Abby Sy designed this astronaut pattern and named it Roberta the Astronaut in honor of Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space. Abby is a crochet designer who lives in Toronto with her dog Ollie. Read more about Abby and Hollie.
The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is Jim Hamilton!
Jim wins the amigurumi collectible shown here.
I received so many great entries, and I’ll share one more finalist’s finish as soon as I can. You also can read some of my thoughts on why Jim’s entry shone above all the rest. (It’s stellar!)
November Contest: I’ll be announcing the November contest soon! (Probably next Monday.)
I started the story below. See how Jim snatched the baton after the red line and raced to an exciting and satisfying ending!
by Jim Hamilton and Matthew Cross
I look over my shoulder in search of the dark, floating shapes. I stumble and fall face first into the crusty topsoil between rows of soybeans. It’s almost harvest time, so the plants are half a meter. Not tall, like corn, which can hide you. I groan and roll over, looking up at the pure, blue sky. No dark triangles up there.
I groan and make myself stand, even though my legs feel like jelly. My joints ache, my head aches, and I shiver. It’s the Vere. I caught it either on the DR. ERNESTO GUEVARA, which everyone calls the “Che,” or on Mars. Mars was already rife with the Vere, so it was not our fault. And Earth had it before that, so I’m not the first to bring it here, either. I’m just trying to survive it.
My facemask clouds with my breath. I’m still wearing my entire suit because I don’t want to infect anyone else. If not for my mask, I would be spitting dark, Indiana loam out of my mouth.
From behind the Old Barn and the windmill, a thin plume of smoke rises from the crash. The old, decrepit windmill still pumps the water for our irrigation. In a state full of wind turbines, the old windmill really stands out. People still use it to give directions by. It’s how I found home.
I stole a local trader on Mars. The owners didn’t need it any more. I had to pull them from the seats, but I lay them respectfully beneath a nearby ship. The trader was not made for interplanetary trips. It did not have the fuel reserves for a fast shot between two planets. But if you set your navigation correctly, you can save all your fuel for takeoff and reentry. It’s a long, slow trip—weeks—but you can make it.
I made it, but just barely. On Mars, a cop was cruising the abandoned spacefield. My takeoff was too quick. I was nervous and I’m not a pilot, so I burned a little extra fuel. Precious fuel needed for landing in Earth’s stronger gravity. But I survived the crash. If I can get more fuel, I can probably get the ship working again. I’m no pilot, but I’m a great engineer.
Still no triangles in the sky! I should be glad, but instead I shudder, a cold spike running down my spine. Is it so bad on Earth? I push myself into a run to the farmhouse. I still think of it as Granddad’s house. We lived here with Granddad, until he passed away, and then it became Mom’s. Like the generations before, we continued to farm the family land. I did my share of chores, monitoring the cultivators and irrigators at the control board while I did my homework. Once I learned some electrical, I even fixed a few machines for Dad. And, yes, I drove a John Deere harvester every fall. But once I reached midgrades, I realized I didn’t want to be a farmer like Mom and Dad. I wanted to go to space.
Still no triangles in the sky! I should be glad, but instead I shudder, a cold spike running down my spine. Is it so bad on Earth?
I stumble through the soybeans. The rows are too tall to climb over, especially in my condition. I’m forced to follow the diagonal row instead of heading straight towards the house. It’s still 100 meters away and I begin to wonder if I will make it, even without pursuers. My legs are shaking so bad. I slept the entire trip to Earth with autonav on. I ran out of food three days ago, so there was not much else to do. Between hunger, muscle stiffness and the Vere, I’m in pretty bad shape.
I focus on the white house, on Home, as I fight dizzyness and nausea. My aching muscles, atrophied for two weeks, don’t want to move. And when they move, they scream. So I don’t mind getting all nostalgic. I’m glad of the distraction, and my fuzzy brain is going there anyway. I remember telling my parents I wanted to study engineering and not FarmAg at college. It broke their hearts. They had trouble conceiving me, and I was their only child. And Granddad’s only grandchild. Once I left, there was no future generation to take over the farm.
It may not matter, now that we have the Vere. It’s sweeping across Mars, Jupiter’s moons, and Earth.
It may not matter, now that we have the Vere. It’s sweeping across Mars, Jupiter’s moons, and Earth. If it gets really bad—worst-case scenario, they say on news feeds—the remote asteroid colonies might be mankind’s only hope.
I need to get to the house. I need to get inside. Granddad was not exactly a Prepper, but he’d lived through two wars, and the basement was always stocked for the family to ride out three months. And in flush years, Dad had always made a few upgrades to the security systems. You know, just in case.
I have not heard from Mom or Dad in several weeks. Mostly because I never check in. But at the very least Mom sends me a weekly vid with any news and asks for a call back. I never call back. Only for Mother’s Day or one of their birthdays. Or Granddad’s birthday, which is kind of like MLK Day, a day to be somber and proud at the same time. But no messages from Mom for weeks.
I need to get inside. But I’m also afraid of what I might find.
My left leg suddenly gives out just shy of the end of the row. I take another tumble and this time it takes longer to stand up. My vision is going red, but my mind is so foggy, it just seems whimsical, not scary. Red. The farmhouse looks red, like it’s on Mars. I giggle.
That’s not good, says a voice in the back of my brain. You’re losing it. I giggle at the voice.
