NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge #1

Well… I just got the feedback from my submission for the first challenge of the Flash Fiction competition. Unfortunately I did not even place in the top 15. So that is… rough. For me to even move on past the second round I’ll have to place in the top 3. So… Fun.

How the competition works is you’re given a genre (obvi), a location and an object that must appear somewhere in the narrative. For this challenge I was assigned: genre – sci-fi, location – a talent show, and object – a bone.

May I add, I fu-hucking hate Science Fiction. These little challenges have proven to me time and again that it is absolutely not my goddamn genre. Not even a little. What’s also irritating is the three times I’ve competed in this competition I have been assigned this goddamn genre repeatedly. So, please, shoot me.

Below is what I submitted and below that will be judge’s feedback. I will say they are absolutely correct in their reviews. Due to the fact that I literally wrote this in an hour with little to no editing, I’m surprised their critiques weren’t more critical. To be honest, I haven’t even re-read it since I sent it. (And I’m not even reading it now.)

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Starship Follies

            On the twelfth deck of the massive Heavannah II starship, the crew gathered eagerly to watch the Sixteenth Annual “Display of Expertise” talent show.  They chattered to one another, filling the cavernous, round hall with the rabble of their conversation. The chorus of voices sent many who had signed up to participate into states of nervous excitement. For Arnold Habberny, however, his stomach began to twist in agony.

            He stared out at the growing crowd, from behind the curtain of stage right.

            I don’t know if I can do this, he thought to himself.

            The young boy lifted his feathered head piece and dabbed at his brow and down his pale cheeks all the way to the base of his neck.

            A young Mefferling, with blue skin and three crests arching over the top of his head stepped beside Arnold.

            “You can do this,” he said, his forked tongue licked at his thin lips as he spoke.

            Arnold turned to him, “Please tell me you’re not using your mind reading abilities, I’shia. I can’t compete with that.”

            “Please,” I’shia rolled his three eyes, “that’s old news. I got something better slated for debut.”

            Arnold’s stomach twisted even more.

            The four legs of the appointed master of entertainment for the ship, Cassia Corlay, sidled to center stage. Holding out two of his four arms, he gestured for the crowds silence, as he used the other two, to pull from his pocket a small round device. He switched on the circular mic and it took to the air, hovering just above his head.

            “Good evening, my fellows,” his voice boomed across the hall, “and welcome to the show of shows! It gets boring at times, travelling across the reaches of unknown space, which is why once a marked ship year, we all on-board gather to watch what we love to do on our off hours.”

            The crowd cheered.

            “And I am told this years’ collection of displays is going to be greater than last’s. And remember, whoever has the greatest of talents wins the trophy of excellence and earns a guaranteed spot on our next expedition.”

            Arnold’s stomach churned again.

            “Without further ado, let us initiate the show. I present to you, the Ebber Brothers!”

            The crowd cheered and Cassia rushed from the stage.

            The lights dimmed to black and a single spotlight rose to center stage. Illuminated in the lone spot of light was the first act. It was a set of twin Baggins, with scaly skin and yellow slit eyes. They bowed in unison and opened their fish-like mouths to garble a series of phrases. A disembodied, monotoned voice boomed over the crowd translating their words.

            “We have the spectacle of spectacles,” it said for them.

            From the darkness of the surrounding stage an empty silver door frame was placed between them. The two looked to the other and nodded. Then one after the other, they took turns hopping through a single side but emerging from both, cloning themselves. When there were three sets of the twin brothers on stage, the door frame disappeared into the darkness and they all moved about the stage in a choreographed dance.

            The brother’s number ended their number on their knees, and one by one, the clones evaporated in puffs of smoke. A faint haze of the former creatures drifted across the stage.

The crowd’s applause rose like a roar, filling the space.

            Arnold tried to swallow the knot in his throat.

            Cassia retuned to the stage.

            “Not many could beat that,” he said, and the crowd responded with cheers.

            “Our next number is from I’shia Yayabu, last years winner. Please welcome him to the stage!”

            Cassia gestured to his two right arms to off stage, as he exited left.

