By Sherri Matthews
Well, we asked for travel stories with a twist, and we got ‘em. Thank you so much to all who entered, 29 in all. You’ve taken us around the world (twice), to Rome and through most of Europe, to Morocco, Lima, on sun-drenched holidays including the Caribbean and Hawaii, up mountains, along the coast, to a Harry Potter conference in San Francisco, a monastery, Lake Michigan, Key West, Rock Springs and the weird and wonderful Garbled Creese. We’ve walked, ran and hiked, and travelled by car, cruise ship, plane, bus, motorhome, and broomstick.
The high quality and enjoyment of every story, however, did not make it easy for the judges. I don’t like this part of the job! First, I verified every story’s word count and sadly had to eliminate 2, one just under, one just below 99 words. Then we narrowed it down with each of us separately selecting our top three. Out of our new total of nine, I cross-matched those stories chosen by more than one judge. Out of those, we deliberated and found our winner, second and third places, and we then each chose one Highly Commended.
So here goes, and huge congratulations to all:
First Place: A Visit with Grammy, by Colleen Chesebro, who wins a cash prize of $25
Jess ran. She couldn’t miss this bus, or Grammy would worry at her late arrival.
She stumbled into the queue as a woman towing a wheeled suitcase pushed past her. Jess swerved to miss it, whacking the woman’s elbow with her own. She stepped out of the way and bumped into the man in front of her.
“Sorry,” Jess muttered.
“Ouch! Who’s there?” asked the woman.
“It wasn’t me,” said the man.
Then, Jess remembered. They couldn’t see or hear her, only feel her ghostly touch. She didn’t need to ride the bus to visit Grammy – she flew.
We all agreed that this flash expertly spins an everyday setting into a wonderfully unexpected ghostly twist that we didn’t see coming and all in 99 words. A fantastic, fast-paced read showing through dialogue the confusion between Jess, the man, and the woman. Not only did the writer surprise us at the end, but Jess too, as she remembers she is a ghost. Sweet, but sad too; hope Grammy is comforted by Jess’s ghostly touch. Beautifully told, as Hugh adds, ‘It took me by complete surprise with its ending. As soon as I got to the ending, a smile appeared across my face because I loved what the author had done and the journey they had taken us on…perfect in every way.’
Second Place: By Frank Hubeny, who wins a copy of the ‘Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol I.’
James had just enough cash to fill the tank of his pickup. He started up the ramp to the interstate when he saw the couple in the dark wave him down. He stopped, but he didn’t expect them to ask to be taken to Canaan, over a hundred miles away. At this time of night there would be few cars. She was pregnant.
He brought them to their rundown apartment.
While driving back James wondered why he was asked to help those two angels in the north woods. He never saw them again, but they never left his side.
What immediately struck the judges is the way the writer so cleverly evokes a hint of the ‘nativity’ through its modern-day setting. As Mike says, ‘This story brings to me, a powerful telling of the unseen and unexpected reward for selfless giving by helping strangers who are lost and cold.’ I imagine James driving back home, alone on the road with few cars late at night, thinking about his encounter. Just as his angels never left his side, neither did this beautifully moving story leave us.
Third Place: Time Travel, by Faith A. Colburn, who wins a copy of Hugh Roberts’ short story collection, ‘Glimpses.’
Exploring Grandma’s house, I set a ladder into the attic. As if waiting for me, a leather-bound journal appeared in a stray sunbeam next to the ladder. Opening it, I journeyed back to 1886. With Great-Grandma, I watched workmen lay limestone foundation stones, level them, and frame the two stories with gables. She couldn’t wait to move into her very own space. At the end, she wrote that things started moving mysteriously. She heard noises. She described a ghost in the attic: brown hair, green eyes, dressed like me. She even noticed my silver barrette—her barrette I inherited.
