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Finals – 2015 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge

I know those who have followed the 2015 Winter Writing Challenge were not expecting to vote in the finals. My original intent was to bring in at least one judge. But best laid plans don’t always pan out. See for […]

2015_Spec_Faith_Winter_Writing_ChallengeI know those who have followed the 2015 Winter Writing Challenge were not expecting to vote in the finals. My original intent was to bring in at least one judge. But best laid plans don’t always pan out. See for example the “thumbs up” glitches we experienced which didn’t allow some of us to vote apart from voicing our choice through comments.

So here’s what we’ll do. As in the past, readers will select the winner of this challenge, and that writer will receive a $25 gift card to either Amazon or B&N—whichever they prefer.

You’ll also notice there are four finalists instead of three. There was, in fact, a tie, but considering the thumbs problem, I didn’t feel comfortable eliminating one by the luck of the draw. I’d much rather have readers decided. (See poll below).

With that being said, here are our four finalists and their entries:

Bethany A. Jennings
Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

He pressed his fists to his forehead. Convincing his friends to help him break into the city hall and search the android registry would be tricky. They might be talented hackers – and the only ones he knew – but no one would go along with a stunt like that, unless he admitted his suspicion.

I’m a robot. And I have the virus.

Sick to his stomach, Ryder scanned the article on his tablet again.

“As part of an executive order to protect citizens against infected androids, government officials will collect and examine all android citizens between the dates of June twelfth and June thirty-first. Normally functioning androids will receive special security upgrades and be released to their homes after a standard memory refresh so they can resume their ordinary lives. Those with compromised systems will be shut down to protect society.”

Fingers twitching, Ryder stashed the tablet in his backpack again. He stared at the cafeteria linoleum. It must be true. All these twitches, these glitches, these fingers that go numb. Nobody else gets this. No one else has this photographic memory, either. I’m one of the androids.

Despair pooled in Ryder’s mind.

Androids were designed to blend in with society and live ordinary, innocent lives. They weren’t supposed to suspect their true nature.

And they were never, ever supposed to have random urges to kill people.

It couldn’t be normal to see dangerous red auras around some individuals, only sometimes – auras that made him feel like he was in imminent danger and needed to destroy them. Ever since he started began the red he felt less and less in control, like one day he would snap and do something unthinkable.

I’m infected for sure. I’m a ticking time bomb.

Would being shut down hurt?

He looked across the high school cafeteria. Atta, Leroy, and Fitch sat at a table together, chatting, biting egg salad sandwiches, and licking the mayonnaise off their fingers. All their dreams and plans for the future flashed through Ryder’s mind. Breaking into city hall could end with them all incarcerated – and him dead.

There it is again! Fear seized him as he focused on Leroy and that red aura came into view, shimmering around his buddy’s frame like an omen of death.

Ryder reached carefully into his backpack, groping deep in the bottom…

No! Not my knife!

He whisked out his hand and held it in a fist against his stomach, squeezing his eyes shut until the desperate feeling passed. When he dared to look at Leroy again, the aura was gone. All his memories of friendship and nerdy hangouts with the boy flooded back, piercing him with grief.

June twelfth was too far away.

I’m going to kill my best friend in the whole world, if somebody doesn’t shut me down first.

Ryder clenched his jaw. I have to turn myself in.

He walked toward the door, casting a last glance at his childhood friend.

For Leroy. He’d do it for him.

– – – – –

Hannah

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. Truth proved undervalued these days. Arrogant pride rose in its place. They were fools, all of them, not to care from whence the assassin came. An attempt on the reeve’s life came as no surprise, but the attempted killer provoked further study, a study no one else cared to make.

“Careful,” the guard said, the keys jangling in his shaking hands as he unlocked the cell door. “He’s a strange one. He doesn’t act like any of the other prisoners.”

Ryder snorted, then regretted it as he inhaled the pungent stench of the dungeons. He pushed aside the cringing guard and strode into the cell. It was utterly dark inside, the light from the hall refusing to enter. So dark, so cold, so silent. He froze, his heart suddenly slamming up into his throat. In that brief moment, as sweat trickled down his neck, he thought he was about to die.

But the guard handed him a torch and the small chamber flooded with warm light. There upon the floor sat the assassin, his wrists chained behind him to the wall. He did not look up, but relaxed cross-legged on the floor as if he sat in a meadow. To Ryder’s disgust, the man still wore his armor. Had the guards even bothered to search him? Or had they thought it enough to lock him here and forget about him? It had happened before; murders were common.

This murderer was not common.

He was small for a man, delicately boned. His armor slicked over his body, too fey to have been made by any human craftsmen. Carefully, anticipating a striking snake, Ryder reached forward to brush away the prisoner’s hair from his ears.

“I did not know elves trained assassins,” Ryder said.

The assassin met his gaze. “Much has changed,” he said, his voice matching the cynical smile twisting his fair face.

That was true. Still, something in Ryder’s heart bowed heavily, something that had hoped that even with everything, the elves had managed to maintain their purity. It was a lie he’d told himself.

“Why did you come? Who wants our reeve dead?” he demanded.

The elf laughed softly, shaking his head. “How are you going to make me answer your questions?” The shadows under his eyes, the gauntness of his body, the deltha tattoo across his face…pain would not be a persuader for him.

Ryder swallowed, that something still desperate. “There is no truth in this world anymore. All is darkness and deceit. Tell me one truth…one truth at least.”

