2020 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge

As we have done in the past, Spec Faith will offer a prize for the winner of the 2020 Winter Writing Challenge.

On to 2020—a leap year, an Olympics year, the beginning of a new decade, a Presidential election year in the US . . . and one that will again see Spec Faith host our traditional Winter Writing Challenge!

Certainly 2020 gives us much creative writing fodder, and some that might carry over to a piece of speculative fiction. But that’s for writers who wish to enter the challenge to decide.

As we have done in the past, Spec Faith will offer a prize for the winner of the 2020 Winter
Writing Challenge. Of course there’s also feedback from other Spec Faith visitors, which all entrants may enjoy, but there’s a $25 gift card from either Amazon or B&N for the winner. (For last year’s results, see this post). For readers, there are stories or story beginnings to enjoy. It’s all very win-win for all our visitors!

As a refresher, here’s how the 2020 Winter Writing Challenge works:

  1. I’ll give a first line, and those who wish to accept the challenge will write what comes next—in 100 to 300 words, putting your entry into the comments section of this post.

“What comes next” may be the opening of a novel, a short story, or a completed piece of flash fiction—your choice.

In keeping with Spec Faith’s primary focus on the intersection of speculative fiction and the Christian faith, writers may wish to incorporate Christian elements or to write intentionally from a Christian worldview, but neither is required. Likewise, I’d expect speculative elements, or the suggestion of such, but entries will not be disqualified because of their omission.

  1. Readers will give a thumbs up (NO THUMBS DOWN, PLEASE!) to the ones they like the most (unlimited number of thumbs up), and, if they wish, they may give a comment (please do!) to the various entries, identifying what elements particularly grabbed their attention or in what ways they can strengthen their writing.

I encourage such responses—it’s always helpful for entrants to know what they did right and what they could have done to improve.

  1. After the designated time, I’ll re-post the top three (based on the number of thumbs up they receive) and visitors will have a chance to vote in a poll for the one which they believe to be the best 2020 entry (one vote only).

  2. The entry which receives the most votes will earn a $25 gift card (from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble). In the event of a tie, a drawing will be held between the top vote getters to determine the winner.

And now, the first line:

The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

Finally, those silly little details we all need to know:

  • You must include the given first line without changing it. Changes to the prompt will disqualify an entry
  • Your word count does not include this first line.
  • You will have between now and 8:00 AM (Pacific time) this coming Monday, January 13, 2020, to post your challenge entries in the comments section.
  • You may reply to entries and give thumbs up, this week and next. To have your thumbs up counted to determine the top three entries, mark your favorite entries before Monday, January 27, at 8:00 AM (Pacific time).
  • Voting begins Monday, January 27, after the poll is posted.

Feel free to invite your friends to participate, either as writers or readers. The more entries and the more feedback, the better the challenge.

However, please note, the challenge is not a popularity contest. We want to give writers a chance to find out what readers actually think of their writing. Consequently, please do not ask your social media followers to give your selection a vote unless they read the other entries as well. Thanks for making this little exercise a valuable help to all who enter.

Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

    Given the chill seeping through her bones, she almost didn’t care anymore. She took a deep breath, exhaling it in a plume of vapor.

    Her hand clenched the note in her pocket, ensuring it was still there. Bald dirt and trees went on for miles, only broken by dead grass and snow patches thin enough to call frost.

    Those frigid white areas crunched beneath her boots. Faded light spilled into her periphery as the sun set on the empty forest.

    The soldiers’ stomachs were probably even emptier.

    An hour passed, the sun sank lower, and a click told her a weapon was aimed her way. She stiffened, then glanced around, eventually spotting a scout wearing shades of brown that camouflaged him well in these desolate woods.

    He stood before a dip in the ground that likely hid his camp. Gripping her letter tighter, she slowly took her hands from her pockets, trying to look harmless. Heart pounding, she lowered the paper she carried, setting it down before stepping back a few yards.

    Gun still pointed at her skull, the soldier retrieved the note and unfolded it. In the waning light, he had to squint to read its crucial sentences.

    She might as well have thrown a grenade.

