View Poll Results: Please vote for your favourite story by December 31st.

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  • Coming Home from the War

    2 8.00%
  • The Only Horse Without Shoes

    11 44.00%
  • Shanti, the Dragon

    5 20.00%
  • A List Before Flying

    5 20.00%
  • Ninety-Nine

    2 8.00%
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Thread: Short Story Competition Final '12

  1. #1
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Short Story Competition Final '12

    Please vote for the story you like best to determine the winner of Literature Network Short Story Competition 2011.

    Discussion of the stories, to avoid influencing the outcome of the poll, are not allowed.

    If contributers would like to ask questions, they should email us at [email protected].

    Please note that the authors agree to keep their identities secret when they enter the competition.
    Those who breach this rule will be disqualified automatically.

    Good luck, everyone!



    Competition Rules
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    Note: This poll will close on December 31st, 2012.
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    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  2. #2
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    The Only Horse Without Shoes


    "Who is it?"

    "It's Lydia. Open up."

    This was breaking protocol, of course. I am to turn visitors away unless they give me the current code. No exceptions. But I knew her voice well, and I had been longing to hear it ever since that telephone conversation back in Istanbul. I opened the door.

    She was white as a ghost, supporting herself on the wall, panting.

    "Jesus, Lydia."

    I helped her onto the examination couch and unzipped her leather jacket. Beneath it, her clothing was soaked in blood - nothing but a dark red pulp.

    "It's superficial... It just took me a while to get here, so I'm a bit messy. Sorry." She spoke in a breathy whisper, becoming weaker by the second. "It's up on the left. Near my armpit. Can you believe it? I haven't shaved in three days and the sods get me right there."

    "Be quiet now. Lie down. Just let go. I've got you."

    I worked the IV needles swiftly, not giving her too much alfentanil as she was about to lose consciousness anyway. I cut off her clothes and wired her up to the monitors. As I suctioned blood away from the gaping hole in her subclavicle, I kept repeating "a body, just a body". This wasn't a technique I had learned somewhere. It was just what I thought would help me work on Lydia without losing it.

    No. Not on Lydia. On a body. Just a body.

    ***

    Back in 2001, in Prague, during a night when sheet lightning kept illuminating the clouds for hours without a drop of rain actually falling, I saw Lydia for the first time.

    I don't know the assignments of the agents that come to me. I'm just the guy who's there if you need patching up and you're lucky enough to be close by when you get injured. I don't know if my role in the organization is important, less important, or unimportant. I don't think about our techniques or strategies, and I certainly don't view them in a moral context. I just do my job.

    This particular incident, however, was already all over the news. A few hours before she came, influential Polish journalist Marcin Gutowski had been assassinated. The doorman at the Orloj hotel saw him take the lift to go up to his room at around six-thirty. Seven minutes later, when the lift door opened again for the next guest going up, Gutowski's body was sprawled on the wooden floor, his brains all over the mirror.

    I've had several agents knock on my door over the years. But it's very rare, so rare in fact that visitors always surprise me. Some would say I've got it good. I fly from city to city all over the world, and all I need to do is make sure my makeshift surgeries are properly equipped. Check that the blood bags are kept at the right temperature, make sure the defibrillator functions, keep some body bags and a shovel in the back of the car just in case. Other than that, I just sit there, quietly, listening to my radio, slowly sipping on my scotch.

    The short, thin girl standing there absolutely still didn't look injured. Just young, pretty, and unflinching. Her hair was wildly wavy and dark red, and she stared at me with wide-open honey eyes. She was unusual. A beautiful nettle. Was she eighteen, tops?

    So strikingly still was her stare, that it took me a few seconds before prompting her for the code.

    "Can I help you?"

    "The blacksmith's mare is the only horse without shoes," she said confidently.

    "Come in."

    She walked past me and looked around. "Is that the loo?"

    "Yes. Are you hurt?"

    Ignoring me, she slammed the bathroom door behind her.

    Maybe they sent her to kill me, I thought. Who knows. Perhaps I did something that bothered them. There can always be a reason for me to die, even if I cannot think of one.

    Surely, though, she would have done it the minute she stepped in.

    Wouldn't she?

    I felt for the gun behind my belt. The metal was there, smooth and reassuring.

    I heard water flushing the toilet, and then she emerged. "I need you, doc. You are a doctor, aren't you?" She walked straight across the room and sat on the examination couch.

