AHHHHH – I Made It to the Final Round

OMGAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

HOLY COW! I did it. I advanced to the 3rd and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge!!!! I woke up this morning to the amazing news. And. I. Can’t. Believe. It!

Hmmm…are you sure about this decision, Judges? You’ve never liked me, and now you’ve liked TWO of my stories!

You sure judgesHA! Wow…Just, wow!

Well, as you can see, I’m crazy excited about this. When I entered the Short Story Challenge last winter, my goal was to make it to round 2. I never–EVER–believed I could make it to round 3. It wasn’t even a possibility in my mind. Almost 1,000 writers entered this contest, and only 40 make it to the last round. 40! That’s the top 4%!

Oh man, deep breath.

Deep BreathI’m sure by this point you’re all wondering why my face is painted in these pics. Well, some of us competitors decided to have some fun and become Writing Warriors before the results for round 2 were announced. We dolled up our faces with whatever lipstick, eyeliner, or face paint we could find, and then posted our pics on the competition’s forum. It was a great way to show our support for one another, have some laughs, and encourage/cheer on those writers lucky enough to advance to the final round.

Good luckSo, speaking of the final round: we only get 24-hours to write a 1,500 word story. Unlike the first two rounds, we won’t have a genre assigned to us. We get to pick whichever one we want. Thank. God. The genre is always the thing that scares the bejeezus out of me (rom-com, comedy, political satire…shudder). I’ll definitely be planning on writing a suspense or horror. Those are, by far, my favorite/strongest genres. And at this stage of the game, you gotta stick with what you’re good at.

My biggest challenge this next round will definitely be the time limit. It usually takes me 24-hours just to write a semi-solid draft. So, I won’t have a second to waste. Which means I’ll likely be up most of night Friday (when the 3rd round kicks off) working my booty off, and writing like a maniac all day Saturday…Ugh, I already have an ulcer and headache thinking about it.

But, I’m a fighter, and I plan to battle through it.

So, let’s do this Round 3. Let’s dance!

Whatever, Lets do thisGood luck to all those advancing to the final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. We can do this!

If you’d like to read my round 1 and round 2 stories, here you go!

Round 1: Chasing Monsters

(Assignment: 2,500 words, 8 days, suspense, wedding, chef) 

Round 2: Over the Edge

(Assignment: 2,000 words, 3 days, mystery, debt, tour guide) 

Friday Funny with a Whoops and a Woo-Hoo

Well, look at that. It’s Friday!

Before I give you guys my regular update, I want to apologize. Earlier this week, I received a notification I hit my bandwidth limit on my Photobucket account. Without thinking, I began deleting old photos to make room for new ones. Well, that was a huge mistake. By deleting those photos from that account, I deleted them from my blog. So now most of my posts have these:

Yeah, talk about a mega blonde moment. Doh! Anyways, I’m planning to fix this, but it’s going to take some time. Sorry!

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Overall, my week was good (minus the Photobucket debacle). I’m at last feeling healthy again, though it seems everyone else around me has caught the cold I had (sorry friends and family!). Work has also slowed down enough for me to catch my breath and regain some energy/motivation for my manuscript. It took most of the week, but I’m finally getting my groove back with it. Woo-hoo! My friend, Jessica, helped out by sending me this pic:

Mister-Mittens-Big-AdventureI kept this on my desktop while I wrote to encourage a laser beam focus. It seemed to work, so thanks Jess!

I’m planning to maintain this sharp focus today, through the weekend, and into next week. Next Wednesday, however, I find out if I advanced to the third and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Now, I’m gonna be honest with you, my chances of moving on are slim. Although my story Over the Edge has received positive feedback from readers, and many of my competitors think I’ll advance, I’m not counting on it. Only 40 of the 200 remaining participants get to move on, so the odds are not in my favor.

But, who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky? If I do, then round 3 begins next Friday night. This time, competitors only get 24-hours to write a 1,500 word story. Eeks! It usually takes me 24-hours just to write a semi-solid rough draft. Suffice it to say, if I discover next Wednesday I get to advance to round 3, then my focus with my manuscript will be shattered. I’ll be too busy hyperventilating and prepping myself mentally for this crazy last round of the competition.