    His eyes widened as he whirled around, yelling his way into the camp. She turned and ran as the men shouted at each other.

    Maybe the law said these men deserved the death penalty. She wasn’t sure, but there was no time to wonder when the government cut their supplies off regardless. Mercy dictated that these soldiers should know so they could leave before they starved.

    But…if these men knew who she was, they might kill her.

    She had to disappear before they caught her and demanded answers.

  2. The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. If she didn’t reveal her wings now, the screaming child clutched within the strong claws of the small griffin would be reduced to nothing more than a sweet breakfast. She pulled in a deep breath, dropped her cloak to the ground, and, tightening muscles, expanded her silver-etched wings with a sharp slap of sound.

    Angry, fearful comments beat the air, rising in volume around her. Whether they were aimed at Kelly or the retreating monster, she didn’t know or care. In the eyes of the residents of Carroll City, she too was a monster.

    A couple quick steps and a jump carried her above the heads of the surrounding crowd and gave her the height she needed to extend her wings fully. Three flaps later, she soared out over the churning, blue-gray sea, her eyes locked onto the retreating figure. Already the child’s wailing faded in the distance.

    The ocean’s salty tang fell behind as she arced upward. Her wings strained as she caught an updraft and used it to propel her higher. Her hope: climb above the griffin and plunge into it from above.

    Kelly dropped onto the griffin; her wings folded tight and her blade outstretched. The razor-sharp point impaled the creature, piercing its young heart. A screech of anguish split the air. Kelly shifted her wings. Slipping back and beneath, she snared the little boy.

    She hovered, watching the griffin tumble downward as she cradled the child. Pain seared her chest. Why she chose to save the human mystified her. The choice could have gone either way. Half human she was; but half griffin as well.

  3. Elliott Marchand says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. She wasn’t sure if she even had time to properly notify the other partners at the law firm. All she knew right now was that she had to get out. She would worry about who to notify – and how – later. How did they get her private address anyway? She looked at the letter again:

    When he dies, you die.

    There was no question who was being discussed; the case had been all over the news. Victor Aldman’s arrest had been a surprise, but only because no one expected anyone to have the chutzpah. What did the letter mean, “when he dies?” Did someone know how this was going to play out? Kelly wondered fleetingly if others on the prosecution team had received similar letters, or if it had only been her. The letter had no stamp or postmark. She would have to be very, very careful. For all she knew it could have been delivered by someone else at the firm. God knows, Victor had a lot of enemies, and a lot of friends.

    As she finished stuffing a few changes of clothes into her only gym bag – one of those free ones she’d been sent by American Express years ago, but it would have to do – Kelly wasn’t sure if she should take the letter with her or leave it behind. At the last she decided to take it. What else? Laptop? Cell phone? Those things would make her so easy to track, but could she do without them? She prided herself in her memory – it was part of what made her good at her job – but having easy access to information induces dependence. “I’ll take them to Marge’s house,” she said under her breath. “I can get them from there if I need them.” The last thing that went into the gym bag was her Glock.

  4. Ari Lewis says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. She had homework to finish and a calculus test to study for. It was just not possible for her to make that kind of decision. Whoever they were would just have to wait until Mom came back. Kelly turned away from the computer screen and bent back over the math textbook.

    As she studied, she could still see the flashing notice on her mom’s computer out of the corner of her eye. It really wasn’t her responsibility, right? Just because her mom was Lady Justice didn’t mean that Kelly too had to be a dispenser of right or wrong, right? Right … of course. That was Mom’s job. But Mom wasn’t here. She pulled out her phone and read again her mom’s text from a week ago – “If I can’t get back, would you take care of the computer jobs for me?” Kelly looked back at the notice on the screen. Of course it’d be something big.

    For a while, she tried to re-focus on studying. Eventually, with an exasperated sigh, she got up and jerked open her mom’s desk drawer to pull out a bronze physical balance scale. It’d be fine; she’d watched her mom do it hundreds of times. She closed her eyes and held out the scales. Pushing aside thoughts of failed calculus and disappointed teachers, she made herself focus on the image of the scales and the weight they represented. After releasing a long breath, she began, “I stand on holy ground. I shall hear all words and see all actions. I shall stand firm and resolute for I am justice. Scales, reveal the balance.”

