We’ve had great participation in our writing challenge and very good entries. In the end we had three that squeaked past the others into the finals. So here are your 2015 Autumn Writing Challenge Finalists: R. J. Skaer, Lady Arin, and Katherine.
All that’s left is to select the winner. In this round you’ll choose from these entries and vote in the poll at the end of this post for one entry you think is best.
The entry receiving the most votes will be the winner, and the author will receive a $25 e-gift card from either Amazon or B&N. (In case of a tie, I’ll draw for the winner).
Voting will last until midnight (Pacific time), Sunday, October 11.
And now the finalist entries (presented in the order in which they were submitted):
From R. J. Skaer
Jennah knew how the government Supervisors worked since she’d been one last year, but that didn’t mean she had to comply. It only meant she knew the consequences if she didn’t. Not death—that would have been too barbaric, too crude. Rehabilitation.
One moment, one chance to make this choice. The tiny fetus’s thin arms and meager legs were moving more slowly now, in brief jerky movements that tore at her heart. She shouldn’t look. If she turned away now, if she forced her feet to move out of that sterile closet, away from the cold shine of the metal cart and its helpless burden, she’d be okay. Everything would be normal again.
It was a boy. She shouldn’t have noticed that, it only made it harder, and…his skin was cold to the touch—oh God—so very cold and soft. And his body was light, such a tiny burden in her arms, cool against her chest, the little head cradled against her arm. What was it they said, thirty-two weeks? A sob choked her.
“I’m sorry.” Her whisper was loud in that tiny space. No, there was no one behind her, no one to hear. The door was shut. She was trapped—no, safe—alone with her shame and her choice. “Please forgive me. Forgive us. I’m sorry, oh little guy, I’m so sorry!”
A tear fell on the little wizened face, and as if in response the infants’ lower lip trembled, then puckered and he gave a mewling cry.
“Don’t cry, please don’t cry.” She sounded like a little girl, her voice high-pitched and frightened. “I couldn’t help you. You need nurses and oxygen and everything—I don’t know the first thing about all that stuff. You’d be—you wouldn’t last a day no matter what I did.” He’d die anyways, and she’d still lose everything. The Supervisors knew all, they had eyes everywhere. She’d loose her position, her freedom, maybe herself; no one went in a rehabilitation center and came out the same. She’d be like Mrs. Jennings, glassy-eyed and soft-spoken, never without her icicle smile, the perfect citizen.
Jennah forced herself to slow her frenzied rocking of the tiny form in she held. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t. This was some other woman’s choice, and she had to respect that. This was freedom. If only she hadn’t come in here looking for another box of gloves, and found the cart with it’s gruesome burden…
What if her—her fetus—had been a boy? Would he have looked like this? She didn’t need to bear the burden for this strangers’ child too, the long years of silent grief that couldn’t be reasoned away, the piercing pain of every silent anniversary, the bitter hatred of her slim, barren body.
A whispering creak from came behind, a breath of cold air fingered her neck. Jennah spun to find Supervisor Hauksbee filling the doorway, blank shock on his florid face.
– – – – –
From Lady Arin
Jennah knew how the government Supervisors worked since she’d been one last year, but that didn’t mean she had to comply. Whatever force the law might still have behind it, it meant nothing in the sewers.
She had to admit, she felt a little sorry for the man. With his nice suit and neat hair, talking to a sewer runner had clearly not been his idea. He was making an admirable attempt to keep smiling, but from the way his nose kept wrinkling and his feet kept shifting, Jennah knew that his insides were wriggling like a mass of night worms.
“I’m not surfacing,” she said. “Not for all the berries in Green End.”
The Supervisor visibly wilted. “Please, it’s only a few questions. It won’t take long, I swear.”
She rocked on her heels, and gripped the wall next to her with a gloved hand. The whistling he couldn’t hear was getting louder, and if he had the authority to force her, he would have already used it. “No.” Unable to wait any longer, Jennah started to back down the tunnel. “And if you knew how little it would help, you wouldn’t ask.”
