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

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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Flash Fiction Contest Judged by Five NY Times Bestselling Authors

Panelists

Flash Fiction Contest

Those of you who attended the Fantasy Literature panel I moderated at Comic-Con on July 11 got to hear five New York Times bestselling authors humorously create a tension-filled passage from a short phrase I provided. They have graciously agreed to vote on their favorite flash fiction submitted by YOU. So, if you’d like to win the honor and bragging rights of being selected by this prestigious group of authors, and a free copy of my fantasy picture book, MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, read on.

The Passage:

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.

The Rules:

  1. 500 words or less (no exceptions)
  2. Emailed to nimpentoad “at” gmail “dot” com by July 31, 2015
  3. There is no entry fee, and you may enter more than one story, if you wish
  4. Your submission must be based on and reflect The Passage. You need not include text from The Passage.
  5. The flash fiction with the most votes from the Authors wins
  6. Participants must be at least 18 years of age with a U.S. mailing address

The Authors:

  1. Zac Brewer – New York Times bestselling author of The Slayer Chronicles and The Cemetery Boys
  2. Kami Garcia – Bram Stoker Award nominee, and co-author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller, Beautiful Creatures
  3. Jonathan Maberry – Multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of the Rot & Ruin and Joe Ledger series
  4. Brandon Sanderson – Hugo and David Gemmell Legend Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of Mistborn and Steelheart
  5. Maggie Stiefvater – Printz Award honoree and New York Times bestselling author of The Scorpio Races and Raven Boys series


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Red Bridesmaid (original fantasy flash fiction)

Here’s a fun piece of flash fiction I entered in a contest at the Terrible Minds blog by Chuck Wendig.

Red Bridesmaid by Henry Herz

redsorceress

It felt as if Zanara the Red Sorceress and I were doomed to an eternal struggle. It was a campaign in which our respective strengths afforded neither of us a decisive advantage. She was far more agile and cunning than I, which made it very difficult to catch and subdue her. However, I was physically stronger. And more importantly, I’d studied the magical arts longer. Years ago, and at great risk, I forged an amulet of power that enabled me to cast spells with unusual speed. I attributed more than one arcane dueling victory to my ability to out-cast my opponent.

Today’s hunt through the ancient stony castle was not dissimilar to other encounters with the devious red sorceress. My greater magical firepower allowed me to take the offensive, while Zanara used her fleetness of foot to evade and tire me. I pursued her up a long spiral flight of steps, and felt fatigue seeping into my legs. I reached the landing, pushed open a stout wooden door, and burst into the Great Room. But, it was only in time to see her exit the doorway at the opposite end of the high-ceilinged room.

The Great Room was crowded with chairs, benches and other furniture. I leapt on to the enormous ornately carved dining table, and sprinted across its varnished surface. Tarnished platters and flatware clattered to the floor. I jumped down, reached the doorway, and took a furtive glance down the hallway. No magical missiles hurtled toward me. Instead, a welcome sight greeted me. Zanara was standing at the far end of a long hallway lined with doors and sputtering torches. The doors must have all been locked, or she would have been well gone by that time.

Winded from the chase, I tried intimidation first. “Halt and submit!” I ordered.

“Catch me if you can, old man,” she replied. Old man? That’s just mean-spirited. Then her lips moved in silence, and her hands wove a rapid, elaborate pattern. Recognizing the spell, I pivoted back into the Great Room out of the line of fire, as a hurricane-strength blast of air blew down the hallway. The blast upended some furniture, but dissipated upon reaching the large open space. Before she could flee or cast again, I lunged into the hallway, arms raised.

Grasping my magical amulet in my uplifted left hand, I leveled my right arm at the red sorceress. Flexing my right wrist upward to angle my palm at the target, I uttered the ancient tongue. A concussive blast travelled down the hallway, snuffing out the torches like matches in a strong breeze. But, Zanara was too quick. She’d managed to open the last door, and made good her escape before the shock wave struck.

Cursing in the modern tongue (because cursing in the ancient tongue can unintentionally summon a demon), I sprinted down the hallway to the last door. The cunning witch had locked it behind her. I stepped back with my right leg, then brought it forward hard, delivering a powerful kick just below the knob. The doorjamb splintered and gave way. I entered and then dodged to my right when a potted plant hurtled at my head. The pot smashed into the wall and shattered. Pieces of plant, dirt clods, and pottery shards showered the floor.

