wrote about my planning for the challenge here

Iron Writer Challenge 102 – Carried Away by a Moonlight Shadow

I won the Iron Writer Challenge 102 with the piece of flash fiction below. Thank you everyone for voting for me and giving me feedback and encouragement.

The Elements

  • An event that changes a character’s personality.
  • A measuring tape
  • Tetherball
  • Haggis
Haunted House by AreYoU
Haunted House by AreYoU

Carried Away by a Moonlight Shadow

His soul had been trapped in the jeweled box for a century. The hundred-and-thirty-year difference in their ages left gaps in conversation.

“We played tetherball in the Army in 1895…” he said, after she explained the Super Bowl.
“That’s not even a sport, though,” she said.

“I’m sure you would like haggis, my dear…”
“No, I googled that. I know what’s in it.”

She showed him Wikipedia and how to work the mouse with his semi-corporeal hand, and he spent hours filling the holes in his knowledge.

He never thought he would call a woman steadfast, but her confidence in her ability to release him from his ghostly trap earned it. Nothing about his old house (now her house) frightened her, either; not the bloody puddle on the stairs every morning, the measuring tape that turned into a snake and bit her, the rocking chair that wouldn’t stop. Or him, the ghost. She painted, swept, dusted, repaired until the house looked as it had when he had walked and breathed there.

She loved his square shoulders, the way he set a formal table and read books. He was handsome in a way that men weren’t anymore. He wasn’t sloppy, wrinkled or slouching. If she could finish the house, he would be freed, she was sure. Whether he would fall fully into her world or float to another was unclear, but regardless she had to work harder.

“Do you like this color?” she said.
“How do you live on your own?” he wondered.
“It’s my money. What could my parents say?” she shrugged, and painted.

His protectiveness was charming but like a blanket on a warm day, unneeded. Or so she thought.

Tattered curtains hit the dustbin, and the city beyond the windows she cleaned had transformed itself since he walked those streets. She had a party. He lurked at the edges, unseen. Her friends were like her, irreverent, charming and smart. In his age such women were loose. These women were jewels, and she was their center.

He almost surrendered despair. He almost believed he was free.

The trap she finally sprung with all her endeavors unleashed not him, but a terrifying smog. It billowed up from fragments of an old letter in the ashes she cleaned in the cellar. She thought it was a hallucination, but the very real teeth wrapped around her arm finally dislodged her fear. She beat it back and fled upstairs. He recognized the black thing chasing her, and for the first time she saw his anger. He stepped between her and the demon and fought. It overwhelmed him until he rose up larger — filling the room, a monster, his face a horrible mask of rage. He took the jeweled pin from his chest and lashed at the demon, and it exploded and disappeared.

Relieved, she sought his face, but he was still terrified. The evening shadows came alive and swallowed him whole.

No more puddle, rocking chair, tape measure or him. The house remained, and the jeweled pin, but he was gone.

The Iron Writer’s Challenge is a flash fiction writing competition where you construct a 500 word story using 4 assigned elements. Your story competes against 4 others and is judged by official judges and also voted on by the general public. Winners compete in a tournament and stories are gathered in a published anthology each year. It’s a fun challenge to get you to flex your writing fingers, learn how to make your writing as lean as possible, and work with some potential obstacles. I wrote about my planning for the challenge here

My approach to the Iron Writer Challenge

This week I’m participating in The Iron Writer challenge, (I’m in challenge 102) a writing competition where you write a 500 word story using four elements that are provided to you – examples:

  • An empty ATM
  • A talking tree
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • A meteor

or:

  • A Zombie Apocalypse
  • A 1936 Chevy Corvette
  • A Coyote
  • A Snow Plow

Once written, you submit your story and it competes against 4 others using those same elements for the prize. (The prize is esteem from your fellow writers and a chance to enter a tournament.)

The four elements can end up being setting, POV, actions, background details, or character elements. They can throw a monkey wrench into story ideas, set everyone up to write very similar stories or just cause a story to sound disjointed if it’s awkward to fit one of the elements in.

So of course I have to try to control the uncontrollable.

I decided I’d like to tell stories inside a framework that might allow elements to be swapped in without altering the overall storyline – flexible, but consistent so I could do more than one challenge set in the same universe. Also I can think up some story pieces ahead of time, like character and plot, so I’m not scrambling to do that in the four days I’m allotted when elements are assigned.

The framework I came up with is a ghost story about two lovers – she’s alive, and he’s dead. But they weren’t lovers before he died – she met him as a ghost, and the two fall in love with each other. Because he is dead, he can do all sorts of non-corporeal things – jump through planes of existence & back and forth in time, which I hope can account for some of the assigned elements. Because she’s alive, lots of action can take place around her real existence apart from him, and the conflict that creates with her maintaining a relationship with him. And of course, why is he haunting her? Is he haunting her, or is there some other reason why he’s here? Maybe he’s in purgatory and has to perform some action to move on, but because he’s fallen in love with her, he doesn’t want to move along. Maybe she’s there to help him get through something in purgatory that he has to accomplish, and she has to discover what that is. There are possibilities for moods that are funny (like the movie Topper) or sweet and wistful (the musical film Once) or mournful (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard), forboding (A Good Man is Hard to Find) or just really frightening (The Others).