    • Interesting take on this. I like the direction you took, personifying Lady Justice.

      • Ari Lewis says:

        Thank you so much! It was a lot of fun to play with, so much so that I started trying to expand it beyond the confines of the challenge.

    • Elliott Marchand says:

      I’m hooked! I want to read more!
      The notion of a daughter stepping naively into her mother’s super-hero shoes – so many possibilities for self discovery and for building a closer relationship with her mother.

    • I think this is really creative. On one hand the character seems like an average teen struggling to get her homework done, trying to balance one responsibility with another. In the end, it becomes the gateway to a world that is different from ours, though much the same. Really intriguing. Nicely done.


    • Cassie Stevens says:

      The weight of the invocation at the end…!!! I love the solemnity of the job Kelly’s mom entrusted to her daughter (and the way that in this version, Kelly isn’t the one endangered by the opening line)

      • Ari Lewis says:

        I’m so glad that invocation came out well. I was struggling with it for a while as I wanted something said that got things started, like in a courtroom, but I was afraid it might come off as overly dramatic.

  5. The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

    “Are you sure you only touched it?” Not on my last day.

    He nodded. “I didn’t see the sign. Honest, sis.”

    “Mac, I signed for you. Do you know what that means?”

    “Last call for Gamma 26,” the station speaker squawked.

    He shakes head.

    “No vacation. I saved ten years, ten years.” She looked at the clock.

    His eyes widened.

    “No, I’m an officer. Besides I have only one ticket and there are restrictions for little accident prone boys.”

    He gave her the lip and hung his head.

    “How are you here?”

    Mac’s inburst drew annoyed eyes from the Cob’s Zuds lunch breakers.


    “He’s only seven.” She pulled him close and sighed. “What happen?”

    “I got scared and popped out the janitor’s door,” Mac signed.

    His fingers flicked so fast she calmed both vibrant hands and asked again.

    “Jacob’s door,” he mumbled.

    “Oh, Maccy. What are we going to do?” She hugged him tight. He sniffed, adding a stain to her uniform.

    “We said, no touching.”

    “I lost my balance.” He shuffled his feet and scratched his implant.

    “What’s next?” She lifted his gaze from her stun stick. On the table, a video on her cherry apple cinnamon delight stained helmet visor streamed from the museum. Mac drooled over the giant diamond hook display from the 2046 expedition on Gamma 27. The utensil was worth a planet. He only dreamed of fishing. “The wind picks and pushes my boy out of thirty children. Flashing lights and blow horn chases all the children away.”

    He nods.

    Why today?

    His head hung in silence.

    How would she send her only kid brother to the smoker?

    • I like the premise—that she’s confronted with the “crime” of her little brother. I think the dialogue could be a bit clearer with more attribution tags. There were some lines I was not sure who was talking, especially because I didn’t realize at first that she was a constable. The worldbuilding shows promise, but I think the “where are we,” “who else is here” kinds of issues need to be a little clearer.

      Thanks for your entry!


    • Cassie Stevens says:

      I really like the idea that they’re talking with their hands; but it took me three or four read-throughs to pick up that she wanted to go on vacation and her little brother might have stolen a diamond…

  6. Elliott Marchand says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. The other Tan simply popped up right in front of him. Everyone froze, and then scurried away – except for Kelly. As expected, the soldiers swiftly swooped in and that was that. Kelly was among the first to help reseal the tunnel. It was a mechanical act, even as he was wondering if he shouldn’t rather have dived down that tunnel himself. Where might it have led? To the other side of the Great Line? Were they really that close to it, or had that Tan just gotten really really lost?

