Opening Line Contest

Congratulations to the Fall 2010 Fiction Writing “Opening Line Contest” champion, as decided by the votes of his classmates: Emeka Egbebike, who will now receive a letter-grade bump on his short story.

Here’s the line:

Contrary to my Southern etiquette training from my mother, I found my face buried deep into the lap of an older woman.

December 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

The Final Chapter, by Kaitlyn Aylward

Grady stood dumbfounded in the room.  A hunchbacked old woman scurried in and sat at a chair in the corner.  Her hair lingered in front of her face like a mask, but Grady was too uncomfortable to even glance at her.

“Hrmph,” she said.

Grady stood still and waited for the person who let him in the room to come back.

“Yo parents ain’t teach you no manners, boy?”

“Excuse me?”

“Ain’t potty trained, neither.”

Before Grady could respond she pointed a dismissive index finger upward, demonstrating the universal sign for “one minute,” or “shush,” or “I’m not listening.” Grady felt the pit of his stomach sink like it was filled with lead.

The old woman dialed a phone with her talons and squalled into the phone something unintelligible to Grady, but Grady may have passed out.

***

Shane sat at his computer, illuminated by the light of his LED wide-screen monitor.  He rolled his eyes when his phone lit-up, vibrated, and gently spun.  The Caller ID read “What,” and that’s precisely how he greeted the caller.  He maintained his attention toward the monitor; his eyes darted from corner to corner.  Widow slain. Decapitated Woman.

“Memaw, shut up,” Shane muttered as he dropped his phone into the laundry basket beside him.

“Blaze!”

A hooded figure walked into the room with his hands folded like a monk. He bowed his head and kept his eyes fixated on the floor.

“Widow has fallen. A woman was decapitated, the prophecies are coming true.”

“Should I get her head?”

“Not yet, but Memaw called.  Said something about a peepants in her store.”

“I’ll start the salve.”

“I’ll call the others. We need to pack a boat. This hurricane season will be our last.”

May 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

Part XIX, by Brianna Pittman

Grady had just taken his seat when a large older woman joined him at the table. She was dressed more like a gym coach than a woman with the power of sight and wore a big white button pinned to her shirt that read: “Hello, I’m—” and then beneath in scribbled cursive, “—the psychic.”

“But you can call me Ms. P,” she said when she caught where he was looking.

“Shouldn’t you have some sort of cool mystical name?” Grady asked. “Like Scheherazade or Miss Cleo?”

She raised an eyebrow twice as thick as his own. “And would that make it more authentic for you, boy? What if I put on a bunch of tacky jewelry and draped myself in colorful scarves. Would you be more likely to believe me then?”

“Uh—”

“I thought so. Not just shut your ass up. I’ve got a reading to give you and trust me, you’ll wanna hear it. Alright. First thing’s first.”

She clapped her hands. The next second Jeremy found himself standing in the middle of a cemetery. Uneven rows of tall worn gravestones in varying shades of white and gray marble littered the area. Was this a normal psychic power?

“Greenwood Cemetery,” announced Ms. P, appearing beside him. “What do you think?”

“It’s… really nice,” said Grady.

“Glad you like it. Because if you don’t listen this reading of yours, you’re going to end up buried here real soon. Okay, let’s get to it.”

Grady gulped.

They took a seat on the grass. Well, Grady took a seat. Ms. P sprawled out on her back like a kid just let out from church. But she took his hand and bowed her head—as much as anyone lying on their back can—and he thought maybe this would be a normal reading after all.

Then she started speaking.

“Beware the thief: Patty, Peggy, Lindy, and Jessica.”

“Wait,” said Grady. “Which one is the thief?”

“All of them. The cops thought she was dead but not for long. Her ex-lover Jacob, a neurologist, has fallen on hard times and will raise her as a zombie with a reactivating brain chemical in the hopes that she’ll lead him to her stash of stolen jewelry. But it won’t work, and before he finds out anything she’ll be freed with the help of a witch named Andrea in the Psyche Ward. They’ll hitch a ride with a trio of fans heading to Megacon, but the possessed one’s ghost will start going through menopause and they’ll be forced to stop at the largest McDonald’s in the world for M&M McFlurries. They’ll never reach their destination.”