Anyways, here is today’s Friday Funny. One of my friends sent it to me via Pinterest, and I thought it was too perfect considering my distracted state and lack of motivation the past few weeks:

e977f5e36158e6f83a8b03d4100cdbdf-1How was your week? Did you get some writing done? What books are you reading? Have any fun plans for the weekend? Tell me, tell me!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Music Monday – I’m Alive (Reprise)

13 Tips to New Writers from Experienced Authors

Music Monday – Long Shot – Kelly Clarkson

Welcome to Music Monday! As many of you know, music contributes a great deal to my writing process. Whether it’s a song’s lyrics, beat, rhythm, or tone, I find myself constantly inspired by it.

Music-1

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been addicted to the song “Long Shot” by Kelly Clarkson. I stumbled across it while I was working on my 2nd round entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. It’s mostly the first minute of this song that I love. There’s something about the lyrics and beat that just get my creative engine revved up. So, here it is. Perhaps you’ll find motivation within it as well?

“Long Shot”

I felt it
The wire touched my neck
And then someone pulled it tighter
I never saw it coming
I started to black out and
Then someone said good morning
I took it as a warning
I should have seen it coming
So now I’ll take a chance on
This thing we may have started
Intentional or not I
Don’t think we saw it coming
It’s all adding up to something
That asks for some involvement
That asks for a commitment
I think I see it coming
If we step out on that limb
My heartbeat beats me senselessly
Why’s everything got to be so intense with me
I’m trying to handle all this unpredictability
In all probability[Chorus]
It’s a long shot and I say why not
If I say forget it I know that I’ll regret it
It’s a long shot just to beat these odds
The chance is we won’t make it
but I know if I don’t take it there’s no chance
‘Cause you’re the best I got
So take a long shot

I realize that there is all this doubting
Things we’re both scared about but
We’ll never see them coming
Throw caution to the wind and
We’ll see what way it’s blowing
And into this fully knowing
We’ll never see it coming
Until it’s much too close to stop

[Chorus]

Oh I waited for fact to come to fiction
And you fit my description
I never saw you coming
But we’ll make it

[Chorus]

You didn’t expect this
Oh you never saw me coming
You didn’t expect this
Oh you never saw this coming
I take a long shot
I take a long shot, shot, shot, shot
‘Cause you’re the best I got
Oh I’m taking this chance on you baby
I’m taking this chance on you baby
I’m taking this chance

What song are you in love with right now? Let me know! I’m always looking for new inspiration.

Friday Funny with Lots of Reading

It’s Friday? Really? Huh. Well, that’s a pleasant surprise. I guess it makes sense in retrospect, but…yeah. For once, I had a fast week. Woo-hoo!

…However, looking back now, it wasn’t that fast. Actually, it was really long, really busy, and really tiring! My week was jam-packed with working and reading. Well, A LOT of reading. On Wednesday, those of us who advanced to the 2nd round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge were given the green light to share our entries. I posted mine–Over the Edgehere, as well as on the competition’s forum (a hub for all the competitors to interact and read each other’s stories).

So far, the general feedback for my mystery has been positive.

Here are some of the kind comments I’ve received so far:

Holy sh*t! That was amazing! Forget just mystery – it was that plus a thriller, plus an action/adventure, plus suspense, plus I don’t know what else.

A cracking, swift, brutal roller coaster that’s been very well executed in just three days, bravo.

All in all, a powerfully developed thriller that keeps you guessing. A lot of surprise turns for a piece so short.

A great ride all the way to the cliff. Then even more surprise.

As far as criticism goes, there’s been a debate about one specific aspect of my story. Without giving it away, I’ll just say some people loved it, some people thought I needed to push it further, and some thought I pushed too far–ha! Just goes to show you how subjective readers can be.

Despite many reassurances, I’m still nervous the judges won’t consider Over the Edge a true mystery. And even if they do, I have little faith it will get me to the final round. This competition is intense. There’s no guessing who will advance and who won’t. I’m just grateful I made it this far.

In addition to receiving feedback, I’ve been giving lots and lots of feedback to other competitors. As of this morning, I’ve read over 20 short stories since Wednesday. It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. It amazes me how people process their prompts differently. So far, out of the six I’ve read from my heat, none of us have come close to writing the same story. Some have “detectives”, some don’t. Some are funny, some are intense. Some are gentle, some are violent. Seriously, they’re all over the map. Same goes for the seven other groups with different prompts. No two stories have been alike. Crazy!