    Kelly remembered that fateful day when he had been foraging near the Great Line with other members of the Tan community. It had started to rain. He had never heard of raindrops being a danger – they always just slid right off – but he had been standing on a leaf when a large droplet had plummeted from some point overhead, made a direct hit, and couldn’t soak into the dirt beneath. Suddenly he’d been completely engulfed. He had thrashed and thrashed, but with no way to get his footing, he’d had no way to penetrate the droplet, and gradually he began to drown. That would have been the end of his contribution to the community, had it not been for the second raindrop which had shattered his prison. As he’d laid there recovering he’d become aware of the soldier standing over him. A Brown soldier! The soldier had paused over him for a second, and then, inexplicably, had moved on.

    Brown foragers were everywhere! Sometime during his entrapment, the Great Line had moved past his position. It was as if he had been born again – as a Brown. It was then that he had decided to take upon himself a name: Kelly. Why had he done this? He wasn’t quite sure.

    • This shows some promise, but I’m trying to understand the rules of the world and how a character could drown in one drop of water (are they elfin people?) While the backstory is interesting, I’m still wondering about the Tan and resealing the tunnel and why he would be tempted to dive down it instead of help seal it. The last paragraph makes things a bit more confusing I think. But I see the potential for a really unique world and story.


    • Cassie Stevens says:

      What I got out of this was that Kelly has managed to switch sides, and is considering doing it again, which is an intriguing position to be in–if that was the effect you were going for

  7. Elliott Marchand says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. Aeden was unpopular it seemed, and judgment had been swift. These sorts of petitions were beyond either of their station.

    Aeden leaned, crumpled, upon Kelly’s great swelling breast. She tried to hide her tears among Kelly’s scaly feathers as she opened her soul to that great throbbing soothing drumbeat of Kelly’s heart. Kelly could feel each tear, as well as the strained pitter-pat of Aeden’s heart.

    “Let us fly,” rasped Aeden, too quietly to hear. “Let us leave them all!”

    “No, my One,” Kelly boomed softly. The sound rolled up and down the dungeon walls. She shifted her forearms to more fully envelop Aeden. “Reputations are the sum of actions, for humans as well as dragons.”

    Aeden struggled to speak. “It should be me,” she cried. “You were obeying my command!”

    “You must trust me,” said Kelly gently. “I have served you as I served your mother, and your grandmother, and great-grandmother before you.” Kelly knew that as the heavens were higher than the earth, so the dragon’s grasp of time was above that of her One. Aeden would only be able to understand so much. Her words came with the slowness of dragon ages. “It will be different; it is always different; but I will serve you again – and your daughter after you.”

    Aeden took her face from among Kelly’s feathers to look up into her great gleaming eye. Her tear-streaked face was interrupted with confusion. “………How………?” It had been the beginning of a longer question, but Aeden didn’t know how to finish it. She didn’t have a daughter. She hadn’t even considered marriage.

    Kelly touched the necklace that had been passed on to Aeden at the beginning of their ministry. Aeden knew how to recognize Kelly’s smile, and the twinkle in her eye.

    • I love fantasy, and a story about a dragon is just the king I’d be interested in reading. The problem I have with this entry is the point of view. One sentence we are seeing the situation from the dragon’s perspective and the next, from her human’s perspective. It’s a little confusing. Of course, if you want to write from an omniscient perspective, that’s fine, but there are ways to make it work so readers don’t feel jerked back and forth. One good source on point of view is Description by Monica Wood.


    • Cassie Stevens says:

      I like the opening, with the dungeon and Aeden being unpopular; it sets the scene quickly and then has some nice description of how they feel about each other–I think I’d have liked to see this go further in that direction before swinging back to the possibility of escape

  8. LadyArin says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. It was the quickest way into the jail, and she would be out before she was even sentenced.

    If things went according to plan.

    She had escaped the holding cell: that was the easy part, even with the wrist bindings and the bands on her wings that kept brushing against her thoughts and making her skin crawl. Now she had to find the right cell, in the biggest building in the heart of the Great Tree, with no windows, no lanterns. Rumors said the guards were all blind, and had the entire place memorized by feel.

    She couldn’t hear the footfalls of a patrolling guard, which was good. She could hear nothing but the sound of her own breathing, which was bad. Did this prison have no prisoners, or had there been some enchantment on the doors to prevent noise escaping?