“Um, okay. But what does that have to do with me avoiding the thief?” asked Grady.

“Idiot! You must avoid all of them! It means tragedy for you if you don’t. And don’t go to Gator Land’s Alligator Island either, death hangs heavy there. Or the theme parks! Sea World’s rides are mediocre and the ones at Universal often break at the most inopportune times.”

“But I still don’t see—”

“And watch out for the pimps and whores too! We apparently have a lot of them in Orlando. From the smell of piss comin’ off you, I can guess you’ve already had a run in with them.”

Grady squirmed, embarrassed. “Well, kinda—”

“Also, make sure to avoid scorpions, men named Peter, and a gypsy woman named Cassidy. That bitch has been trying to run me out of business for years.”

“Is that it?” Grady asked when she didn’t go on.

“Whaddaya want from me, a life plan? Maybe some lotto numbers? You only gave me ten bucks, boy. So, will you listen my readings or not?”

Her scowl was so intimidating he didn’t dare say anything but yes. She sat up and clapped her hands together. “All right then! The reading is done!”

And she vanished, leaving Grady alone among the dead. So much for phoning a ride home.

Luckily, an undercover cop car was driving by as he reached the road. Grady flagged him down and, after explaining the situation, managed to snag a ride. The driver said his name was Haze. Detective Haze.

“You gotta watch out for crazy mystics like that,” he told Grady as he got in. “My wife insists to this day she once met a gypsy that could stop time!”

“Really?”

Haze’s cell phone rang. He answered it and by his frown it was clear whatever was going on was serious. After he hung up he said, “Sorry, kid. Gonna need to make a little detour. Seems like there was some kind of mistake at the hospital.”

Grady shivered and felt his arms break out in goosebumps. “What kind of mistake?”

“Apparently they think the notorious Widow has risen from the grave. Or in this case the morgue.” He snorted. “Magical women I’ll believe. Maybe. But zombies?”

Grady felt sick. “Does this widow have a name?”

“Oh, she’s got all kinds of names. Patty, Peggy, Lindy… hmm, there was another one too…”

“Jessica?”

“Yeah, that’s right!” Haze laughed. “Maybe you’ve got some powers of your own there, kid.”

“Not really.” Grady looked out the window at the Greenwood Cemetery sign as they drove past. He had a feeling he’d be returning there real soon.

April 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

Part XVIII, by Hayley Corbett

Grady struggled for sentences, for words, for syllables to utter but remained silent as Honey Bear and his teddy graham pimps came closer and crooned louder.

If only he had Church’s Chicken now.

“I said, what in the fuck is you doin?” Honey Bear sneered.

“ N…N…nothing. I was just riding on my bike and I saw her and…”

“And what? You thought you could just get a taste for free? That right there is mine, ain’t nobody else’s.”

“S…S…Sure. Of course. No problem, man.” Grady tried to walk away but took a step backwards and tripped over his bike instead.  He landed flat on his ass and heard the screen of his precious i-phone crack in his pocket.

Honey Bear heard it too.

“Aww, ain’t that a shame. Little Richy here ain’t got no more phone. How’s he gonna Google he way out this mess?”

Grady picked up his bike and straddled it, pushing his wet trousers into his shrinking manhood. He dare not look back, but just pedaled as hard as he could in the opposite direction. He heard the car’s engine groan into acceleration not far behind him but the loud base seemed to get fainter and once he could barely hear it anymore, Grady turned his head and saw that Honey and his business investment were headed elsewhere.

He slowed his feet down and after gliding for a few seconds, touched his right foot to the ground and stopped to grab his phone. It was cracked badly. Worse than any phone he’d ever cracked before in fact. It wouldn’t even turn on. The sun was setting and he didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know where he was and his phone was broken. His phone was broken and the only sign of life, disregarding other whores and hidden pimps, was a lavender cement building with the term PSYCHIC painted over the doors.  Grady had no choice.

