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Monthly Short Story Winner

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Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
 

Beren and Lúthien

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Josh Vogt

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Winner of the November 2013 Writing Contest

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 sit at a rate of about one a fortnight. Today we will be looking at the winner from our November 2013 contest.

Door is open by wojtar

Doors are portals to new places and new possibilities. They can lead you home or to exciting discoveries. They can be open and easily accessible or closed, blocking out all hope of moving forward. They can trap you or set you free. Where will the doors in your story lead?

This month, your challenge is to write a story with a door, or multiple doors in it. They can be open or closed, locked or unlocked, hidden or blatantly obvious, but they must be a major part of your story. (No fan fiction please.) Once again, we are opening the contest to both prose and poetry.

For those unfamiliar, here are the ground rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. A door or doors must be a core element in your piece.
4. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
5. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits.

You can see all the contest entries here. And here is the winning story!

– – –

“Thorns in the Garden”
by Timekeeper

She didn’t feel the thorns tearing at her flesh, only the oppressive chill as she ran heedless through the misty gloom. The archway of the garden loomed ahead like some great leviathan’s widening maw, welcoming its prey. In the dark as she ran through, it almost seemed as if the thorns clawing at her came from some fell beast, its talons holding her captive.

“The thorns are perilously sharp, my lady. I hope they did not take too precious a toll.”

Her head jerked toward the source of the voice, its haunting tone still ringing in her ears. Through the gloom she saw the figure bathed in mist. He was just as she remembered – tall but not imposing, lithe, the misty evening air swirling around him to welcome her. She was not yet close enough, but she knew what awaited – hands soft like velvet, fresh vibrant moss in his eyes looking back toward her. She felt her breath catch in her throat.

“You came again?” she heard herself ask, an echo swallowed by the mist and garden.

She was close enough then to catch his coy smile, the corners of his mouth dimpling as he spoke. “How could I not?” he asked, his rich fabrics crinkling he leaned against the garden archway. “I knew you would be here if I came.”

She paused before the threshold, watching him. “We shouldn’t keep doing this. We shouldn’t meet-”

His laugh was low and earthy, tendrils of warmth spreading through her with its sounds. “That’s what you said the last two times, my lady. Even our second time together, and that was half a year past. Come inside with me.” He held out his hands. “Give me yours.”

She hesitated, watching him through the trails of mist between them. “My… hands?” She suddenly felt her nightgown clinging tightly against her, damp and heavy with the mist. A shiver ran down her skin as she leaned against him, thoughts of the thorny hedge leading into the garden. “What for?”

He merely smiled, lifting her hands to his lips. The angry welts from the thorns softened, the crimson sinking to a rosy hue flush with her skin. In moments only the scarlet drops on her nightgown bore testament to the thorns’ toll.

“How did…?” she asked, staring down at her hands.

He shook his head. “A flower more beautiful than all others in this garden does not deserve such injury. Did your mother not kiss your wounds better when you ran to her with scraped knees and hands?” He smiled again, and she felt the warmth ripple through her. “My little belladonna. My most precious little flower.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. She felt the warmth in his hands, the pulse of the mist with each breath as she stepped forward, passing through the archway into the herb patch beyond. “You think I am?”

“How not?” His left hand tightened reassuringly over hers while his right gestured to the herbs in their beds. “The lilies and roses are drab things compared to your beauty. Sunflowers are not near so bright as your smile. The sweet peals of foxgloves’ bells in your hair, a garland of aconite draped across your neck…” He shifted the ball of his thumb over the back of her hand as a hot shiver ran up her arm.

“You must say that to all the girls you bring here,” she teased, leaning into his side. She watched his mossy eyes drink in her features and felt the nightgown cling uncomfortably to her skin. “I can’t be the only one you sing praises to.”

That earthy laughter rang in her ears again as he spoke. “Others? Common weeds unworthy of tending, the dross before your golden radiance. You are the fairest to sprout in my garden.” His free hand cupped her cheek, the tip of his thumb brushing against her lips. “Would you like to stay here?”