    She wasn’t ready for this. She didn’t know nearly enough about this place. If only Papa had come back, if only Gran wasn’t getting worse, if she had only had more *time* —

    ‘But you don’t,’ Kelly told herself, blinking back stinging tears. ‘Don’t waste what time you have.’ She inhaled deeply, and took a step forward.

    Upper – west – fourth – block. Two – cells – unoccupied.

    She jumped at the sudden jolt of magic under her foot — a rune! So that was how the guards navigated. That must be why they walked instead of flying. Were there runes elsewhere in the Tree, or just in the prison?

    It didn’t tell her how to escape, or where to find the prisoner who could read the human Book, but it was a place to start. Already feeling steadier, Kelly began walking.

    • Lots to like here! Very intriguing. Makes me want to find out more about Kelly and this world.


    • Melinda says:

      Wow! I want more! You grabbed my attention quickly and kept it all the way through. I especially love the imagery in this phrase: “even with the wrist bindings and the bands on her wings that kept brushing against her thoughts and making her skin crawl.”

    • Cassie Stevens says:

      I like the rune underfoot as a method for marking where one is… and the blind guards!

  9. Elliott Marchand says:

    I’m not trying to spam this contest… it’s just that since I didn’t see any “one entry per person” limit I decided to enjoy it as a brainstorming exercise. If there is indeed a limit then feel free to delete all but one of them. Your choice.

  10. Cyndi Carter says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

    “I have to do it, regardless of the consequences,” he said to himself. “I have to protect them.” He turned to the two wide-eyed young men staring at him. They were really just boys, hardly more than thirteen or fourteen. He believed they were telling him the truth when they said they had been forced to become soldiers.

    “We don’t want to fight. We give up.” said the taller young man, his voice trembling.

    “Okay, just follow me,” said Kelly, and he opened the door and let the boys inside the house. The rumble of approaching armored personnel carriers got louder. “Hurry up!”

    Kelly headed into the living room and yanked back the heavy area rug exposing a trap door recessed into the floor. “Get down there, quick,” he hissed. The two boys jumped down the steps as Kelly closed the trap door behind them and replaced the rug. Within a minute there was a banging at the front door.

    “Open up!” barked an angry voice, and the door burst open as a goliath of a man kicked it in, followed by four other soldiers. “Where are they?”

    “Where’s who?”

    “Those two Chachees!” roared Goliath.

    “I haven’t seen anyone. I just got home,” answered Kelly as coolly as he could.

    “Search the place!” barked Goliath, and they fanned out. Doors slammed backwards on their hinges and furniture banged around as they ransacked the house. Kelly stood still on the rug, scared to death. When they were satisfied with their search, the soldiers stomped out.

    Kelly waited until the soldiers were gone, rolled back the rug, and opened up the trap door.

    “You can come out now,” he called down to the boys. Slowly they emerged from the cellar. “We’ve got to get you to someplace safer.”

  11. Cassie Stevens says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

    “Wheels!” Kelly steadied the plodder hitched to his wagon. They’d hit something, but it wasn’t the horse’s fault. He owned a copy of the updated traffic codebook, which included in excruciating detail the proscribed sentences for each violation, but it was in the back holding up a corner of the crate containing the king’s birthday present.

    The birthday present was from his entire village, so if Kelly didn’t make it to the presentation on time, it wasn’t just his neck on the line. The hands of the palace clock, visible over the slate rooftops of the city, showed almost noon. No time, the clock warned. No time.

    The worst of it was, Kelly was supposed to be the safest driver the village had! If the street hadn’t been empty because everyone was already at the palace, the wagon’s jerk and the plodder’s fright would have sent them careening into an accident. With one last kind word to the horse, Kelly jumped down. Safety first, right? He’d kick the debris into the gutter and at least no one else would have this problem. They’d just have to drive faster the rest of the way.

    The clump was enormous, as dirt clods went. But when Kelly got close, he saw it had feathers. And eyes. So many eyes. Four of them stared at Kelly. Another blinked.