    "You don't seem injured."

    "Are you kidding? Listen, I just fired a gun into a guy's head four times. I'm injured. My heart is injured. Wouldn't yours be if you had fired a gun into a guy's head four times?"

    "You shouldn't have come here if you are not physically hurt."

    "What's the matter, doc? You deaf or something? I'm telling you my heart is injured. It's going to explode inside my chest. Do you understand?"

    She spoke with a strange unemotional clarity, as if she was reading aloud a passage that was indifferent to her. Hands on her lap, back straight, legs perfectly still.

    "Look, I'm not a shrink. You have to leave."

    "I don't need a shrink, mister. It's my heart. Each time I feel it beating I don't know if it's going to beat again. I think I'm going to vomit it out. You know? That's how it feels. As if I need to vomit it out."

    I poured a large scotch. "You just need to cool off. Here," and I handed her the glass. But swiftly, rapidly, she hit my forearm and sent it smashing against the wall.

    "God damn you! Don't you have one of those things you listen with? Take it and listen to my heart. I want you to be listening to it when it stops, you lousy quack!"

    She threw off her back pack and lifted her top up to her chin, exposing small breasts with dark, pointy nipples, and a strong, muscular abdomen. Her other hand went in her pocket and, within a split second, was pointing a gun at me.

    "You come and listen, I want you to be listening to it when it stops," she said again. "Or I'm gonna blow you to pieces."

    It wasn't so much the girl's threat that shocked me, but by the sheer incongruity of it all. A female assassin that doesn't look old enough to have left high school holding a gun to me, bearing her breasts, demanding that I auscultate her heart. And now, a thin, shiny tear rolling down her cheek.

    "Okay. Fine. I'll listen."

    "Good. I'm waiting. I'll try not to let it stop before you are here listening to it. But hurry."

    The forceful beats inside her bird-like chest travelled through the tubing of the stethoscope loud, rhythmical, and urgent.

    "Put your gun down now," I said quietly.

    "No," she replied. "Keep listening. Death has crept in there. Can you hear him?"

    "Please," I said. "I can't concentrate on your heart with a gun on my head."

    Slowly, her arm relaxed. She lowered it, and let the gun fall to the floor. She stared at the chestpiece on top of her left breast. "It's burning in there, doc. Do you have something cold you could inject my heart with?"

    "It's alright," I whispered, and held her hand. "It's alright."

    She leant forward and hid her face in my chest. I let her. She was crying properly now. I let the stethoscope fall to the floor, and lowered her top back over her torso. I gave her time.

    "It's alright," I kept whispering in her ear.

    "My name's Lydia," she sobbed. "Will you remember it?"

    Outside, it sounded like the rain had finally started to fall.

    ***

    I worked on the wound for over two hours, suctioning blood, patching up the crack on the subclavian artery (which miraculously hadn't torn too badly while she was getting here), administering antibiotics and coagulants and as much blood of her type as I had. The bullet had wedged itself high up on the left ribcage, between the first and second intercostal, an inch from her heart. It was hard to pull out, and I wasn't sure the work I did on the hole it left would effectively stop infection.

    On a body. On just another body.

    I like to think I did my best with the means I had available.

    The protocol dictates I should have given her neostigmin as soon as possible. After an assignment, and no matter how things have transpired, an agent is always in a hurry. But I let her sleep until rays of daylight started flowing through the blinds.

    I'd hardly refer to what Lydia and I have as a romantic engagement of any sort. She's just the only woman in my life - has been for over a decade. She appears occasionally, unexpectedly, in a manner that cannot but feel random. But some sort of unpredictable sense springs out of each one of our meetings. I am unsure why I'm so grateful for it.

    "You've got to go." It was past 11 am when I finally decided to wake her.

    "Damn," she said. "I had the weirdest dream. We were twins, you and me. We had those huge bikes. Oh! My side hurts like hell... Did you actually fix it or make it worse? "

    I helped her into a pair of slacks and a shirt. "Go get it seen to as soon as you're on safe ground, okay? You need post-operative care."

    "Post-operative care? Let's see," she winced as she took uncertain steps towards the door, "I think I can squeeze some after bridge and before my pedicure."

    Such are our goodbyes. So devoid of emotion that anyone would think I'd be seeing her again after lunch.

