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Winner of a Fantasy Flash Fiction Contest Judged by Five NY Times Bestselling Authors

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Panelists

During the Fantasy Literature panel I moderated at Comic-Con, five New York Times bestselling authors humorously created an ad hoc passage from a short phrase I provided:

She noticed a hint of movement beneath the starlit trees. But, that was nothing compared to the trail of blood that led out of them. And there were seven bodies left behind. He was afraid to move. The knife might come out of his stomach. Fortunately, the song he was humming provided the power to keep him alive. Then moonlight glinted on antlers in the trees.

Flash Fiction Contest:

Contestants were asked to submit flash fiction based on that passage. We received a number of submissions, some referencing Santa Claus, some referencing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but all very creative. Three finalists were selected, and then Zac Brewer, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry, Brandon Sanderson, and Maggie Stiefvater voted for their favorite. The piece with the most votes was declared the winner. And there was much rejoicing. Thank you to the esteemed judges and to all our participants.

The Winner: Woodsong by Jack Glasken

She stepped lightly through the forest. Her feet barely touched the underbrush as she silently made her way through the deepest part of her domain. This night seemed like any other except for a scent on the wind and a sound in the trees. They were whispers from the other creatures.

Humans they told her. There are humans here.

That could not be, humans hadn’t entered this domain in centuries. None had ever been sighted this deep into her home. It was no matter, she could not be bothered by such things. Her work was far too important. If humans did enter her woods, she could deal with them. She had dominion over all manner of life in this place.

She caught the scent again, it was unmistakable. Something had been bled very recently, or was bleeding still, but the scent was different. Knowing instantly that it was from a creature not of her woods, she decided to find her way toward the scent. Her ears were perked up and her head was raised, alert to any danger. This place was hers, and she must protect it.

She came upon a copse of trees deep in her domain. The scent grew stronger as she drew near. It assaulted her this close for it was foreign to this domain. Human blood.

Cautiously approaching the glade, she could hear breathing. It was labored. One of them still lives, she thought. Peering through bushes to remain hidden, she saw a scene that cooled her blood.

At least half a dozen humans were dead, their blood seeping onto the ground, staining it. They lay about as if they had been chasing something. Then she saw him, a human that was not yet an adult. He lay against a tree, his breathing deep and arduous. She saw one of the vile human weapons buried in his belly and felt pity. Poor child… but why has he not begun the Transition?

She heard him humming, and could feel the power of the forest being drawn to him.

Impossible! She thought. Wanting to inspect him, she used her huge antlers to push through the brush and reveal herself.

Why are you here? She spoke directly into his mind.

Seeing her, his eyes widened in fear and he recoiled. Moonlight shown through her antlers as she towered over him.

Do not fear, child. Tell me why you have come.

His humming continued to draw power from her woods, sustaining him.

The Woodsong is not for humans… How do you know this power?

Fear consumed the boy, and tears filled his eyes as she approached. “Please don’t let me die,” He pleaded between verses.

Remembering that humans didn’t understand the Transition, she consoled him, Die? Death is not the end, child. Let go, and you will undertake the Transition. Then your journey will truly begin.

Knowing he had no choice, his tears streamed down his face. Trusting her, and unsure why, he took one last breath and stopped singing.

The Runners-Up:

Phillip Stephens

She noticed a hint of movement beneath the starlit trees. But, that was nothing compared to the trail of blood that led out of them. And there were seven bodies left behind. He was afraid to move. The knife might come out of his stomach. Fortunately, the song he was humming provided the power to keep him alive. Then moonlight glinted on antlers in the trees.

What began as the perfect night for the rite of reckoning—a harvest moon, a cloudless sky, Jupiter in ascension against Sagittarius—turned to heated blood and anarchy. All because she walked into a thicket head held high and found seven interlopers around the stone circle where she was to offer prayer.