    “Wheels within wheels!” Blood pounded in Kelly’s ears. Had he run the creature over instead of striking a glancing blow? What was he supposed to do? Did you move it with a shovel? Did you dare use your hands?

    The fact was, one way or another, Kelly was doomed.

    • Good job. This definitely creates tension and intrigue. I can’t help but wonder why delivering the “gift” late will get the whole village in trouble. I mean, how authoritarian is this king? Seems like he governs with an iron hand. You’ve made a believable world already.


  12. The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offence required the death penalty. It didn’t matter anyway, there was no going back now. Kelly stared ahead at the orphanage, trying to ignore the pungent odour from the surrounding dumpsters. A brilliant orange glow bathed the building as the sun extinguished itself behind Agradon’s third moon.
    “Well?” interrupted John’s impatient voice.
    Kelly needed to tell him, there was no way around it, “I don’t know.”  
    “You don’t know? What do you mean you don’t know? This is serious, I asked you to check!”
    “Listen, I’m getting my little brother out of there whether you help me or not.” She turned towards John clenching her fists and piercing him with her dark brown eyes. 
    John’s eyes fell to the ground. His voice a little more than a whisper, “Kelly… if Unbroken Legion finds out I…”
    “Don’t come.”
    John looked up at her, his eyes wide, the colour slowly draining from his face. “Kelly…”
    “It was wrong of me to ask this of you. Besides you have your sister to worry about.” She forced a smile and immediately hugged him afraid her delicate mask wouldn’t hold. She blinked away the tears in her eyes and composed herself before pulling away and gazing at him as if for the last time. John stared, his mouth opening and closing as he rummaged for the right words. Kelly turned back towards the orphanage, the gentle spring breeze toying with her charcoal hair. “Wait for me at the warehouse. If I’m not back in an hour, go tell the others.”

    • Your writing shows promise. I have a little trouble with this piece for a couple reasons, one concerning content, the other concerning writing.

      Most importantly, it seems to be a scene that isn’t going anywhere. All we know is that John asked Kelly something and she didn’t find the answer. As a result, he ended up not to go with her. They hug goodbye. It does give some background detail that is sort of “set up,” but when you only have a limited number of words, it’s important to give the character something she wants. Yes, we know ultimately what she wants, but in this scene, she’s going, whether John comes or not. The stakes are not there, the scene doesn’t move us toward something.

      The other issue is connected to copy edit stuff. There’s some repetition. For instance, in the second half of the piece, the word “eyes” appears five times. And there’s what some writing instructors call dialogue echoing, where one character repeats what the previous character said. Little stuff like that. But taken together, they affect the pace of the story.

      One more thing. I think this might be science fiction, but it could be fantasy. The three moons sort of push it in the direction of SF. Keep in mind that as part of worldbuilding, things like three moons shouldn’t just be cool (though they definitely are that!) They need to affect the setting and the characters. They need to serve a purpose. Maybe if you wrote the full story, they would, so this is nothing but a reminder.


      • Thank you for your honesty. I’m new to writing and am trying to improve. I see what you mean by the repetition of the word “eyes” and how the scene needs to have something more to raise the stakes. Thanks again.

    • Cassie Stevens says:

      I like your Kelly’s determination to rescue her brother, no matter what

  13. Rhyse Furio says:

    The fact was Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty.

    She had simply sent them by mail—according to postal regulations, she thought. Now the headline flashed on the TV screen: “Arizona bark scorpions running berserk in southeastern California.” Her scorpions, she was sure, because that species was sparse in this state. And they had grown to gigantic proportions and multiplied tenfold in only twelve hours! The city was in hysteria as a hundred people were hauled onto ambulances. That species was the only one in North America that could kill, and thirty–one were dead. She must put a stop to this. But how?

    She called the researcher she had mailed the scorpions to. Nancy answered on the sixth ring.

    “What did you do to my scorpions?!” Kelly fairly screamed.

    “Kelly? Kelly, I’m so sorry. My four-year-old nephew toppled the container.”

    “How could you let your nephew into the lab??”

    “I don’t know how he got in. I put the container on the counter for just a second….”

    “And they’re monsters!”