Anyways, my plan today is to read a handful more of 2nd round entries, and then it’s time for me to cut way back and refocus on my manuscript. I knew it would take a painful hit the past two weeks with the contest, but it’s time for me to squash those distracting butterflies, roll up my sleeves, and get to work–to #WriterUp!

screen-shot-2014-03-03-at-9-58-49-amIn honor of my crazy reading week (and also opening day for you baseball fans out there) here are a couple of Friday Funnies for your enjoyment!

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96fc3727cf4effdff4f85e59e5d1868d

603675f1885b19ef3d8fc2d412ca4120How was your week? Better tell me now before I enter Hermitville this weekend with my manuscript! 😉

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Survived Round 2 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Over The Edge – 2nd Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Survived Round 2 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

I made it. I survived round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Let’s all give one big “Woo-hoo!” cheer. And, what the hell, let’s throw in an “Oh yeah, I rock!” dance.

The challenge got off to a rocky start (in a good way). My sister gave birth to my newest nephew early Thursday morning, the day before the contest kicked off. So, not only was I 100% distracted, but I was exhausted. I was awake almost 24 straight hours helping/supporting/worrying about my sister and the arrival of Cy (a late night phone call, an early morning text, a mad dash to the hospital, etc.). I was so emotionally and physically tired by Thursday night, I was worried I wouldn’t have the mental sharpness or preparedeness I needed to take on the writing contest. Thankfully, I was able to get a good night’s sleep, and I woke up Friday morning fresh and ready to go. More than ready–excited!

So, holding my breath, I opened “The Email” with my round 2 assignment:

20140328-CaptureIt-Picture

First thought? “Thank you, Lord! No political satire or rom-com.” Second thought? “Oh, oh. I’ve never written a mystery before.” Not only that, but I don’t read many mystery novels, nor do I watch any mystery/crime shows, like Law & Order or CSI. I asked myself, “What’s a ‘mystery’? Do I have to have a detective? Do I have to follow a “whodunit” standard? Are those requirements in this genre? Or are they a cliche?” I didn’t know. So I did what I always do. I said, “Whatever! I’m doin’ what I want!”

Surprisingly, I came up with a basic concept fast. Well, I figured out a location and a title, Over the Edge. I built the story from there–er, slowly. By Friday evening, I finished a butt-ugly rough draft and sent it to my harshest/best critic: my mom. She liked the skeleton of the story, but she said it was “missing something”. To figure out what that “something” was, we brainstormed together for a couple of hours. During those hours, I went from cool, calm, and collected, to “I suck. My story sucks. This all sucks!” I was certain the skeleton of Over the Edge was useless and I needed to toss it out and start alllll the way over.

Then my mom made a simple suggestion about the ending, and voila! I knew what I needed to do. I woke up on Saturday with a clear (well, clear-ish) plan in my head. Using my story’s skeleton structure, I recreated my main character and reshaped the plot to fit the ending my mom had suggested. Things came together quickly, and by noon, I had a sturdy draft. Only problem? It was 1,000 words over the 2,000 word count limit.

Hence began The Great Chop. I spent the rest of the day cutting and slashing and revising; hiyah’ing and punching and kicking. I did everything I could to chop out those extra 1,000 words…It was horrible. And ridiculous! Every draft, I only managed to delete about 100 words (2,902…2,787…2,625…). No matter what I did, I couldn’t condense the story. I couldn’t edit it down to the golden 2,000 mark.

As I pulled my hair out–er, I mean, wrote, I tried to ignore the clock. I could feel time ticking away. I could feel my Sunday deadline approaching, closer and closer, faster and faster. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…

By Saturday evening, I had a “good enough” draft to send to my beta readers. Now, I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous to send my story to them. Like Chasing Monsters, Over the Edge ended up being rather intense. I’m not sure if it’s the genres, characters, or subjects I’m assigned during these contests, but when my fingers start typing, they take me to places I’m not prepared to go. However, I’ve become a strong believer in writing stories that demand to be told. I can’t let my fears hold me back.

So, I swallowed my anxiety and sent my story off. A little while later, my beta readers’ feedback returned. Overall, they liked it! Minus a few nitpicks and a couple of confusing parts, I had a solid story on my hands. I went to bed feeling calmer and better than I had since first opening my assignment email on Friday morning.

I spent Sunday morning making a few final tweaks and re-reading my final draft of Over the Edge about five times (two times out loud). Then, I hit the submit button and collapsed.