As he walked closer to the building he smelled a scent he was vaguely familiar with. Years ago, when Grady and his family still lived next door to his Aunt Diana and Uncle Rob on Edgewater Drive his Aunt Diana had burnt this stuff called incense on Christmas and although it sent his father into an asthma attack and henceforth his mother into a panic, Grady quite liked it. He stopped at the door. The incense was stronger than Aunt Diana’s.  There was no bell to be rung.

Obviously, the psychic must know I’m here Grady thought facetiously. Before he could laugh at his quick wit the door cracked open and an old wrinkled hand with yellowing nails and a lit cigarette emerged.

“10 dollars” a raspy voice demanded.

“Oh, no I just need to use your phone? I don’t need a reading or whatever.”

“10 dollars” the voice repeated.

Grady couldn’t tell from the hand or the voice if the psychic was a man or a woman. There wasn’t any lipstick on the cigarette or nail polish on the fingernails but what kind of man doesn’t open the door for a kid with piss pants on a bicycle? Grady sighed and pulled a ten out of his damp wallet.  He offered it to the ominous hand. The door snapped shut and reopened after a minute but the psychic was nowhere to be seen. Only a round table with three chairs and a large ashtray was visible. Grady looked behind him to see if there was anyone else, anywhere else he could go. There wasn’t.  He took a deep breath and stepped inside.

April 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

Part XVI, by Ian Quinn

The only thing standing in the way of Grady Vaughn, and the greasy deliciousness of Church’s Chicken, was the sweltering Florida sun, and possibly the fact that school was still in session. Although fairly new to the school, Grady had already found the ins and outs of Lake Highland Preparatory. He was sick of his parents, moving him from city to city. He thought he’d never get a break.

The security guard was patrolling in his all-wheel drive, gas powered golf cart, but the bike rack was rarely checked. Running and ducking, avoiding the eyes of spectators, Grady unlocked his red, white wheeled, Huffy from the metal rack and sped off as fast as his bike would go. Direction wasn’t Grady’s specialty, especially in such a new town, but he followed the busy street of Colonial until he no longer recognized where he was. He noticed there was a sign for Orange Blossom Trail, or OBT. He heard of this road before, but only in the hall ways of school, in which a fellow class mate shouted at another girl, calling her

“OBT!”

A form of endearment Grady thought, until he reached the road. Still in his school attire, the khaki panted, blue collar, polo wearing Grady felt slightly out of place. He kept biking, trying to avoid the cars that whisked by, or the occasional crack head that asked him for money, until he noticed a woman passed out on a blanket, in the shade listening to Public Radio. Grady grabbed a stick from nearby, and poked the prostitute, just to check if she was still alive, who immediately sat up and yelled

“Rick, baby? We rich bitch!”

Startled, and completely confused, Grady stepped back more than a few steps. The woman was missing her entire bottom half of her teeth, where as the top half wasn’t far behind. She was wearing a short, bright red skirt, her legs, wide open. Grady’s view from such an angle spewed up a little bile, which burned his throat as he swallowed it. His appetite for fried chicken was gone.

“You aint Rick. Shit.” The woman said, as she flopped back down on the blanket to pass back out. Suddenly a grey, Chevy Impala with enormous, shiny rims pulled up next to Grady, and the passed out whore. The tinted window rolled down slowly, as if the man inside rolled it down himself, manually.

The gold toothed man, who went by the name Honey Bear, appeared with his right hand on wheel. Grady stunned, and not knowing what to do, froze and stood there.

“What the hell you doin? That’s my property. Cookie. I saw your ass pokin her with a stick from a block down” The man yelled from the car. Grady, terrified, looked down and noticed a blotch of liquid consuming his khaki’s.

April 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

Part XVI  By Michelle Donate

The streets were dirty and so was he. Rick hadn’t showered in probably a few weeks. He didn’t mind though; he was content with his life. Rick was a pleasant man that happened to be homeless by most people’s standards. According to his own, he had the whole world at his feet. All he needed was the sun, the moon, and the stars.