We all enjoyed this story greatly, reminding me of one of my favourite films, ‘The Others’ and the question, who are the real ghosts? But it is the way the writer so beautifully crafts the story through the eyes of the young woman reading Great-Grandma’s journal that makes this such a fascinating time travel story with a twist. It evokes a sort of parallel universe, where glimpses of ghosts from the past and the future are revealed in the present. Mike could almost smell the mustiness as he soaked up the atmosphere in Grandma’s attic. Hugh loved the description of the stray sunbeam pointing out the leather-bound journal as if it were a signal from the past. A fantastic trip down memory lane.
Now to our Highly Commended stories.
Untitled by Tracey Robinson
The greenhouse effect was brutal in the car and Lindsey’s three year old howled with misery. It was a long drive from Montana to Arizona. Spying a park at the next exit she found a deserted, shady playground. Soon Katie was worn out. “Want ice cream?” Lindsey asked Katie.
As Lindsey strapped Katie into her car seat she felt dizzy and decided to find a place with air-conditioning. She closed the car door and collapsed, her head bouncing off the pavement. Katie’s wails went unheard as the temperature in the car climbed and then she too succumbed to death.
Hugh’s Comments: This is a story about what many of us in today’s’ world believe is happening. Although it had a brutal twist, it is so near a situation that could well be just around the corner, and a truth that many of the people of today will experience whether they become victims themselves, or hear or read a story about the events that unfold in this story. It had me smiling while I read it because it was a lovely, happy story about a mother and her new baby on a typical day out. I was comply astounded by the ending, even though it’s an ending that has hints of real truth consequences of what is happening to our planet.
Untitled by Nidheesh Samant (The Dark Netizen)
This was it, the conclusion of my long journey.
I was tired of the slum I was living in. It was suffocating, seeing the same sad faces every day. I could not continue living in the darkness as my family did. One day, I left my home and decided to travel to the glamorous big city. I managed to hitchhike at a highway diner.
As I reached my destination, I thanked the man in the only way I knew how. I drank his blood. Now it’s time to live my dream of spreading dengue and malaria in the city.
Mike’s Comments: I enjoyed this very well written story greatly for its stealthy, surreptitious mood. Concise and punchy, the writer took me on a journey that filled me with a sense of foreboding from the start and concluded with its wonderfully doom-filled twist. This is one hitchhiker I hope never to encounter out on the open road.
Homeward Hike by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Above the timberline, stunted trees of high altitude are little more than memory. As far as the eye can see, reindeer moss is sparked with tiny white flowers and golden clusters of cloudberry. My boots crunch and drag across sharp gravel. I should break for steaming tea and chocolate squares, gather cloudberries, and save my orange.
The final peak stands stern above the clouds.
No stop, berries abandoned, I emerge, eyelashes ice-coated, blinded by sunset. I’ve made it from filthy city to purified mountain top, in time for transport.
I lift my hands to the pulsating beam of light.
Sherri’s Comments: This beautifully crafted story has an ethereal, dream-like quality. Through its highly defined description, I imagine a woman hiking up a mountain, which is ordinary enough albeit challenging, but the key is in the title: she’s going home. But where is home? My intrigue grows as she hikes ever higher, not stopping, at last reaching her destination. But then the writer mentions transport. At the top of a mountain? The answer lies in ‘the pulsating beam of light.’ In the final ten words, the writer reveals that the woman’s home is otherworldly and her spaceship awaits. A fantastic travel story with a twist I did not see coming.
You can read all the entries at Carrot Ranch under the Rodeo tab.
And that wraps up this Travel with a Twist contest. Time to unpack and attack the laundry but first: Thank you so much, Charli, for honouring me with the privilege of leading a contest at the Rodeo for a second year running. Big thanks also to my fellow rough writers here at the Ranch and my wonderful community at the Summerhouse, for all your amazing support throughout of all the contests. And of course, a massive thank you to my lovely, stalwart co-judges, Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts – couldn’t have done this without you, no way. Congratulations, one and all; let’s ride and write like the wind until the next time!