So, there you go! I’m exhausted, but exhilarated I finished another crazy round in a NYC Midnight writing challenge. I still don’t know if Over the Edge is a “mystery”, but I did my best with it.

I won’t know until late April how it officially does in the competition. Like round 1, my chances are pretty slim to advance to the final round. Only the top 5 in each heat are chosen, so that means out of the 200 remaining competitors, only 40 move on…Yeah, not holding my breath.

Once I receive confirmation it’s okay to publicly share our stories, I’ll post Over the Edge here. If you have a chance to stop by and read it, I’d love your feedback.  

Friday Funny and Celebrations

Happy Friday everyone! For me, it’s a very, very, VERY happy Friday. Yesterday morning I became an aunt–again. Meet my new nephew, Cy!

IMG_0866This is my sister’s third boy, so…yeah. It’s gonna be a little chaotic in that household. But, it’s okay. If any family can handle chaos, it’s mine 😉 Chaos or not, we’re so excited and feel so blessed to have yet another little angel enter our lives.

Another great thing that happened this week was I found out I advanced to the 2nd round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge! The second round officially kicked off last night at midnight and runs through Sunday. During that time,  I must write a 2,000 word story based on an assigned genre, subject, and character.

So, with that said, it’s time for me to sign off and get to work. The clock’s ticking! In honor of the brainstorm session I’m about to have, here is today’s Friday Funny!

d0c6c5924b18789327fed3a8ce2e8570How was your week? I hope it was as exciting and blessed as mine!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Let’s Celebrate – Chasing Monsters Takes 2nd Place

6 Keys To Revising Your Fiction

 

 

 

 

Let’s Celebrate – Chasing Monsters Takes 2nd Place

I can’t believe it. It actually happened. I’m advancing to the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge! Only the top five in each group advance (25 people/group, 40 groups total). My entry, Chasing Monsters, took 2nd in my group. So, out of almost 1,000 people, I’m one of the 200 moving on to the second round! Wooo! Let’s celebrate! 

I’m absolutely stunned. And VERY happy! Chasing Monsters was probably the hardest story I’ve ever written. No, I didn’t spend weeks/months/years writing it, but it drained me emotionally. In fact, while writing it, I remember asking myself, “Why are you torturing yourself like this? And why are you working so hard? The chances of advancing to round two are slim to none!” Well, I’m glad I ignored those negative thoughts and worked hard anyways. It paid off!

Round 2 begins at midnight on Thursday. In round 1, I had 8 days to write a 2,500 word story based on assigned prompts (genre: suspense, character: chef, subject: wedding). For round 2, we only get days, and our word count gets chopped down to 2,000. I won’t know until Friday morning (when I wake up and look at my assignment) what my prompts will be. I’m hoping for horror, suspense, or drama, and I’m praying to God to avoid rom-com, comedy, or political satire. If I receive one of those “ugh” genres, this will be me:

As always, I’ll keep you guys posted on what happens. And, as always, your happy thoughts and positive vibes are appreciated.

Good luck to all the other competitors in round 2.

 

Friday Funny with a pinch of crazy

It’s Friday! Yippy!

As you can see, I’m very happy it’s Friday, mostly because that means tomorrow is Saturday and I’ll be able to write all day long without interruption. Well, hopefully. Interruption seems to be the theme of my life lately, and it’s really bogging down my progress with my manuscript. Between work, family obligations, life chores, blogging, writing contests, reading/reviews, I just never seem to have time to sit down and write (*cue long, frustrated sigh*). I even took Wednesday off work to try and catch up on it (and some much needed sleep), but I still didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped. I need to take a leaf out of my own book and use a variety of tips/strategies for finishing a manuscript in a timely fashion (NaNoWriMo tips – dealing with deadlines).

On the bright side, my short story, Chasing Monsters, has continued to receive (overall) positive reviews on the NYC Midnight forum. A couple of people have even suggested I submit it for publication. I think, however, I want to do something bigger with it. I have a new idea to combine Chasing Monsters with the flash fiction piece I did in the fall (Why?) for a full-length novel. It would definitely be a tough manuscript to produce (emotionally), but I think there’s potential for something really good.