    ***

    But I only saw her again this past summer. The porter at my Kensigton hotel handed me an envelope. It contained nothing but a postcard from Camden Lock, left blank. As the underground screeched through the tunnels, I caught myself feeling full of hope, then by the time the next station scrolled past I was buried in unbearable despair.

    That's how I always feel when I'm about to see her.

    I spotted her in front of a stall with leather boots. People who don't know her would think that she was perplexed, indecisive, hesitant to pick them up and feel the material. In fact, she was just standing still. That unique stillness.

    "Do you think the red ones with the big buckle are too much? Too young for me?"

    "Do stop fishing for compliments. I hand them out freely anyway. You look stunning."

    "Thanks, doc." She turned and touched my face. "You're not holding up too bad yourself." And then she threw her arms around my head, and kissed my cheek, and hid her face in my neck. "It's good to see you!"

    Her left arm was hard and inflexible under her denim jacket. I touched it and felt cold plastic. Smooth terror.

    "Prosthetics," she said, without removing her nose from my carotid. "Works miracles."

    A few days later, Alexander Babayev, a veteran fighter pilot from Uzbekistan and soon to run for mayor in his native Tashkent, was found dead in his London hotel room. I imagined Lydia poisoning his drink using her good hand, then serving it to him with a smile and a kiss.

    It is pointless for me to speculate on whether I could have done a better job on her injury that night. Instead, I hope that she abandons my world some day soon, before it spoils more of her parts. Prosthetics don't work for hearts. If hers still beats in the same human manner it did that night in Prague, then she must salvage it while she can. Even if it means I lose the meaning that springs out of our random meetings, and my thirst to see her is never again quenched.

    That is how starkly my strongest desires contrast.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  3. #3
    Justifiably inexcusable DocHeart's Avatar
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    Hey, it's that time of year again!

    46 buckets of Kit-Kats later, the LitNet Short Story Final is upon us once again.

    Five very strong stories (perhaps not as strong as last year's finalists, but that's just my personal opinion, and you know what John Wayne would say about that) posted all together in one thread.

    But above everything else, the Litnet Short Story Final means that Christmas is just around the corner. I'm hope Santa brings me one of those machines you can trim your hair with this year, with a special nozzle for doing inside my ears and nostrils.

    A happy winter to all.

    DH
    Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...

  4. #4
    Clinging to Douvres rocks Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DocHeart View Post
    ..I'm hope Santa brings me one of those machines you can trim your hair with this year, with a special nozzle for doing inside my ears and nostrils.
    Are you talking about the "Flowbee"?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66GeD...eature=related

    I'll be reading and voting over the next few weeks.
    Thanks to those who put forth the effort.
    "Mongo only pawn in game of life" - Mongo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKRma7PDW10

  5. #5
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I cannot decide between two of the stories. I'll vote as soon as I've made up my mind.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  6. #6
    Justifiably inexcusable DocHeart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilliatt Gurgle View Post
    Are you talking about the "Flowbee"?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66GeD...eature=related
    While this is certainly cool, it's just not cool enough for me.

    I'm thinking more along these lines:



    In reality, what would *truly* make me happy is this sort of device.



    But I don't want to stress Santa out, you know, financial crisis and all that jazz.

    Regards,
    DH
    Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...

  7. #7
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  8. #8
    Existentialist Varenne Rodin's Avatar
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    Fun reads. Thank you.

  9. #9
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Is this the place where you vote? Where do you vote? Is this the polling place? I want to vote.

  10. #10
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hunley View Post
    Is this the place where you vote? Where do you vote? Is this the polling place? I want to vote.
    Hi, Steven!

    Indeed this is where you vote. The stories are posted in the first 6 posts of this thread and the poll is at the top of the page if you scroll up.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  11. #11
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Sancho Voted!
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

  12. #12
    Justifiably inexcusable DocHeart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post


    Sancho Voted!


    Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...

  13. #13
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Good one, Doc.

    But now we move to the dark side of the Web. So everybody watch out, because Psycho Kitty is approaching and Psycho Kitty wants something.



    And Psycho Kitty GETS what Psycho Kitty WANTS!



    And Psycho Kitty wants YOU to vote!
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

  14. #14
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I voted!
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  15. #15
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Psycho Kitty smiles upon mona amon.


    (This is Psycho Kitty’s smiley face)
    Some people call me Maurice
    'Cos I speak of the pompatus of love

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