The assassin’s brow rose in amusement. “Very well,” he said. “The reeve is dead.”

In the silence that followed, Ryder heard the approaching messenger shouting out words of “poison” and “death.” Slowly, he turned away from the prisoner and stepped outside, closing the door behind him with numb fingers.

Truth was a terrible thing.

– – – – –

Janeen Ippolito

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

After all, they weren’t the one about to be married off to a plant.

A Phytaen.

One pale skinned, green-eyed sun-sucker had been seen around the town of Gap Neck with the local realtor, and next thing, they had brought the whole Forest up with them and settled in the Horse River area.

No one had thought they’d come north, even though they had the proper identification and paperwork. Rumors passed around clusters of old ladies at the beauty parlor and young men racing their tractors up and down the pot-holed back alleys.

Phytaens.

The ones with the leaves. Four of them, coming right out of their backs around the shoulder blades. With eyes that flashed forest or spring or lime green.

The pheromones. Special essences Phytaens secreted, that only certain humans could taste. Honey. Lilac. Mint.

Ryder had just been on his own family’s land. Up in the brush there were some old, dead trees that would be perfect for firewood. His family needed all the wood they could get. Now, in Fall, it was time to harvest.

He didn’t remember the Phytaen girl. But apparently she’d seen him, with his chainsaw and his old work boots and heavy gloves, and thought he was special. Had become sure of it when he muttered something about the taste of rose petals.

Ryder never said it was a good taste.

A few days later, the girl had come into pollen on her leaves, which meant she was compatible with him. When her parents visited a week later, they laid out the facts.

She wanted him. For every season he lived among the Phytaens as the girl’s husband, the sun-suckers would use their pheromones and plant skills to make the farm prosper.

It was up to him, Dad said. He was nineteen now. Mom wondered if any of this family were good Christians. Phytaens were humans, just lived longer, with a few more quirks. There were tales of conversions about them, same as anyone else. His little brothers thought it was gross, and little sisters cooed over how romantic it was.

Ryder just wished he’d got to a different part of the brush that day.

But his family could use the help. The Phytaens were known to be people of their word.

There he waited, on that cool fall morning, his family gathered around him. Waited with that one question on his mind. And he needed the truth.

What on earth was this girl thinking?

It was a question that never got answered, for as soon as the
love-struck Phytaen and her family arrived, Ryder did something that ruined everything.

He sneezed. Sneezed again. And again, more and more until it felt like his head would bust open from the whiplash.

Turned out that some humans were allergic to Phytaen pollen.

– – – – –

Caiti Marie

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

He didn’t blame them. They had seen one man die already, watched him bleed out on the polished metal floor, watched him gasp out his last breath beneath the eye of the King’s Hand. They were afraid—Ryder was, too. But while the others in his team had watched the blood run red on silver, or watched the stranger’s chest heave in painful gasps, Ryder’s attention had been caught—irrevocably, eternally caught—in the man’s tortured eyes.

Blue eyes. Tired eyes. But peaceful eyes, eyes that held Ryder’s gaze as long as the man could control his own body, as he whispered when he no longer had the strength to shout, “Christos is Lord.”

It was the peace, the unashamed strength in the man’s gaze, that had driven Ryder to the darkness of the City’s Deepest, where the City’s Dust gathered, to see if his curiosity would result in answers before it resulted in death; for though they said the man had died for mad treason, Ryder had seen men who did. They never died with peace.

“It’s illegal to come to the Deepest.”

The man, who claimed to be the stranger’s brother and had sat silent for so long, spoke with soft authority.

Though startled, Ryder kept still. “Yes.”

“Why did you?”

The answer came hard. “Your… Your brother was strong.” Strong and seeming innocent.

“No,” the man said. “My brother was weak. Christ is strong.”

Ryder knew the name; that was all. “I don’t understand.”

A slow breath shifted the air in the blackness of the Deepest. “What’s your name?”

“Ryder.”

“That’s not your true name?”

“No, sir.”
Everyone knew a Ryder was a messenger of the King’s Elite— Except this stranger, perhaps. To speak one’s true name after taking vows was to renounce the King.

“Ryder,” the man said. “My brother served the Son of God. And to His servants, Christ gives strength.”

“Strength to die?”

“Strength to live,” the man said, “even in death.”
The words seemed senseless. “The Hand said he died for mad treason,” Ryder said.

The man paused. Ryder could hear his breath hitting the walls of the tight compartment.

“You owe allegiance to your Captain, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And he owes allegiance to the King?”

“Yes.”

“How if he were to renounce allegiance to the King, make himself to be King?”

“That,” Ryder said, “would be mad treason.”

“There is a King to whom your Captain and your King— yes, and you— owe an allegiance beyond all others. Only, your King has renounced allegiance to Him. If your Captain renounced your King and you clung to your allegiance, would you be traitor to your Captain?”

Ryder said nothing.

“My brother died, not for mad treason, but for being a true King’s man.”

“But he’s dead.”

“My King,” the man said, “is King of death and the grave.” He leaned toward Ryder. “Life is found in no one else, Ryder.”

“Sir,” Ryder said, trying to see him in the darkness. “My name is Manoah.”

– – – – –

Unlike the preliminary round, for the finals you may vote only once for one entry. Voting ends Monday, January 26, 9:00 AM (Pacific time).

Thank you for your participation.

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Julie D
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I had a hard time deciding between the last two. The third felt almost Douglas Adams -like, but the fourth was pretty intriguing too.