            “Wish me luck,” I’shia whispered as he left Arnold in the wings.

            The Mefferling took center stage and bowed toward the audience.

            “My talents are only unbound by the study of my Mefferling abilities and innovation.”

            From the darkness of the stage a pair of gloved hands, placed a helmet that fit in between the spaces of I’shia’s crests. He closed his three eyes and held out his arms.

            “Now give me your thoughts,” he said.

             The crowd sat in tense silence.

            With his eyes still closed, he looked to different spots in the audience. Pointing a finger at them, a colored ball of energy would then form from the helmet and vibrate up into the air. Purple, blue, black, and red balls of electricity crackled over the audience, sending them into cheers of excitement.

            “Thank you, I’shia,” Cassia said as he returned to the stage. “That was incredible!”

            I’shia removed his helmet and the balls snapped out of existence.

“I’m doomed,” Arnold mumbled.

“I don’t know how anyone will compete against that but let’s try! Please welcome Arnold Habberny!”

The crowd remained silent as the young man walked into the spotlight. His footsteps echoed ominously across the hall.      

“I… I have this,” he said.

            From beyond the spotlight a very high platform was wheeled out, a box placed in the center. Then a single hand held out an old brown bone.

            Arnold took the bone and climbed up the metal ladder, along the side of the platform to place the bone inside of the box.

            A puff of smoke erupted from the bottom of the platform, producing an earth llama.

            “Ta-da,” he squeaked.

            Arnold held out his hands to a silent audience.

            “That’s not a talent,” a voice shouted from the audience.

            “Did I mention, I crossed it’s DNA with a cobra’s?” he answered back.

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Judges Critiques:

 WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  There was lots of vivid detail – colors, sounds, feelings, different species of aliens, etc. It was easy to feel as if I was among the crowd watching the story unfold. There was also a lot of creativity demonstrated in having thought up the different acts put on at the show.    {2144}  The idea of an annual talent show to keep morale up on a spacecraft is a really creative use of the prompt. The different acts were also intriguing and created some cool visuals.  {2121}  Mixing interstellar species without fanfare, and the inclusion of some of their various different capabilities and appearances, helps define the world of the story more effectively than just setting description. Arnold’s nervous anticipation and reluctance are also understood well, heightening as both acts before him perform their talents to positive audience reactions.   WHAT THE JUDGES {Did Not} LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  I had a little trouble following the acts themselves – and it is an understandingly difficult feat to create and then describe extraterrestrial talents – in your next draft, perhaps really try to nail down the nature of what is spectacular to the audience – is it the cloning? the clones dancing? the light show of the energy balls? Think of ways to make the alien entertainment more and more beguiling to a reader – including Arnold’s talent, and the audience’s lack of reaction. Why weren’t they impressed? Why was he so nervous? Is the cobra line a joke? It ends a bit abruptly, to me, but I think that the more time you are able to pin down the acts and maybe give Arnold a little more detail, the more this story will cohere!   {2144}  In general, I wanted there to be more at stake here for the characters. Why does Arnold want to do well in this competition? What is on the line? I think we need to understand Arnold a little better to root for him.  {2121}  While Arnold is the protagonist of the story, his talent is revealed last and much more concisely, to the point where the reader doesn’t really understand what he accomplished. The story ends with him attempting to defend his talent by explaining how he crossed DNA to create an “earth llama,’ which in itself is fascinating if given the space to be developed and explained. Arnold is also never described beyond being a “young boy” wearing a feathered headpiece; if he is indeed human, why is he the only human character mentioned in the piece? How does that define/limit his capabilities, especially when compared to the cloning and energy creation abilities of the two talent acts before him? Why is DNA manipulation and species creation not deemed impressive in this world?

Into the Unknown

I can feel it in my chest. It is this deep, assuring sensation that it is time to peddle my novel. The world is calling me for it, and I know I must answer.