Of course I also want to work on a ghost story I have in mind, as well as about three other ideas. AHHH! Too many stories to write, and not enough time! I might go crazy, guys. Seriously. I just need to win the lottery so I can stay home and write all day. Having a full-time job really slows things down, you know? Stupid bills. Stupid food and shelter and whatnot, haha.

Anyways, in honor of my overwhelmed self and the too many ideas/projects crowding my mind, here is today’s Friday Funny. Enjoy!

7f37ec33bcc88ec3b81b1fcf35ebd60aSo, how was your week? Are you making better progress with your manuscript than me? Read any good books I should know about?

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

A proud sister today – Colorado Marketing Education Teacher of the Year

Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

How to choose a point of view for your novel

Friday Funny and a touch of success

Hey, would ya look at that? It’s Friday! Time for a happy dance.

My week went pretty well–much better than last week. I’ll admit I didn’t get any writing done, but that’s because I was participating in the second (and best) part of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: reading all the amazing entries. On Tuesday, the forum on the competition’s website opened up, so many competitors, including myself, posted our stories for others to read, enjoy, and critique. Thankfully, work was super calm this week, so I was able to read, enjoy, and critique many of them. Like, over 40!…Yeah, my eyes are starting to hurt, lol.

In addition to reading stories, I received terrific feedback for my own, Chasing Monsters. So far, the general consensus has been positive! I think that calls for another happy dance 😉

Here are just a few comments people have made:

That was an incredibly suspenseful and horrifying story…”

Wow.  THAT was one of the best short stories I’ve ever…

Wow Jen!!! What a story!!! You had me right on the edge of my seat from start to finish!”

I LOVED this story.”

I wanted to let you know I am still thinking about/cringing over your story a day later. Can’t think of higher praise for a suspense story.”

Very Guillermo del Toro-esque and I mean that as a compliment.”

Wow – an espresso coffee hit of a child’s tale! (Laced with rum!)

Love your writing! This was like a modern Grimm tale!

Okay, one more happy dance? Yeah?

Success! Thank. God!

Honestly, I didn’t expect this positive response for Chasing Monsters. I was so, so, soooo nervous and “ugh” about it. Why? Well, mostly because the subject matter was so dark and intense. I’d originally plotted a different twist in my story, but when I approached that twist, my characters yanked me in a different direction–a scary, grim, uncomfortable direction. I was also anxious because I genuinely struggled with writing this story (details here), and the more I struggle with writing something, the more likely it’s horrible and needs be tossed out.

I’m glad I didn’t.

And I’m glad I trusted my characters and followed them down the bumpy, twisty path they led me.

In addition to the positive feedback, I’ve also received some awesome constructive criticisms that will definitely help me improve Chasing Monsters should I ever decide to go back and revise it…Will I do that? I don’t know. People have asked me to, but to be honest, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. It emotionally destroyed me last week and took me to dark places I never want to revisit…But, then again, I do tend to torture myself, so maybe… 😉

Anyways, in honor of my small but sweet success this week, I’ve dedicated today’s Friday Funny to my characters from Chasing Monsters.

0ace93e64f2504ec6a77f2f63ad29552Thank you to everyone who has read Chasing Monsters. I won’t know for over a month how I officially did in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Despite the positive response from readers, I’m still not holding my breath. Judging for this contest is 100% unpredictable.

How was your week? Read any good books? Make progress with your own writing? Tell me, tell me!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Done and Done – Round 1 Short Story Challenge 2014

Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry

A True Thursday Treasure – Hermione is born

Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry

Here it is! My official entry for the 1st Round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. As many of you read here, this turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I’m satisfied with the final outcome. So enjoy. If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it!

Reminder, I had to write a 2,500 word short story based on this assignment:

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“Chasing Monsters”

by Jenna Willett

Brief Synopsis: A little boy escapes his mom’s wedding to hunt fairies and imaginary monsters in the forest. Little does he know there are real monsters in the shadows waiting to pounce and swallow him whole.


“Was that thunder?”

Charlie glanced up from his second slice of wedding cake and frowned at the pigtailed girl. Annie’s blue eyes were wide and focused on the sky beyond the white tent. The black night looked even blacker against the white tables, white candles and white flowers surrounding him. Even his white suit seemed to glow against the dark.

The little boy stared into the darkness with his best friend, but he didn’t see anything. “I dunno. Maybe it was a dragon?”

“Really?” Annie gasped.