Last year, Jennah would have given him a supportive pat on the shoulder. Now, she wanted to laugh at the idea that he could learn anything from a runner. The Supervisory Office still wanted to believe in the world that had existed before the Crisis, and while Jennah couldn’t really blame them for it, she wanted nothing more to do with them.
The Supervisor was not following, so she turned and broke into an easy jog. Water sloshed over the tops of her boots and soaked the hems of her jeans, but the tunnels were relatively dry, and would stay so until the next eclipse. Almost automatically she closed her eyes. It was easier to hear the whistling that way.
When she first started hearing it a year ago, she had known instinctively there was no way she could explain it to her superiors. She had left for the sewers without even turning in her resignation. The runners had welcomed her. Even if they didn’t hear the same music she did, they understood. They had become runners for similar reasons.
The whistling reached its peak, and she halted abruptly. The tunnel to her left was unusually dark, even to her eyes, and she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen someone use it. She dug into her pockets, pulled out a piece of red chalk and drew three vertical marks on the entry arch: a warning sign. As she returned the chalk to her pocket, the whistling faded into silence.
Jennah remained where she was, staring into the void-like blackness of the tunnel. After a year of running to the whistling in her head, marking tunnels for the benefit of those who didn’t have their own warning system … maybe now was the time to find out what dangers she was protecting others from.
She pulled out a piece of white chalk and drew a triangle under the first mark, then entered the tunnel.
– – – – –
Jennah knew how the government Supervisors worked since she’d
been one last year, but that didn’t mean she had to comply. Resenting
the Supervisor’s intrusion into her home, she sat on one of the hard
folding chairs in her kitchen as the pinch-faced vulture sitting
across from her cited a complaint of theft.
“Why should I submit to a Veritest like some criminal when you
don’t have a warrant?”
“Kandar Systems claims you stole some property from them while
you were consulting on their gene repair technology,” the Supervisor
said. “I would hope a former Supervisor would have enough respect
for the government to cooperate.”
If she refused, and the woman registered her as noncompliant,
enforcers would come. Jennah pressed her lips together and held out
one hand in answer. The Supervisor pricked her finger with a syringe.
As the woman began the interrogation, Jennah started to sweat.
“Is your name Jennah Elise Taylor?”
“Did you work with Kandar Systems as a consultant?”
“Did you steal any physical or intellectual property belonging
to Kandar Systems?”
“No, I did not.”
The Supervisor asked a few more questions, and Jennah answered
them truthfully. The woman finally stood up, brushing imaginary dirt
off her pantsuit.
“Thank you for your time, Ms. Taylor.”
“Thank you for your service to the Commonwealth, Supervisor,”
Jennah responded with the required farewell.
She escorted the Supervisor to the front door and watched her
leave. Hopefully, the results from that test would buy her some time.
Jennah walked back to the kitchen and poured two more mugs of tea,
and fixed several sandwiches. She took the food downstairs, stepping
over the rickety eighth step.
Two children sat huddled in a corner, fear twisting their
expressions. With dark hair, honey-tan skin and brilliant blue eyes
shaded by long lashes, they were beautiful enough to draw attention
even without the wings that extended from their backs, or the
shimmering scales that patterned parts of their arms and shoulders.
Moving slowly, she knelt in front of them and sat the food down. “I’m sorry if you were scared,” she said, keeping her voice gentle. “I had to let her in or risk more scrutiny.”
“Will she come back?” Alisha asked, clutching her older brother’s arm.
“No. She believed me. Veritests are all but impossible to fake. As long as we are careful, they will not suspect me.”
“But you lied,” Evan pointed out. “You did steal property from Kandar.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jennah said.
They looked at her as if she’d said the moon was made from candy.
“You are children. Children are not property, and Kandar will never own you again.”
She half-expected disbelief; they had only escaped one week ago.
Instead, she got half-smiles and the first flares of hope.
– – – – –
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