On December 9th, 2021 it will be 12 years since I finished my first NaNoWriMo and completed my first ever novel length work of fiction. If you have done NaNoWriMo before you will note that it is 9 days after the completion of the month long contest, to write 1,667 words a day for the entire month of November. And you are correct, but these were 9 extra days it took to actually wrap up the narrative. And I have spent the time since then editing this bitch.

Part of that is due to my need for perfection and my inability to see my talent and skill. I truly, truly am my worst critic. It’s weird how no one wants to see me fail more so than myself. I’m hellbent on it. And I have wasted these past years himming-and-hawing about whether it was good enough. Well, after a long car ride, and captive audience, I realized it is.

I don’t remember if I wrote about me and the polycule’s impromptu trip to Salt Lake City… Regardless, during this time I tasked the BF to read aloud my story for myself, the husband, and the brother-husband. May I make a suggestion that any writer should ABSOLUTELY do this. It accomplished two things. One, I got a test audience for feedback and overall commentary about the story; in real-time no less. Two, I got to get outside of my own head to hear how it sounded. The second one was the best thing I could have experienced. For so long I have sat there, nitpicking prose, punctuation, plot, that I get so lost in the logistics that I forget about the whole purpose of writing a story: to be entertained. I found myself smiling and laughing at my own words. That is insane. Either it’s good or I am just a narcissist who enjoys his ability. (Probably a combination of the two.)

Well, a road has been placed before me in the terms of an unpublished manuscript competition. For an entry fee of $65 I can submit my first few pages and a brief synopsis of my novel for consideration. If it’s chosen it’ll be placed in front of people who could potentially jumpstart my career. Now, will I place? If my past writing competitions have shown me anything, it is a firm NO. Will I find an agent or even sell it? Again, most likely no. Should I still do it? Yes.

One of the things that has been repeated to me frequently is that we will regret all opportunities not taken. So, I need to do this.

“Witches” – NYC Midnight Short Story Submission 2021

One of my favorite past-times is to participate in flash fiction competitions through NYC Midnight. Each competitor is divided up into individual groups that are then assigned a specific genre, subject and character and then given a limited amount of time and words to create a cohesive short story. They have multiple types of contests, however the format is similar. I find it to be a fun little challenge and it gets my creative juices flowing.

For the first heat of this years competition I was given: genre – ghost story, subject – dancing, and character – an informant. The length was limited to 2,000 words and the time allotted to craft this entry was 3 days. While, I did not place in the top 5 of my group, and advance onto the next stage, I did at least earn a “third honorable mention.” So in my mind I got 8th place out of 28 other competitors. I am curious to know if I could or would have placed higher had I actually included ghosts in my “ghost story.” My interpretation of a “ghost story” is an other-worldly and spooky tale told around a campfire. It did not, for whatever reason, occur to me that the tale should in-fact contain a spiritual entity.

Below is the story I submitted and immediately following are the judges critiques. I feel their critical feedback is sound. However there were two points that I didn’t agree with, but it teaches me that next time I need to not be subtle with certain details, and really hammer the point home.

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“Witches”

The word that witches had come to the hamlet of Milium spread through the village like a plague. The women gathered, adorned in their black dresses and white bonnets, in the muddy streets, to gossip about them in hushed tones.

“They only come out at night.”

“I heard they have magical abilities.”

“Not only that, but they eat children.”

“Not just the children.”

“They consume your flesh and soul so that they can wear it as their own.”

“They won’t stop until they get the entire village.”

The husbands weren’t taken as quickly by such prattle. They needed more than just rumors. As they worked in the tan wheat fields, the grain slapping at their waists, they shared their doubts. They chuckled at the absurdity as their scythes cut through the blades.

“But it’s true!”

“Elder Nixolas Venator was out on a hunt and stumbled upon a ritual circle in the woods.”

“There were animal carcasses.”

“Bones!”

“Blood!”

From the streets and the fields, the townspeople carried their worries through the week to the wooden pews. There they sat anxiously beneath the vaulted ceiling, before the towering pulpit, seething with anxiety.

Reverend Prandem attempted to ignore the shake and shivers of his flock; this is God’s time. It belonged to His worship. Try as he might to ignore them, one by one, they heaved their terror upon their spiritual leader.