Charlie nodded and took another bite of cake. When they’d first arrived at the ginormous mountain cabin yesterday, his mom had pointed at the misty forest bordering the manicured lawns and said, “Don’t go in there, okay? There’re monsters that’ll swallow you whole.” She’d snapped her teeth and ruffled his black hair. Charlie had stared at the swaying pines, fascinated. Real monsters to hunt, battle and slay? Awesome!

Unfortunately, his new stepdad hadn’t given him a chance to find one.

Charlie scowled across the wedding tent and wrinkled his nose. He didn’t like Paul. Paul frowned too much, he smelled like smoke and toothpaste, and he always tried to act like Charlie’s dad, even though he’d never had a dad and didn’t see why he needed one now. Plus, Paul stared at him. Like, always. Charlie would look up and catch him watching him across a room or in the rearview mirror. It was weird.

But Paul wasn’t watching Charlie then. Nobody was. Not even Annie’s parents. Her dad was snoring across from him, and her mom was asking a waiter about the chef. (“I must have his card! I’m hosting a charity event…”)

Charlie swallowed his last bite of cake and slipped off his chair.

“Where’re you going?” Annie hissed.

“Meet me on the back porch.”

“But–“

He was already slipping through the crowd, quickly, before anyone could stop him. He sprinted out of the tent, across the front lawn, and into the cabin. Upstairs, he snatched his small Superman flashlight from his bedroom and stuffed it into his pocket. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, but Annie was. Plus, he didn’t want to get lost in the woods.

Charlie bolted downstairs and into the fancy kitchen.

“Hey, little man! Aren’t you suppose to be out front?”

He skidded to a halt by the back door and looked up. Mr. Harris’s round face smiled down at him while his chubby hands packed leftover meatballs into a container. Charlie stared at the meatballs. Earlier, Mr. Harris had given him a plate of them. “I added barbecue sauce for you.” The chef had winked and then told Charlie magical stories about the forest as he ate them.

The same forest Charlie was determined to explore.

Before he could think of a lie to tell Mr. Harris, the kitchen door swung open and Paul swooped in. His black gaze shot from Mr. Harris, to the bustling waitstaff, to Charlie. His bushy brows snapped together. “Where are you going?”

“Nowhere.”

Paul’s scowl deepened. He walked over and kneeled in front of him. Charlie held his breath. He hated that smokey, minty smell!

“You know your Mom doesn’t want you wandering off. Not with all these strangers around.” Paul motioned behind him.

Mr. Harris stuck his tongue out at his back. Charlie almost laughed.

“Come on.” Paul stood and held out his hand.

Charlie ignored it. “But Annie’s waiting for me. We’re gonna…catch fireflies.” It was the best lie he could think of.

“Fireflies?” Paul looked suspiciously at his empty hands. “Don’t you need a jar for that?”

“Uh…”

“Here you go.” Mr. Harris appeared and handed Charlie a jar with a wink. Charlie grinned. Why couldn’t Paul be more like him? Nice. Fun. Cool.

His stepdad glared at the pink-cheeked chef and then at Charlie. He shook his head. “You’re going back to the wedding. Now.”

“But–“

“Or I can take you upstairs and–“

The lights flickered.

“What the hell?” Paul frowned up.

“It’s probably just the comin’ storm,” Mr. Harris said. “The power acts up whenever we get a dandy.” To prove it, thunder rumbled outside. The lights flickered again.

Once. Twice. Off!

The kitchen went black. Someone gasped and dropped a plate. Mr. Harris sighed, Paul swore, and Charlie ran. He yanked open the door and crashed into Annie waiting on the porch.

“The lights–“

“I know, I know.” He thrust the empty jar into her hand and took out his Superman flashlight. “Let’s go!” He jumped off the porch and sprinted for the forest.

“Charlie! Wait! Where are we going?”

“To catch fairies!”

“Fairies?”

“Yeah, I heard they live in the trees and only come out at night!” Mr. Harris had told him so that afternoon while he’d eaten the meatballs.

Without looking back at the shouting voices inside the black house and black tent, they sprinted into the woods. Fat raindrops started falling and lightning flashed across the sky. Annie squealed, but she didn’t ask Charlie to stop or go back. They raced on, deeper and deeper into the woods until they could only hear the thunderstorm and their own breathless laughter.

“There!” Charlie stopped. “Did you see that!”

“What? Where?”