Haunted House by AreYoU
Haunted House by AreYoU

Partway through sketching out what this framework might look like, I was listening to old music in my library and came across “Moonlight Shadow” the 1983 song by Mike Oldfield, sung by Maggie Reilly. The lyrics of the song tell the story of two lovers separated, and he is shot and killed. She is unable to “push through” to get to him. Lots of the description – moonlight shadow, “The trees that whisper in the evening” “vision forming” “silvery night” “The night was heavy and the air was alive” suggest something going on that is mystical and hard to see – maybe a vision she might see of what is going on in purgatory, where he is, but she can’t form a picture of what’s really happening, or how to reach out to him.

That imagery is lush and sets a wistful sort of mood, and could fit with the framework that I was pulling together for my story. So I’m using that song as inspiration.

Yes, I will write fan fiction ghost stories based on an obscure 1983 pop song.

The danger is if I seem like I’m throwing away elements casually or just really trying to wrench them into a format that they don’t go with. If the elements really just didn’t work together with this theme, I could pants it and write something else instead. But I have some basics in place if the elements fit together.

So these were the elements I was given –

  • An event that changes a character’s personality.
  • A measuring tape
  • Tetherball
  • Haggis

I decided after a bit of tinkering that I could try to make those work in my pre-conceived framework, and I put my 500 words together and submitted my story today. When the challenge gets posted to the Iron Writer website in the next few days, I’ll link to it and ask that you read and vote for whatever story you think is best (which I hope is mine.)

Flash Fiction: Blue Moon MacGuffin

A practice piece so I have some experience writing 525 words before I have to produce one for the Iron Writer’s Challenge.

I’m not gonna to admit to Maddie that the hotdog was a mistake. It was; it went right through me and I’m barely hangin’ on. But as soon as I head for the john she’s gonna know. If I can keep her from chit-chatting with this woman while we interview her about the missing… whachamacallit, we can get back to the office before… anything happens.

“Why are you so fidgety, David? You’re making me nervous.” She hits me with her purse when I open the door for her.

“Mrs. Mills! I’m Madelyn Hayes. You say you’ve lost your [thingamabob]?”

Didn’t introduce me, and for once I don’t mind. But I still don’t understand what they’re lookin’ for. What did she say?

“Ms. Hayes! Yes. Jerold and I were the only ones here, and the office door was locked. The [doohickey] was sealed in this box at 10 am to be shipped. But we opened it to add a packing slip at 3:30, it was empty.”

I pick the box up, turn it over, and start hunting around. Maddie walks over to talk to Jerold, and I feel sorry for the guy. Five-foot-seven of Chanel and determination coming ‘atcha is enough to make any guy… distracted from the current situation. She asks questions, but he mumbles what Mills said and stares at her chest. Frustrated, she turns to me and we put our heads together.

“Maddie, there are only a few solutions to a locked room mystery. #1 – Mills or Jerold stole the whachamacallit before the box got sealed…”
Her: “2: the thingamabob was stolen when it was opened…”
Me: “3: the doohickey is still there…”
Her: “4: the hoozy-whatzy never existed…”
Me: “5: the veeblefetzer was turned into something else…”
Her: “6: someone else was in the room and stole the thingamajig…”

Just when I think we’re on that back and forth where we work out the solution, I realize…

Me: “Wait. You don’t know what this thing is either?”
Her: “I thought you did! You took the first message!”
Me: “You called her back!”
Her: “She mumbled!”
Me: “We don’t know what we’re looking for.”
Her: “When do we ever, though?”

Wait, there was a stack of shipping boxes in the corner.

“Maddie, go look through those boxes. I’m going to… check out the hallway.”

She gives me that look-she knows. But I think better in the john. I’m there fixing my situation, when it hits me. No, literally it fell out of the ceiling tile and landed on my head. It’s a lacy doily thing. Whatever a ‘gehaakt cadeautje’ is – this is probably it. I head back into Mill’s office with it, holding it up in the air.

Jerold’s face lights up, but Mills makes a run for it. Maddie trips her and stands on her back until the police arrive. Jerold writes us a check for a cool $10,000. We’re driving home…

“Where did you find it?”
“Fell on my head.”
“Too bad it wasn’t an anvil.”
“At least I know how to say ‘anvil’.”
“Well, thank god for that hotdog.”

520 words. Tags: fan fiction, flash fiction, Moonlighting, David Addison, Maddie Hayes
Note: A ‘gehaakt cadeautje” is (in the Dutch language) a small crocheted gift that you make ahead and keep a stash of, then give to friends as a token of friendship at various non-birthday or non-Christmas times of year. A little thoughtful present that says “I appreciate you.” An Americanized version of the term came up on the radio show A Way With Words Crocheted Gidote, and after much investigation, people figured out it was this dutch custom.