There was something calming and tranquil about sleeping on the grass, it made him feel closer to God. The unevenness of the ground reminded him not everything has to be perfect in order to be perfect. The sound of the grass under his feet, and the wind blowing through the branches and leaves of the trees, were two of his favorite sounds. He loved indulging in different sounds nature had to offer. He would find a quiet park or lakeside and just lay there for hours. He would also listen to NPR on his tiny beat up radio boom box. He loved NPR; that was the only thing he listened to when walking around the city.

Rick truly was happy. During the day Rick would pick up plastic bottles and aluminum cans, along with garbage. He would turn in the bottles and cans at the recycling center, which paid him a few cents for each container, and he would dispose of the garbage into trashcans. He felt that he needed to do his part in keeping the earth clean, it was his living room after all.

Rick’s “bedroom” was a soft patch of grass in between a few trees by the on ramp of Orange Blossom Trail onto I-4. This was not his ideal living quarters but it worked. At night the spot he slept on was especially dark which was good for him because no one could see him and kick him out or mess with him while he slept. He didn’t like how it was so close to the highway. The constant sound of cars racing by, police sirens, and car horns were not ideal bedtime sounds.

Rick would have found a new quiet spot in a park or something, if it weren’t for Cookie. Cookie was a hooker drug addict that walked the street of OBT. Rick found her one-day and saved her from a man that had just fucked her but instead of paying her he was beating her up. Rick being relatively young and strong, he was only thirty-seven years old, came to her rescue. She was grateful and they became friends. Rick didn’t want to change his spot because if he moved somewhere else far away he wouldn’t be around for Cookie. Their friendship was good for her because it distracted Cookie for wanting to get high.

One day while listening to NPR in the shade with Cookie, he heard that millionaire Patricia Norington, of the Norington Oil fortune, had had a stroke and was in the hospital in bad condition. Rick raced to the hospital and told the lady at the front desk that he was Richard Morris Norington III, and that he needed to see his mother.

April 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm Leave a comment

21 Views of the City Beautiful

Part XV: “Florida Hospital — Neuroscience Ward” by Jacob Derby

It was at the top of the loop that the LSD in Andrea’s butterbeer took hold.

The teenaged Dutch tourist who’d put it there was prone to making Poor Life Decisions. Even if he had stuck around, he couldn’t have told her why he’d done it. It certainly wasn’t a lethal dose… but ten hits all at once is a lot for any person.

Britney rode with the EMTs to the hospital. Before she left for the night she had looked into Andrea’s catatonic, staring eyes, and promised to return first thing in the morning.

Someone in the crowd below had cast an Imperius Curse. Death Eaters: who else could have done this to her? Nurse Shawndra admitted that she had no idea who or what a Death Eater was. Shawndra had been very nice about it; she worked with elderly dementia patients. She had smiled.

Andrea submitted to the rest of the cognitive test and began to suspect that Shawndra might be in league with the Death Eaters.

Andrea promptly barricaded herself inside her room.

“Andrea, open up,” Shawndra said through the door. “Please.”

Andrea’s voice boomed with an eldritch rage. “YOU’LL NOT TAKE ME BACK TO THE COLD DARK OF AZKABAN!”

Shawndra started to edge the door open. “I won’t take you to no Azkaban. Just let me come in, and I promise –”

She dived behind the bed, the wizard robes she’d made out of the sheets flapping breezily behind her. The blinds were drawn shut. Wheel of Fortune was on the TV.

“BATS! FUCKING BATS!” Her pale hands waved wildly on the other side of the coverless hospital bed. “YOU HIT ME WITH A BAT BOGEY HEX, YOU GIT!”

Andrea leapt up from behind the bed, her jeans bunched in her hand; she pulled the long knife out of the back pocket, and Shawndra’s eyes went wide as the adrenaline hit her system. No, it wasn’t a knife, it was a… stick?

“EITHER YOU’RE A DEMENTOR, OR YOU’RE JUST A MUGGLE. WE’LL SEE!” Andrea’s wand arm stabbed through the air, bony and thin, aiming across the room at Shawndra’s chest. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

Andrea stood expectantly, defiantly. Nothing happened.

