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Monthly Short Story Winner: Taboos

We’ve been getting such good feedback for the short stories our members have submitted in our Monthly Short Story Competition that we have decided to post them on the main site at a rate of one a week. Today we will be looking at the winner from our June 2014 contest.

Totem and Taboo by Hartwig HKD

According to Wikipedia, taboos are “a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake, under threat of supernatural punishment.”

Great sentence. And lot’s of words in there that should let a writer’s mind overflow with ideas. In the end, taboos will be broken. Either by accident or out of great need. No matter the consequences.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. A taboo must be a relevant part of the story.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
5. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits.
6. Your entry can’t be published somewhere else first.
7. This is a writing contest, not a “I wrote something like this ten years ago” contest. So if you pick an already existing piece of your work, I’d like it to have a major overhaul/edit. Work for it. 😉
8. Please add your story’s word count and, if you have one, your Twitter handle.

June’s winning story was “Life and Death” by Elfy. He dreamed this story – something that doesn’t happen often to him – and it obviously was a powerful dream, since his story won. 🙂 Congratulations, Elfy!

You can find the other eight entries here. You can also get updates on our monthly contests on Twitter by following @ffwritingcomp. And now on with the story!

– – –

“Life and Death”
by Elfy

A group of ragged children watched the men toil on the dustbowl that was Old Man Sherman’s field. A little girl who by virtue of being the oldest child present, the leader of the group, screwed up her courage. Holding tight to her little brother’s hand, she dragged him over to a man who stood by supervising the others at their work.

“Mister?” she asked politely.

The man turned around. “Eh?”

“Whatcha doin’?” the girl asked.

The man gave the girl a disarming grin, “Well, little lady. My name is Preacher George an’ me an’ my band,” he waved at a group of four men, sitting on the bed of a truck, “we’re fixin’ to have a mass right here on this very spot tomorrow mornin’.”

“A mass?” the girl echoed. “Like with snakes an’ all?”

“The magic of life, little lady. That’s what Preacher George and his band give to people. Life itself.”

The girl looked up doubtfully.

Preacher George smiled down at her. He reached into the pocket of his threadbare trousers and came out holding a fistful of cheaply printed black and white flyers and a number of plastic wrapped lollipops.

At the sight of the candy the rest of the tribe of children came running over to the balding man in the grubby white singlet. Each child received a lollipop and a flyer, and left the field clutching their spoils with Preacher George’s exhortations ringing in their ears, “Tell your Mama and Papa, tell everyone. Come to Preacher George’s tent and witness miracles!”

* * *

While George’s abilities as a preacher could be called into doubt, he was definitely an A grade snake oil salesman, and the result of his sales pitch for his tent revival ceremony was that nearly the town’s entire, admittedly small, population found themselves seated on uncomfortable folding chairs, sweating in the musty old tent’s crowded and close interior.

“He don’t even got any snakes,” one teenager muttered to another, then yelped as his mother walloped him across the back of the head, hissing, “Hush!”

A heavy set man, with weathered features that hinted of long summer days spent toiling outside, shouted from somewhere in the middle of the congregation. “My Tammy said you promised her a miracle!”

“That I did, good sir!” Preacher George agreed.

“You a healer?” a lady asked in a cracked voice.

Preacher George looked the elderly woman. “What ails you, madam?” he asked. “Is it an ill of the soul or the flesh?”

“I ain’t got nothin’ wrong with me!” the woman asserted indignantly. “Fit as a plough horse.”

“One of the kids said you promised the miracle of life,” a thin voice floated from the back of the tent. “What does that mean?”

Preacher George looked around the tent with a twinkle in his dark eyes, and pointed at his band, who had played at the beginning of the ceremony and in breaks during the man’s sermon, which had been along the line of the travelling hot gospellers who plied their trade up and down the dusty roads that led into and out of the small mid western town.

“My guitarist is a modest man,” he said.

The tall lean man with the thin tattoo covered arms stepped forward and played a few notes on the strings of his guitar.

“There is magic in those fingers and those strings,” Preacher George began. “The magic…nay the miracle of life.”

“What ‘zactly does that mean?” another voice asked.

“He can conquer death itself!” Preacher George thundered dramatically, his fists thrust skyward.

A commotion broke out in the tent. “Aint’ no one can do that!” “Dead is dead!” “Blasphemy!” “Prove it!”

George seized on the final challenge. “Prove it? Did you say prove it, sir? I would be glad to. Does anyone have a body for me to raise?”