“The trees!” He tilted his flashlight up. “There!” He plucked an imaginary fairy out of the pine and wriggled it in front of Annie’s round eyes. “See?” She giggled and opened the jar’s lid. He dropped it inside.

They hunted and plucked fairies out of the trees until Charlie grew bored. He found a sharp stick on the wet ground and held it up like a sword.

“Hey, I want one–“

“Shh! Do you hear that?” He crouched and pointed the light at a clump of trees.

“No, what?” Annie whispered.

“I think it’s a dragon. The one we heard earlier.”

A growl of thunder rumbled around them. Annie gasped and clutched his arm. Charlie grinned and pictured a fire breathing monster stomping out from behind the branches.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I just need to stab it through the heart and–“

A crack of thunder exploded over their heads. Annie screamed and dropped the jar. The lid popped off and all but two of their invisible fairies escaped into the stormy sky. So did his dragon. Charlie watched it fly up, up, and away with a disappointed frown.

“Ch-Charlie? Can we go back now?”

“Back?” He lowered his sword and looked at Annie. Her teeth chattered and her blonde pigtails looked like wet spaghetti noodles. His own skin was covered in goosebumps from his drenched suit.

She nodded. “Please?”

His shoulders slumped. He didn’t wanna go back, not if it meant his mom was married to Paul. Stupid, smelly, frowny Paul who watched him too close, like he actually cared about him. But how could he? Paul wasn’t his real dad. He couldn’t really love Charlie.

A twig snapped behind them. Charlie spun around and aimed the flashlight at another clump of trees. The branches rustled. Unease crept up his spine. Had his dragon returned? Or was this another monster? A real one?

“I wanna go back!” Annie squeaked. “Please, Charlie? Please?” She yanked impatiently on his arm.

“Okay!” He gripped his sword and slowly backed away from the trembling pine needles.

The ground had become slippery and slimy, and they were forced to shuffle along. Even then, Charlie fell once and Annie dropped the jar of fairies twice. One of them escaped as another twig snapped behind them. He swung the light around.

“Charlie–“

“Shh!” He held his breath and searched the shadows, certain he’d find a beast…But there was nothing. He lowered the light, confused. Was it all his imagination? Sneaky goblins and mischievous fairies? Or was there a real monster out there? One that could swallow them whole?

“Here.” Charlie gave Annie the flashlight and gripped his sword with both hands. She happily took it and started walking again–fast.

“Hey, slow down!” he yelled when she’d gotten too far ahead of him.

“Hurry up!”

“I’m trying–” His foot slipped on a rock, and with a surprised yelp, he tumbled over. Mud soaked into his knees and pebbles scraped against his palms.

“Charlie?”

“I’m fine!” He groped around for his dropped sword while looking over his shoulder at the shadows. He swore one was moving closer and closer to him. Fear churned the wedding cake in his belly.

“CHARLIE!”

Annie’s bloodcurdling scream pierced him at the same time something big landed on his back. It shoved Charlie to the ground and crushed him beneath its suffocating weight. He cried out as its sharp paws sunk into his suit and its hot breath puffed against his neck.

Charlie whimpered, too terrified to move.

“Get off him!” Annie’s shrill cry was followed by a dull thunk and a howl of rage from the monster. It sprang off of Charlie. He rolled over and froze.

Annie was gone.

And she’d taken his Superman flashlight with her.

He blinked into the pitch-black, only broken by an occasional flicker of lightning. Charlie’s quivering fingers scrabbled through the mud until they found his sword. Relieved, he stumbled to his feet. But he didn’t know what to do, where to go. Which way was the cabin? His mom? Paul? Suddenly, his stepdad’s stern watchfulness seemed warm and safe.

Lightning flashed overhead. The woods lit up.

Charlie screamed.

A monster was barreling towards him, white and vicious and huge! He dove around a tree. “HELP! HELP! HEL–” The monster’s claws tore into his shirt and tackled him to the ground. Charlie rolled over and stabbed upwards.

“Shit!”

He stilled, stunned by the familiar voice. “M–Mr. Harris?”

A blue bolt illuminated the chef’s pink face. Charlie stared up at it, speechless. What was Mr. Harris doing there? And why was he attacking him? And why was he looking at Charlie like he wanted to swallow him whole?