“What of witches.”

“Why are they here?”

“They want to take us to hell!”

“Who here is a witch?”

“Show yourselves, you vile women!”

Reverend Prandem’s words cut through the chorus of voices.

“This is hallowed ground,” he leaned over his pulpit, gripping its edge, “In the house of the lord, no daughter of Satan would or could dare walk within.”

A high-pitched giggle punctured his words.

The townspeople got their feet, trembling as they looked for the source of the voice.

“Who was that? Did you hear who?”

“They’re far more powerful than we had thought.”

“We’re doomed!”

A chill ran up the Reverend’s body and clutched his heart. Listening to each line as it was hurled through the air, his thoughts spun into chaos. Sweat beaded on his brow.

“Silence, my brothers and sisters! Jesus Christ has all the power here. No need to fear. Now sit!”

There was a whisper of garments and murmur of creaks from pews as the congregation followed his order.

“I will get to the bottom of this.”

He stared out at the cluster of people.

“Who amongst us has any proof?”

A man and a woman stood, pointing to a frail man with straw hair and deep-set eyes. His gaunt face was etched in panic.

“Brother Venator, speak with me after the sermon.”

The man gulped and then nodded.

Those before him took the holy man’s plan of action and calmed, allowing the spiritual lessons that followed to pierce their hearts and souls. They left evermore glad than when they had arrived.

The two men converged in the quiet of the Reverend’s office, through a side door behind the pulpit. It was empty but for a desk and chair and a towering Bible resting on a pedestal. They stood before them.

“Brother Venator, I am thrusting upon you a holy quest,” the Reverend said.

Venator’s eyes doubled in size.

“You must be my informant. The Lord commands that you go to this font of wicked knowledge and bring back further proof and perhaps identities.”

“Reverend, I do not think that I am up to the task.”

“You must, for our safety. This incessant gossip has gotten out of hand.”

“Do you not believe that there are witches?”

“Did you not hear that unearthly sound during my sermon? Of course, I do.” He took a deep breath. “You witnessed proof of their existence. Go there, hide, and return to me your news. We must put a stop to it. Your testimony will bring the townsfolk resolve, and you will find your riches in heaven.”

The spiritual leader placed his hands on the edge of Venator’s shoulders.

“God will protect you. I give you His blessing.”

Nixolas Venator gathered up his coat, ax, blanket, and rations. His wife pecked him on the cheek and ushered him out into the woods as his heart pounded in his chest and echoed in his ears. Shivering, he forged the path until it ceased to exist and then wound his way through the briar and rock until he found his way to the clearing.

One would have missed it had they not been paying close attention. A ring of jagged stones cut the thicket from the clearing like talons. Dark earth and a smattering of pebbles filled the emptiness up to another circle of granite chunks in the center. Neither blood nor bone could be seen amongst the glade since he had last come upon it. Where it had gone, he did not know.

His eyes pierced through the dying light for any other entities, but he saw none.

Venator knew he had to work with haste as to not to be discovered. With careful haste, he trod lightly around the ritual grounds, as to not leave a print, and found a spot in the brush, just to the east. He made a hunter’s hiding place and waited.

For five nights, he did the same but witnessed nothing. Doubt crept into his thoughts, making him wonder if he had, in fact, seen the blood and bone. Perhaps it was his imagination. Maybe there were no witches after all.

At three in the morning, on the sixth night, Nixolas was awoken by a high-pitched giggle.

The brush about him shuddered as he sat upright. He peered through the leaves, and two rocks, at a fire that had been set in the middle ring.

His limbs went numb.

Six cloaked figures moved about the glade with their cowls over their head. From within the shadow of their hoods, they focused on the burning tips of the dried sprigs they held aloft. They made circular motions with them in the air, leaving behind a trail of serpentine smoke.

When each witch had passed by his view, they stopped and turned toward the fire.

A duo of drums erupted in the silence and beat a measured rhythm.

The figures swayed to it, from side to side, back forth, like a clock pendulum. And after each designated set, the tempo got faster. When it reached a furious throb, the witches kicked out their legs and threw out their hands. The movements were disjointed and unorganized.