An uneasy laughter flickered around the tent and as it died away a small girl stood in the aisle between the seats. In her arms she cradled a small black and white bundle of fur.

Preacher George looked down at the girl, “Yes, child?”

A couple hissed at her from their seats. “Mary! Mary!”

The girl sniffled wetly and it was obvious she had been crying. Tear tracks ran down her face and her eyes were red rimmed and swollen.

“It’s my puppy, sir,” the girl sobbed. “He died. Can you bring him back?”

Eyes turned to the red-faced parents, and someone asked, “Why did you let her bring a dead dog to the service?”

“We didn’t know,” her father tried to explain. “The poor thing passed last night, and Mary hid it. We were plannin’ to bury it after the meeting.”

“Bring him up here, child?” Preacher George invited.

He took the soft bundle of fur from the girl and laid it on a rickety table.

“What is his name, child?” the preacher asked.

The girl had broken into fresh sobs. “Snoopy,” she managed to get out through her tears.

“A fine name for a dog,” George said.

He placed his hands on the dog’s body, looked directly at the tattooed guitarist and said, “You play Spike. Play for life!”

Impassively the guitarist began to play his instrument; his eyes never left George’s. The preacher’s eyes rolled back in his head and he shook violently. As the guitar notes died on the air, the small dog let out a yap, jumped to its feet and began to gambol around the table.

Mary leapt on her pet with a joyful cry of, “Snoopy!” She carried him through the stunned congregation and back to her disbelieving parents, her face being thoroughly licked.

* * *

George was showered with money, crops, food, clothing, anything of value or use. It was not every day that these people saw a dead thing brought back to life. George had a powerful magic at his disposal.

The man was counting his take and the band was packing up, when a young couple approached the preacher.

“Sir. Preacher George?” the young man asked shyly.

“Yes,” George said, those eyes twinkling merrily.

“Do you only do dogs?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is it only dogs you can raise or does the power work on people?”

“Well…I…I…don’t…”

“It’s our little girl,” the wife, a woman in her early twenties, her face aged beyond her years, explained. “She died this week. She was only a baby…and…” she stopped, her body wracked with sobs, holding onto her husband for support.

“I have done a person…once,” George said softly, “but…Well you saw what a puppy took out of me and a person, even a baby…”

“We can pay,” the man said desperately.

“It ain’t just the money,’ George protested. “It’s the notoriety, people start thinkin’ I can raise the dead, they all want me to do it, an’ I can’t say no. That’s a failin’ of mine.”

“We won’t tell no one,” the woman promised, her eyes shining.

“Yeah…well I…”

“Ten thousand,” the man said.

“What?”

“I’ll pay you ten thousand dollars. It’s all we got. My mother left it to us for the farm, but it’s for my little girl.”

“Where is she?”

“Funeral home.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

* * *

“You said after last time there weren’t going to be any more people!” Spike told his friend. “It’s hard enough with a damn cow!”

“It’s ten thousand dollars, Spike! We’ll be long gone before they figure it out.”

“I wished I’d never found this damn guitar at that crossroads and cut my finger on the string,” the guitarist muttered.

“Pay ol’ Scratch his due,” said George.

* * *

George looked down at the still little body in the tiny coffin. He brushed a golden curl away from the closed eyes, and laid his hands on it. He looked at his guitarist over the lid of the casket.

“Look into my eyes, Spike and play what you see.”

* * *

The baby slept peacefully in her mother’s arms. Spike was on his knees being noisily sick into a wastepaper receptacle. George wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow and sucked in a ragged breath. He took a wad of bills from the desperate young farmer.

“Thank you very much, young man.”

“No, thank you,” the farmer said, looking fondly at his wife and child.

* * *

“So you just found it dead in the field?” the vet asked, looking from the dead bull up at the perplexed farmer.

The man nodded. “Yeah. Damndest thing. Was the healthiest one in the herd. Musta just fell over. We came back from that revivalist meeting and there he was, dead.”

* * *

The paramedic sighed, checked the pulse and the heart, then his watch and filled in the time of death, before pulling the sheet up over the old lady’s eyes.

“And after saying how fit she was at the preacher’s tent,” remarked her neighbor as the body was loaded into the ambulance and taken to the morgue for a coroner’s report.

– – –

Congratulations again to Elfy! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for my information. Happy writing! 🙂

Title image by Hartwig HKD.

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