“Naughty boy.” The chef yanked the stick out of his shoulder and flung it away. “Very, very naughty.” He licked his lips and winked at Charlie. Winked, just like he’d winked at Charlie a hundred times that day. The cake rolled in his stomach again. He didn’t understand. He’d only ever battled goblins and dragons, not men who liked to smile and wink.

“You should’ve gone back to the wedding like your daddy told ya.” Mr. Harris leaned down and shoved his nose into Charlie’s hair. “You smell so damn good. And you taste like sugar.” He licked Charlie’s cheek.

The cake burned the back of his throat. Charlie swallowed the bitter sweetness to scream for help again.

“Shhh!” Mr. Harris covered his mouth. “This’ll be our secret.” He began pawing at Charlie’s muddy clothes. “Our little, itty-bitty secret.” He reached lower and fumbled with Charlie’s belt. He yelped and started thrashing and kicking.

It was useless. He couldn’t fight this type of monster. Mr. Harris was too big, too strong. Too real.

Charlie closed his eyes and pretended he was on a ship sailing across an ocean with Annie. Annie, who was probably dead. Dead because he’d been angry with his mom for marrying Paul. Paul, who cared enough about Charlie to warn him to stay close because the wedding was full of strangers. Strangers, like Mr. Harris, who liked to wink and kiss his throat.

“Get off my kid, you sick fuck!”

The furious roar echoed through the forest. Charlie’s eyes snapped open as another shadow sprang from the trees. It dropped its flashlight and yanked Mr. Harris off of him. For a moment, Charlie was too shocked to react. Then he crawled to the flashlight and aimed it at the two snarling men.

“Paul?” Charlie gasped.

“Run!” his stepdad ordered. “Go! Your Mom’s through there.” He jerked his head in the direction he’d magically appeared. Charlie was too numb to argue. He stood up to retreat, but tripped over a stick. He looked down. His sword! He swooped it up in a thankful grip.

“The kid was beggin’ for it,” Mr. Harris hissed. “He wanted it!”

“How dare you, you twisted piece of–“

The chef slammed his fist into Paul’s furious face. Blood sprayed out his nose and he collapsed with a muddy splat. The chef grabbed a rock and lifted it up.

“No!” Charlie lunged forward with the sword raised. Mr. Harris was a monster. A real, living breathing monster. He needed to be stabbed through his cold, evil heart, and slain just like any dragon or goblin.

A screeching purr paralyzed him.

From the shadows behind Mr. Harris, a ball of fur leaped out and wrapped its paws around him. The chef shrieked and twisted away, but it was too late. The bigger monster sank its razor-sharp jaws into his neck and thrashed its head side-to-side like a dog with a chew toy. Charlie gaped at the red-black blood gushing from Mr. Harris’s ripped throat, entranced and horrified.

Mr. Harris’s thrashing body slowed to violent twitches. Charlie stared into the dying monster’s eyes. They winked at him once more before dimming forever.

The wedding cake finally came up, vanilla chunk after vanilla chunk. Charlie kept heaving even after Paul picked him up and carried him away. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he repeated until they reached a group of shouting voices and blinding flashlights. Amongst them was his mom. Her white wedding dress was smeared with mud, and something black streamed down her cheeks.

“Charlie, Charlie. Oh my God, Charlie…” She hugged and kissed him and didn’t let go until they’d reached the cabin.

It wasn’t until much later, after the cops had talked to Charlie, a doctor had examined him, and his mom had put him to bed that his queasy numbness began wearing off. He stared at his nightlight and listened to his mom crying down the hall. She kept sobbing the word “Therapy”, while Paul’s deep voice comforted her with, “He’ll be okay.”

Hearing his steady voice warmed Charlie’s chilled heart. Paul really did care about him. No, he loved him. He always had. Charlie could accept that now, and he was thankful the smoky, minty man had married his mom.

Charlie sighed and looked down at the jar in his hands. Annie had asked him to keep an eye on the last invisible fairy while she went to the hospital. They’d found her huddled beneath a tree with a broken arm. She’d sworn a werewolf had crushed it after it had chased her away from Charlie.

Nobody had bothered to correct her, not even Charlie.

He opened the jar’s lid. The fairy flew out and fluttered around the bedroom until it found a crack and escaped into the night. Charlie watched it fly away with a heavy heart. It would be the last imaginary creature he ever believed in. After that night, he’d never pretend again. He didn’t need to.

Mr. Harris had proven monsters were real.


To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen Page.

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