“Stand and fight,” I commanded.

“As I recall, you retreated from my last spell,” she retorted. Still, my insult must have touched a nerve, because instead of retreating through the doorway behind her, Zanara narrowed her eyes, raised her arms, and began a summoning spell.

They say the best defense is a good offense, and my magic amulet greatly reduced my spell casting time. I’d get a spell off first, which would probably prevent her from casting. Probably.

The red sorceress completed her summoning spell, and a slack-jawed zombie materialized in front of her. She pointed at me. “Get the wizard,” she ordered the mindless undead. It grunted a crude acknowledgement, and shambled forward, reaching for me. She put her hands on her hips and watched.

I smiled. My amulet-accelerated casting had saved me on more than one occasion, and today was no exception. Before the zombie reached me, I exhaled Freezing Breath at it. The zombie froze solid. Its momentum caused it to fall forward. The poor creature’s frozen body hit the floor and shattered into a hundred pieces.

“Now, where were we?” I said, fascinated by the sight of zombie bits scattered on the floor.

“You were matching wits with a mindless zombie,” she replied. Keeping her eyes on me, she backed toward the open doorway behind her.

“Surely, you’re not going to flee again,” I said.

“What’s the matter,” she replied. “Isn’t your stamina what it used to be?”

What was with the personal insults, I wondered. It was time to finish the pursuit. Again, I grasped my magic amulet, and began a spell.

I raised the amulet with my left hand, and placed my right palm on my right temple. I chanted the ancient words to cast Mind Control on the red sorceress. Once cast, the contest would be over, as she would comply with my thoughts for long enough for me to physically constrain her.

Zanara must have recognized my spell. Quick as lightning, she reached over and grabbed a pewter serving dish. She hurled the plate like a discus at me. I knew that a plate is not as dangerous as, say, an axe, but instinct took over and I dodged to my left. The loss of concentration disrupted the spell.

I cursed, again in the modern tongue.

“What’s the matter, Xergor? Do you find me distracting?” she asked with one hand on her hip. Without waiting for a response, she spun and ran out the door. I pursued her.

We found ourselves in the kitchen. It was dusty and cluttered. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, and the ashes of old fires had not been swept out of the fireplace. A simple square wooden table sat in the center of the room, but its top was not visible under a pile of foodstuffs, empty sacks, and a coil of rope. There were four tall chairs, one placed at each side of the table. In the corner was a bucket of soapy water, and against the wall near it leaned a well-worn mop.

At that moment, the most appealing feature of the room was that it had only one doorway, and I stood in it. Zanara was on the other side of the room near the corner. I took a moment to savor her predicament. “Well, looks like your back is to the wall,” I teased.

“When I’m finished with you, your back will be on the ground,” she retorted, never at a loss for words.

Now for the finish, I thought. I spread my arms wide and began chanting. Victory would soon be mine.

Zanara was cornered. We both knew she was out of options. She couldn’t flee, she couldn’t cast faster than I, and she couldn’t win a physical confrontation. Nevertheless, her eyes blazed and she remained defiant. She grabbed the mop in her right hand to use as a crude club. A frying pan in her left hand served as a makeshift shield. I gave her a nod of grudging acknowledgement.

A final time, I raised the amulet in my left hand. I squatted to grab a pinch of dust from the floor. Zanara spewed invective, including biologically impossible theories about my lineage, but I was not distracted. I uttered the ancient words to cast Blinding Dust and charged at her.

Fast as a mongoose grabs a snake, the red sorceress raised the shield to her eyes, and kicked over the bucket of water. In hindsight, my choice of spells could have been better. The Blinding Dust obscured my vision, and I lost my footing on the wet floor as I charged her.

I fell with little grace, and banged my head on the floor. While I was prone, the red sorceress leapt on top of me, pinning my arms to the ground with her knees. Her hands were free to grab my collar.

Maintaining a firm grip, she leaned her face close to mine and said, “I win. It’s your turn to clean the kitchen, Xergor.”