The corners of her eyes crinkled as she gave him an amused smile. “You’ve known that already. Of course I would.”

A mischievous gleam shone in his eyes as he listened to her answer. “Here, with me?” he asked again, his fingertips caressing her cheek.

“Yes, I told you,” she said. “You don’t need to keep asking.”

He leaned against her as his hand shifted to the back of her head, fingers brushing through her hair. “In my garden with me, here?”

She broke into an exasperated laugh, playfully shoving her hand against his chest. “What’s wrong with you? I said yes and yes and yes. What more would you want?”

He laughed again, the tone low and rumbling through her like a wave. “Thrice-agreed, then. My little belladonna is always welcome in my garden. Its doors are always open for you to enter.” He pressed forward, his lips closing over hers with a hungry feel.

Surprise took her as she welcomed the sudden kiss, her cheeks flushed from his attention. Her breath came in a gasp while she swallowed, her hands pressed to his cheeks. “I should be going,” she managed to say, her voice ringing in her ears. “It’ll be dawn soon, and my mother…”

The fingertips against the back of her head slid down her neck, caressing between her shoulders through the nightgown. “Go?” he asked, his mossy green eyes gleaming impishly. “My garden was always open to you when you came unbidden. Thrice you said you wished to stay.”

She felt a stirring within herself, a spreading warmth running as a shiver up her back. “Yes, but…”

“Then stay.” His hands lightly brushed over her shoulders, tracing along the tops of her arms. “You paid the toll to enter my garden, my little belladonna. The weeds here are nothing compared to you. Ugly little mandrakes jealous of your regal crown, stink-weeds who tremble at your fragrance. You are my shining jewel who puts these others to shame.”

She shook her head, hands sliding down to his shoulders as she edged away. “I… I need to go,” she murmured. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay tonight. I’ll be back again, but…” She took a step back, beginning to turn toward the archway, but the world spun around her as she fell into the herbs.

“Are you okay?” she heard him ask as he loomed above, pulling her to a sitting posture.

She held up a hand to wave before her face, looking toward him. “Just… dizzy,” she eked out, wincing as she rubbed at her back. “Everything was spinning, and…”

His hands were gentle as he braced her shoulders, crouching in the dirt behind her to keep her propped up. “Shh, my sweet bloom,” he intoned, one hand moving to cradle the back of her head. “You are safe here. No harm will ever come to you.” His left hand sunk to the soil below, encircling the dirt surrounding her.

“No, I have to go,” she said weakly, swaying back in his arms. “I can’t stay anymore, I have…” She tried to shift, to stand, but a tremor of panic washed over her as she looked up to him with fright. “…I can’t move.”

He shook his head, his fingers brushing reassuringly through her hair. “No, you cannot, and that makes me sad. But your beauty will always bloom and shine here. This is a good place to put down roots.”

She tried to speak but the words were caught in her throat, making no sound. A terrified expression crossed her face as she watched him, seeming as if looming above her, larger each passing moment. Her sight dimmed as she sank back against the soil, the only sound in her ears being the rustling leaves so close to her.

“My most beautiful belladonna,” he whispered, crouching against the soil. “Thrice-given, you said, and I could ask for nothing better. You are home now, my special bloom. You will always be welcome here.” He cupped the violet flower in his hands, his thumbs brushing against stem and leaves.

Rising to his feet, he dusted the soil from the knees of his trousers, bowing his head reverently to the herbs. He turned toward the archway through the hedge, closing the gate behind as he passed through. “The poet was right,” he spoke into the air, reaching out to caress the thorns lining the gate’s hedge, “This world is more full of weeping than any understand. But my garden will always be beautiful and unspoiled. They know the toll they pay when they come. You see to that.” The hedge drank in a quiet, short peal of laughter as he walked away, disappearing into the mist.

The laughter faded in the garden. The night was calm, and only the rustling of leaves and flowers remained.

– – –

Congratulations to our winner Timekeeper! If you would like to enter this month’s contest or vote for last month’s winner, check out the Monthly Writing Contest board in our forum.

Title image by wojtar.

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Winner of the November 2013 Writing Contest, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
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