The witches danced around the fire. They stabbed and cut through the night air.

The flames growing higher, filling the clearing with light and leaving everything beyond in shadow.

Another set of drummers joined the first two, deepening the rhythm. It was then that the figures shed their cloaks to reveal their naked, milky bodies beneath.

Nixolas instinctively averted his eyes from their sinfulness and blushed. As they were indeed not men. But he knew that he had to get their identities to save the village. He prayed a silent prayer for forgiveness before he turned back to their nude dancing. He squinted against the brightness of the flames as he tried to make out their faces, but the shadows cast by the flames danced across their facial features, changing them. They morphed from one to another. Ever shifting, never staying the same.

Brother Venator found it hard to breathe.

Another set of drums joined the chorus, and the witches started to chant. The words were garbled and guttural. Their voices bellowed from deep within their shapely bodies.

The flames got even taller, pouring out waves of heat over the circle.

The wind picked up, swaying the trees to the meter but not disturbing the growing conflagration.

The witches danced faster. Their movements were quick and sharp.

More drums joined. The percussion’s booms pierced Venator’s chest, taking hold of his heart and bending it to conform.

The chants grew louder until they were shrieking into the night—their words gibberish to the lone man’s ears.

Suddenly a bone-chilling scream silenced the chants and the dancers ceased their number, with their heads bowed. Nixolas convulsed.

The fire stretched up toward the night sky until it birthed from it an unearthly form. It took a step out of the flames with cloven feet. Two horns spiraled from the shaggy mane of hair that threatened to consume his flat face.

As he lifted a long bony arm that came to an end in long black talons, the women fell to the earth before him. They moaned in ecstasy.

His two pure black eyes, dissected with a long, thin, white pupil, surveyed those around him and up into the shadows of where Nixolas hid.

The devil sneered at him with dagger-like fangs.

The wind howled through the trees and extinguished the flames, submerging the clearing in total darkness.

The gusts had pummeled against the church for hours, whistling through the cracks in the structure, as Reverend Prandem worked diligently on this week’s sermon. His quill scratched

feverishly against the parchment, spewing forth his holy words of salvation and the promise of paradise—the time lost into the blackness of the night.

A slow, measured knock pulsed from the door of his study, pulling him from his work.

He set his quill to the desk and rushed to open the door.

In the flickering candlelight, he found Venator’s form in the doorway. His head tilted forward and a broad smile on his lips.

“Come in,” he said, stepping aside, “What news have you?”

The man entered the room.

His voice was calm as he told him the details of what had transpired.

“Who were these women?”

“Get a paper,” Venator said.

The Reverend hustled around his desk, brushed aside his former notes to grab an unblemished piece of paper. He picked up his quill and waited.

“Genevieve Pater.”

The Reverend wrote the name in curling script.

“Charlotte Filius.”

The quill scratched on the paper.

“Seamus Prandem.”

The pastor stopped halfway through writing his own name. He looked up slowly into the face of a goat-man with black eyes. The creature bowed his head and charged.

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JUDGES FEEDBACK

”Witches” by Joshua Hensley –

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{2124} “Witches” brims with visceral description. Lines like “as his heart pounded in his chest and echoed in his ears” and “The witches danced around the fire. They stabbed and cut through the night air” evoke a dark, frantic mood throughout the story. It’s easy to see why the whole village fears the witches, especially Venator. The ending feels fitting and deliciously grim.

{1970} I think that you have delivered everything a spooky tale reader would love. As I read “Witches” I found myself quite satisfied with the period feel and way the characters relate to each other. The pervasive, oppressive nature of old school religious dogma and strict belief is palpable. Thanks for that, it makes for a gripping tale. I feel for Nixolas as he is sent out, reluctant in is task, to find proof that witches are indeed in town. Chilling tale, thanks.