Something about the way she had the word “muggle” set Shawndra’s teeth on edge. The disdain put into those two syllables, the pure, sneering contempt of it. Shawndra was back in grade school, on the receiving end of made-up slurs.

She narrowed her eyes at the skinny white girl wearing the cape, and said through grit teeth, “Girl, put that stick down.

Andrea charged over the bed and darted past Shawndra, too fast to catch. The pale fluorescent light over the nurse’s station was dazzling. An RN was behind the counter, already dialing security. Andrea’s feet thundered as she raced up and down the floor, throwing doors open.

Andrea’s voice boomed again from the far side of the ward, farthest from the elevators: “I’LL TAKE CARE OF THE DEMENTORS! EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

Down in room 211, Mrs. Norrington screamed weakly and began to cry. Her stroke had been massive and she’d regressed to child-like levels of functioning. Shawndra had spent the last two hours sitting with her, holding her hand, soothing her to sleep.

“Oh hell to the no.”

The elevator door at the opposite of the ward chimed, and she heard Andrea start to run towards it.

Shawndra timed it. Her thick arm swung out from the doorway like a flying tree trunk. The girl hit the soft blue carpet and lay still, out cold.

Softly, Shawndra said, “Who’s the muggle now?”

(Jacob’s original version exceeded the word count, so I had him trim it by half. You can read the original below, and compare/contrast. Which portions of the story were essential or non-essential? Which cuts worked best?)

The ride zoomed and whirled and then – nothing. Six hours ago, the Hungarian Horntail had gone from roaring
full speed into the second of three “near miss” moments with the Chinese Fireball coaster, to – nothing. Six hours ago, Andrea had been at the top of the loop, weightless against her harness when the  ride seemed to instantly and completely stop underneath her. At the time, she had looked over at Britney in the seat next to her, initially more confused than panicked; or rather, she had tried to.

Andrea  tried to move her head an inch further to the right to look at Britney and she couldn’t; she tried to speak, but no sound came out; indeed, the whole ride had gone eerily silent, the laughing and screams of the people around her replaced only with the inner-ear, less-than-sound of the headrest vibrating against her skull. It was at that exact moment of Andrea’s flight that the 1000 microgram dose of Lysergic acid diethylamide (better known by its abbreviated name, LSD), that had been slipped into her butterbeer by the cute vacationing Dutch nineteen year old who bought it for her in the first place, who really wasn’t who you could call a “bad” kid (but he certainly wasn’t very bright, and he made poor decisions that didn’t really serve any purpose that he often couldn’t tell you in hindsight Why He Did That And Got In Trouble in the first place), began to take hold.

It certainly wasn’t a lethal dose. 200 micrograms per kilogram of body weight (at the lowest approximate levels) is a lot more than you think it might be. But ten 100 microgram hits of acid is a lot for any person; especially someone who wasn’t expecting it to begin with.

To the world around her, Andrea had gone catatonic. EMTs were called to the scene; the ride itself was shut down until it was known for sure What Happened To Her, just to be on the safe side. Britney had ridden with the EMTs in the ambulance to the hospital, but she had left to pick up her girl from the sitter, looking into Andrea’s wide, staring eyes before she left, promising to return first thing in the morning.

Now, six hours later after her ill-fated challenge of the Hungarian Horntail, Andrea had barricaded herself in her darkened room at the neuroscience ward of the Florida Hospital location not far from the Universal Parks. The cart she used had moderately heavy vital statistics monitoring equipment on it, but the cart had wheels, and rolled easily. She would have pulled the TV down off the display mount and used that, too, but it was screwed into place. Andrea was trying to keep her nurse, Shawndra, out of the room. Andrea was convinced that someone in the crowd below, someone in league with the Death Eaters, or even a Death Eater himself had cast an Imperius Curse on her during the Dragon Challenge portion of the Triwizard Tournament competition. When Andrea had asked about Nurse Shawndra about this, Nurse Shawndra had admitted that she had no idea what a Death Eater was. (Her daughters were two and four, and she didn’t have much time for reading.) Shawndra was very nice about it; she was used to working with elderly stroke victims with cognitive difficulty and delusions; she smiled when she said it. Andrea submitted to the rest of the cognitive test, and suspected that Shawndra might be in league with the Death Eaters.