    “I don’t know if it was the extraction voltage…?”

    Kelly didn’t want to hear any more of Nancy’s unprofessionalism. She slammed the phone down. But she did know that mailing of injurious material resulting in death was punishable, as well, by death. Especially if it resulted in an epidemic.

    She raced to the nearest pet store to purchase some grasshopper mice, praying to dear God that they wouldn’t cause another epidemic.

    In the lab, she mixed nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—macronutrients used to grow plants and make them lush—and again prayed that they would work on the mice.

    Before she could inject the mixture into the mice, an insidious clawed predator crept behind her … and dealt a deadly blow. The FBI or death penalty didn’t matter anymore as Kelly convulsed in the throes of death.

    • Cassie Stevens says:

      I feel like this swings from potentially funny (with the kid letting the scorpions loose) to dark. But nice job getting in a complete story!

  14. Cathy Hinklr says:

    The fact was, Kelly simply didn’t have time or opportunity to find out if the offense required the death penalty. He hadn’t planned on stealing anything. He wasn’t a thief, but that vial— just sitting there— had been an answer he hadn’t dared to ask for. A gift.

    The stoppered glass burned through his tunic like mid-winter’s ice as he dodged people and booths. Hooves clattered behind him; he risked a glance over his shoulder. Just cart horses. Not temple guards. Should’ve known the difference.

    The rancid smell of garbage met his nostrils when he ducked around the corner, but he pelted through the winding alleyways. Had to get there on time. Had to reach her before—

    A trumpet sounded, freezing the blood in his marrow.

    They knew. They were coming, and their horses’ heavy hooves thundered after him.

    His legs burned as he ran even faster.

    His home’s western door stood open, to let out her spirit, so he raced around to the front instead. Couldn’t take the risk of interfering, if he was already too late.

    Kelly took the stairs two at a time, but Fia didn’t even move when he skidded to a halt by her pallet on the floor. He knelt and unstoppered the vial, then, slipping an arm behind her sweaty head, he tipped it into her mouth and waited.

    The building shuddered as the guards pounded up the backstairs and through the door, but Kelly didn’t leave Fia’s side.

    A guard’s voice resonated in the barren room:
    “We’re too late.”

    Her lips lifted slightly. She whispered, “Drink it, Kell.”

    So he did.

    Fire and ice and mercilessness lanced through his veins, and confidence flooded him.

    “Step aside,” another guard said.

    Fia opened her eyes. Scarlet flames danced in her irises.

    Roiling energy burned away his own fear. All would be well. He turned to face the guards, a smile creeping across his face.


    • Cathy Hinkle says:

      So, I spelled my own name wrong… Hinkle. Not Hinkr.

      Moral of the story: use your bifocals when you thumb type… *Embarrassing!*

    • Rhyse Furio says:

      This was nice. The story very clearly drew upon the first sentence, and it engaged the reader with fantasy elements and colorful descriptions. I just didn’t understand why Kelly had to drink the potion too. Did it give him and Fia supernatural powers?

      • Cathy Hinkle says:

        Rhyse, yes, it did. When I wrote this, I wanted Kelly to be sympathetic and all, since he’s only doing what he can to save her, but (in my mind) he has crossed the line. If I wrote forward, made it a longer story, I think (though since I pants things, I cannot be sure–haha!) this is the beginning of a villain origin story. It could even be read as the beginning of a longer tale. I am glad you found it engaging. Thank you very much!

    • LeAnna Shields says:

      Wow I like this story and I’m dying to find out A) what lead to this. and B) what happens next.

    • Cassie Stevens says:

      Nice world-building with details like leaving the door open! I think that was the one that made me really believe in what I was reading. I would have liked a smidge more of an explanation of what was in that vial, though it’s pretty easy to guess that it was going to save Fia’s life if Kelly made it back in time. It’s just… how? What did Kelly get them into?

      • Cathy Hinkle says:

        Thank you!

        You’re right, though. Stealing that vial from the temple to save Fia’s life wasn’t the best idea. Kelly got them into a whole mess of trouble.

What do you think?