{1772} The story has a frightening premise that turns from a quest of religious fervor to a darker supernatural tale. Venator has a clear goal to shape his characters. Vivid detail and action bring the plot to life.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –

{2124} It’s clear that the witches in this story are powerful and threaten the community. What’s less clear is why this matters. Should the readers care that this town could be annihilated? Are the identities of the witches important? If not, what core emotion or idea is this story trying to convey beyond a good fright? Is it related to the priest’s perceived security and power? Consider what ideas you want to further explore in this story, how they mesh with the dialogue and description already present, and what details you could weave in to further bring them out.

{1970} I’m not so sure that this story needs work. You’ve checked off so many boxes. It would be nice to know why the couple stood a point specifically to Nixolas, why did they choose him for the task, what proof does he have? This is a bit confusing because the reverend asks who has proof, the couple points to Nixolas, he’s not happy about it, and then he is sent to find proof. He doesn’t have it already. Anyhoo, this said, it’s a chilling story, so thanks again.

{1772} To help the resolution feel fully earned, it might be worth further exploring Prandem and Venator. At what lengths are they willing to go to find the witches? Do they have ulterior motives? By giving them more inner needs or conflicts, it might help to add another layer to their characters and the plot. For example, Prandem might struggle with a personal wish to rid himself of the women in absence of witchcraft.

Flash Fiction Challenge #3

Well, I am saddened to say that I didn’t make it into the final round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition, however I am surprised that made it as far as I did. In the process I realized a strength I didn’t even know I had in my writing toolbox, satire.  Yeah, I know that I’m hilarious in person and can be charming in text messages, but I wasn’t sure it translated well into my written narratives. Honestly, Round 2 was when I really shined.  (Wow my humility sure is humbling.)

My assignment for this challenge was: genre – sci-fi (ya, again. lame), location – candy shop, and item – an egg. In 48 hours the competitors are tasked with constructing a short story with the requirements above, all within a max of 1,000 words. Below is my submission for the challenge and below that will be the judges critiques. I have to say, Judge 3 was my buddy and seemed to actually like the story. The other two couldn’t have cared less. And what they said in their critique was spot on, especially in regards to the end. My husband did say that Judge 3 “got who I am” when they said “heartfelt and demented.”


REGENERATION

Josh Aron hesitated for a moment at the glass door of the Rocket Fizz candy shop, with a hand clenched around the metal handle.

Shelby Aron stopped short at Josh’s shoulder. “What’re you doing?”

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

Shelby chuckled and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Of course you can. Just pull with your arm.”

Josh looked at her out of the corner of his eye and sighed through his nose as he opened the door.

A soft bell tinkled from somewhere deep inside the shop, to beckon the owner from the back and the patrons forward. However, at the moment, only the Arons followed the sound.

Both sets of eyes flicked nervously around. The shelves that lined the walls of the store were nearly empty except for a few displays of candy of unknown brands.

“Hello?” Josh’s voice cracked the word. “Is there anyone here?”

The sounds of shuffling paper and a heavy thud preceded the appearance of the owner dressed head to toe in a red and white striped uniform, accompanied with a white golf cap. “I do apologize,” the shopkeeper said, “I didn’t hear you come in. We’re almost about to close for the night.”

“We know,” Josh said, he walked stiff-legged to the glass case that held some displays of homemade chocolate confections.

“She told us this is the time to come.”

The stranger furrowed his brow and examined the two.

“We’re here to order a zyloral.”

“Are you now?”

Josh nodded.

“Who told you about it?”

“Nurse Lilith. She said you only serve the best.”

A smile spread across the man’s thin lips. “Indeed we do.”

The man hurried around the edge of the counter and to the shop door where after a quick glance up and down the street, spun the lock. Then with the same sharp motions, he pulled the shades down over the windows and switched off the neon ‘Open’ sign.

“Come with me,” he said.

The two customers followed the order and found themselves escorted through a kitchen into the walk-in freezer, and once in there taken beyond a false back to a laboratory teeming with men in white lab coats, fussing over specimens displayed in glass jars. A large metallic door, built into the rear wall, led out of the lab into a room that emanated with tinny cries.

The man led them to an office in the furthest corner of the lab, encased in walls of glass.