Nor had she noticed, as she focused on her chants, the transformation overtaking her. She clutched the rabbit to her chest, along with the ornamental stone knife, and repeated the mantra to send her mind into a transcendent state. She expected to find the circle unattended, not in a thick grove but in full view of the mother of all things.

“You have no right to be here,” she cried, not noticing her voice had fallen two octaves.

“We worship the mother just as you,” their elder said. He showed her their offering of bread and wine, already prepared for the sacrifice. She grabbed her knife, her hand suddenly larger, her wrist thicker, and charged into the circle only to be caught in the tree limbs by her new antlers as the transformation completed.

Realizing he was one with the stag he slashed at the interlopers—a throat, a chest, between the ribs. He grabbed one by the sleeve and pulled him close, dragging the knife from ear to ear. In their confusion the interlopers piled into each other rather than breaking free and even turned their weapons onto each other until every tree in the grove spilled blood onto the ground.

Only then did she come to her senses.

What blasphemy had she committed?

She shook her head to free the antlers but they were wrapped so tightly nothing gave. The pain from his wound shot through his body. He willed his body to perfect stillness. The elders told him to heed the litany, but until tonight he’d only heard buzzing words, “Prayer, patience, penitence.”

The transformation ritual required her to enter praying, not chanting. To be patient, and, being patient, she would question not challenge those who, like her, came to worship. Being penitent she would bow her head so her new antlers wouldn’t ensnare her in the trees.

In the distance she heard the horns. The elders approached. She wouldn’t ascend to the elder council tonight. She failed utterly. She was hermaphrodite and centaur, but not sanctified as she was trained to become. They would cut her free and release her into the forest to forage and be hunted with the demons and ghosts in stories told to scare their children.

Survival Song by Kenneth Olson

Her breath comes in quick, labored snorts, not much better than his own. The sharp thing in his stomach shifts every time he moves but he knows he can’t stay here. The Two-Leg will find them, and when it does it will kill them just as surely as it killed the others. As it nearly killed him with the sharp thing.

He doesn’t understand. Two-Legs usually brought their thunder when the leaves became bright and the ground turned hard. Never before had any come in the hot times.

He staggers upright. The sharp thing slips from his belly and something inside goes with it.

Alarmed, she lifts her head. The stars reflected in her eyes turn into galaxies. He hums to her. Be still. She lays her head back onto the forest floor and he turns away. His humming becomes a survival song. It is a mantra, taking on the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Live, protect. Live, protect. Live, protect.

He bounds onto the trail. Thunder rolls and lightning flashes from his right. The Two-Leg has seen him. Good. Away from her, he sings to it. Away, away.

He leaps into the bushes opposite. Thunder booms. Something hot and hard and heavy enters his flank. His legs crumple beneath him, no longer able to support his weight. He goes down, muzzle slamming into the forest floor. Sticks crack beneath his weight. Flailing, he manages to turn himself over. He tries to get back to his feet but his hind legs don’t seem to work anymore. Too weak. He is getting cold. Things continue to fall from within him.

The monster crashes through the bush in that clumsy, heavy way all Two-Legs possess. It stands for a moment, then utters something in its horrible language before raising the hollow stick it carries. It will kill him, and then it will kill her. His Mate. His Life. And it will not stop there. He cannot allow that.

He lunges, managing to get enough use from his back legs to power him forward. He cries his frustration, pain and horror to all that would hear. The Two-Leg stumbles back, surprised by the sound and sudden movement. Had it not, had it held its ground, he would be dead. The movement creates an opening, and he lowers his head. Moonlight flashes across his antlers, his own lightning, before slamming into and through the Two-Leg. The creature drops the hollow stick and they both fall to the ground. Antlers dig and gouge and dig again until the Two-Leg lays still. And then he lays still, too, gathering his strength for one last act.

Her breathing has calmed, her struggle with the birthing over. The Born lies near her belly, suckling wetly at one teat. He lies nose to nose with her and hums. Over. It’s over. He closes his eyes as she gently sings him to sleep.

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Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

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