Andrea was convinced she was a wizard.

“Girl, I see you back there. Come down offa that bed and move all this back again,” Shawndra said through the half open door. “Please.”
Andrea’s voice boomed with an eldritch rage, many times louder and deeper than you’d expect a girl her size to be capable of. “YOU’LL NOT TAKE ME BACK TO THE COLD DARK OF AZKABAN!” She jumped down and crouched behind the adjustable bed. The wizard robes she’d put on over her hospital dressing gown flapped breezily for a moment. The blinds were drawn. Wheel of Fortune was on the TV.

Shawndra turned sideways and started to edge through the door. “Come on now. I wouldn’t take you to no Azkaban. I just want to come in, and –”
“BATS! FUCKING BATS!” Andrea’s screams were shrill, panicked, terrified. “YOU HIT ME WITH A BAT BOGEY HEX, YOU GIT!” Her pale hands waved wildly at them on the other side of the coverless hospital bed.

Still advancing. Shawndra could see the girl’s pale brown hair, now. “Ain’t any bats
in here. You got hurt, I think, or somebody maybe you took something you shouldn’t have. I won’t know for sure unless you let me over there and check on you.” Palms out now, placating, ready to hold her back if she had to. “Okay?”

Andrea leapt up from behind the bed, her jeans in her hand; she pulled the knife out of her back pocket, and Shawndra’s eyes went wide, the adrenaline hitting her system all at once. No, it wasn’t a knife, it was a… stick?
“EITHER YOU’RE A DEMENTOR, OR YOU’RE JUST A STUPID… MUGGLE. WE’LL SEE!” Andrea’s arm flashed out, bony and thin, stabbing the wand at Shawndra, aiming it at her chest. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

Andrea stood expectantly, defiantly. Nothing happened.
Something about the way she had the word “muggle” set Shawndra’s teeth on edge. Suddenly, she was back in grade school, the other kids coming up with nonsense hurtful words for her race, for her otherness. The disdain that she put into those two syllables; the pure, sneering contempt of it made Shawndra irrationally angry. Her body went from Flight to Fight. She narrowed her eyes at the skinny white girl wearing the cape, and said through grit teeth, “Girl, put that stick down.”
Andrea charged over the bed and darted past where Shawndra stood, throwing the cart to the ground and wrenching the door back open. The pale fluorescent light of the ward was dazzling after the cave-like dark of the room. Nurse Heather’s face was punctuated by a shocked “O” on the other side of the nurse’s station counter. Shawndra could only watch as she sprinted out the door; Andrea’s feet thundered across the carpeted floor as she raced up and down the floor, throwing doors open. Andrea’s voice boomed from the far side of the ward, at the end of the floor farthest from the elevators. “YOU’RE FREE! I’LL TAKE CARE OF THE DEMENTORS! RUN WHILE YOU CAN! EXPECTO PATRONUM!”
Down in room 211, Mrs. Norrington screamed weakly and began to cry. Her stroke had been severe, and she’d regressed to child-like levels of functioning. Shawndra had spent the last two hours with her, sitting and holding her hand, brushing her hair, soothing her so that she could fall asleep. Andrea stood in her doorway, screaming for her to get up, to flee Azkaban.

“Hell to the no.”
Shawndra stepped out into the hallway and and ducked behind the corner of the nurse’s station. Heather was already on the phone to security, but that would take too long. The elevator door at the entrance of the ward chimed, and she could hear Andrea toward it.
Shawndra timed it. She jumped up at the last second, her thick, dark arm swinging like a tree trunk across Andrea’s forehead. The girl fell, her head hitting the soft blue carpeting.. Heather looked up from the phone, stood up, and tried to look over the counter.

Shawndra regarded the girl on the ground. Softly she said, “Who’s the muggle now?”

April 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm Leave a comment

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