“Please, take a seat,” the man said, as he sat behind the desk.

They both again followed instructions.

“First things first, do you have the money?”

Josh tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he nodded.

“Good. Now, do you have a viable sample?”

Shelby shoved a hand into her leather purse, removed a hairbrush enclosed in a plastic bag, and handed it to the man.

The stranger held it inches from his face and examined every strand gripped in the bristles.

“We have one right here that will work.”

“That’s a relief,” Shelby said.

The man set the brush down onto the desk and rolled his chair in further.

“Do you have an egg?”

Shelby nodded and laid a hand on her stomach.

“Will the clone have any memories?” Josh said.

“Not at all.”

“Good.”

“However,” the man said, his eyes jumped from one to the other, “any replica of one of you will arise suspicion, and if that were to happen we never met.”

“Oh, it’s not one of us,” Shelby said. “The man you’re cloning has—has passed.”

“Was it a genetic disorder? One that we should remediate?”

Shelby glanced at Josh and waited for a response, and when none came, she said, “No. It was unexpected.”

The man sat back. “I’m—“

“There’s no need,” Josh said. “People get killed all the time.”

His words hung stiff and electric in the air.

Josh’s limbs shook as he stood.

“You know what, I can’t do this. I thought this was something I wanted but—”

“Why not?”

“Do you know how unbearable just the thought of having him and not having him is, Shelbs? Every night I go to sleep alone. I wake up the next morning alone. How am I going to feel to raise him and watch him date someone else, knowing he was once mine?”

Shelby rose to meet his eye.

“We’ve talked about this. This child won’t be him. It will never be because no matter how hard we try we can never bring back the man you knew.”

Tears streamed down Josh’s cheeks. “He will be a clone of Charles.”

“That Charlie is gone, Josh. You can’t recreate the experiences that made your husband. What you can do is raise this child to be a perfect combination of the two of you.”

“How do you figure?”

“Isn’t that what children are? A shadow of one parent guided by the hand of the other?”

Josh stared into his sister’s eyes and smiled.

“I don’t think you’ll get him to like the same movies as you but you can try.”

Josh laughed and wiped away his tears.

He turned to the man and nodded.

Time stretched into eons for Josh as he waited impatiently during the incubation period. Every night as he purchased another baby item or as he converted the home office into a nursery, he wondered if he had made the right decision.

On a Sunday afternoon, he got a phone call from a blocked number with a cheery voice on the other end that told him his zyloral was ready for pick up. He rushed through the house, grabbed the diaper bag and car seat and headed over to the sweet shop to pick up his son.

At the back of the candy shop, holding his and Charles’ child in his arms for the first time, Josh was made whole again, and he doubted nothing.


JUDGE’S FEEDBACK

”Regeneration” by Joshua Hensley-Cline –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1686}  The story is an interesting take on cloning, and the twist is a nice touch.  {1504}  The owner’s outfit is memorable and adds whimsy. The couple’s mention of the zyloral builds intrigue. The shopkeeper’s odd behavior at the request is ominous.  {1751}  Wow, this story is so incredibly heartbreaking and chilling at the same time. It works both as an effective science fiction story concerning queer parenthood ( you can’t get too many more brownie points from this reviewer). It’s mildly creepy by the idea that (to extrapolate upon the already state of the art science used to produce surrogate pregnancy), that he’d be raising a clone of his dead husband, genetically his husband, with all the good nurturing he can provide. Heartwarming and demented, great work.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1686}  Consider focusing on sentence flow and pacing. The ending feels a little too tidy/simple.  {1504}  Calling the shopkeeper “the stranger” was a speed bump. Adding words to the title could make it more distinctive and a stronger draw. You might consider having additional science fiction elements.  {1751}  I do wonder one thing though; why is his sister offering to help him produce this child? Is it simply because her brother needs the love of the clone in his life, or does she get something more deeply satisfying from it? It’s just a suggestion but you might touch on her reasons for this, as I think they are just as pertinent a perspective. However, this is only a suggestion as you move forwards with this powerful story of love.