I shamble across the green dooryard, skirting Mom’s giant sunflowers. They wave joyfully in a light breeze. I wave back. When did this yard get so big? I thought things were supposed to look smaller when you went back home. The five steps to the wide porch are the hardest. I have to drag my left leg behind me, and I trip over the top step. I flail and stumble my way to the screen door. It opens with my voice authorization.
I limp to the kitchen as the house system greets me. “Welcome home, Cass! It’s good . . . .”
“Shut it!” I say.
“OK! You have messages. One from your parents to all employees. One to you from Mom and one to you from Dad.”
“Play the first one,” I say.
I hear Mom’s voice, weak but trying to be cheerful. She says they are OK but they are showing symptoms. They are headed into town to see the doctor. It’s a couple week old, but I sigh with relief. They might be OK. They might just be in the hospital.
I peek out the window and I finally see them. Just two tiny triangles, but one is already veering off to the left. I think maybe it’s headed to another farm, but it just keeps going down at a diagonal until it crashes in a field of wind turbines. The lead ship comes straight ahead, following my smoke plume.
The red haze I’m seeing starts flashing and I suddenly realize it’s the HUD in my mask telling me I’m out of air. I rip it off and take deep, gasping breaths, trying not to hyperventilate as I do so. Almost immediately, I can feel my head clearing, and I’m beginning to function more normally again.
I look up and see the triangular attack ship headed straight for the farmhouse. At any moment, a deadly heat ray will flicker out and incinerate the house—myself included—and turn it into ash.
I look up and see the triangular attack ship headed straight for the farmhouse.
Helpless, I steel myself for that moment, watching the ship coming closer and closer. “Why isn’t it firing?” I ask myself.
The nose of the craft has dipped down and it’s no longer coming straight for me. In surprise, I watch as it crashes into the ground about a hundred yards away, just like the other one I’d seen. Maybe it has something to do with the wind turbines.
I’m thinking more clearly now, but I’m still lightheaded from lack of food, so I heat up a light broth and sip at it while I play back the other two messages from my Mom and Dad. Both are trying to sound optimistic, but they’re in stage three of the Vere. Maybe a few more weeks or a month to live.
I cautiously consume a protein shake and, feeling better, leave the house to check the wreckage of the alien ship. It had plowed into the earth, partially burying itself and I approach it cautiously. The cockpit is open and I can see the pilot inside. As I lean over to see more clearly, the chitinous head turns in its helmet and three eyes glare out at me.
I freak out and, without even thinking, pick up a large rock and bring it down on the faceplate of the helmet. I expected it to break open, but instead, it causes a narrow crack through which a green gas sprays into my face. I gasp in surprise and inadvertently inhale a good portion into my lungs. It burns like fire inside my chest, and I cough and cough, falling to the ground.
I must have blacked out.
When I come to, the sun is low in the sky. I stand up and stretch and marvel at the fact that I no longer seem to be suffering from the Vere. The aches and pains and nausea and headaches are all gone. I lean over the now lifeless pilot and find the bottle attached to its mask. I can see several more behind it in a rack. There is no doubt in my mind that they hold the cure for the Vere.
It makes sense that they would infect a planet with a virus to which they, themselves, were already immune. I head to the barn to get the truck so that I can get these bottles to the Quarantine Center in time to save Mom and Dad.
We’ll all be home soon.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Jim and I wrote together. What a fun collaboration!
For one more fun ending to this story, look for the featured finalist’s version in a separate blog post next week. Also next week, we’ll reveal the November Contest story beginning and the new prize!
Finally, if you enjoyed Jim’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.
Matthew Cross and Jim Hamilton
If you read the collaboration story Jim Hamilton wrote with me, you probably already know why I chose him as the winner for my October Contest. He wrote a great ending to the story!
All the October submissions were great! Next week, I will share one finalist’s story that you will also enjoy.
If you loved Jim’s version of the story as I did, you don’t need reasons to love it. But here is the 1 big reason it was chosen as the winner.
1. It’s the ending!
Here’s one thing I’ve learned in running a finish-my-story writing contest: Pick an open-ended premise and leave it wide open. Let the contestants choose their own direction.
It’s not fun or exciting if there is only one possible ending. If I write the hero into a corner with only one way out, there’s no surprise for the reader. There’s no anticipation.
And it’s worse for the contestants. If there’s only one possible ending, what fun is that to write? Then it just becomes a matter of style. Who can write this one ending with the most flair?
So I’m constantly surprised by the endings that contestants come up with. The variety of endings surprises me every time, even though I plan for a story with endless possibilities!
Jim took me by surprise and I bet he got you, too! For whatever reason, I had imagined the “dark triangles” would be ships of local law enforcement. I figured they were headed towards Cass to enforce some kind of global quarantine. But, I try to include concrete details that are still open to interpretation. I want to leave a lot of room for my contestants to take a different view, a different approach, and give it all a different spin.
Jim did not disappoint!
He decided that the “dark triangles” were ships of an alien species, a dangerous enemy and the source of the Vere. Fantastic!
As I lean to see more clearly, the chitinous head turns in its helmet and three eyes glare out at me.
But wait, it gets better still!
I freak out and without even thinking, pick up a large rock and bring it down on the faceplate of the helmet. I expected it to break open, but instead, it causes a narrow crack through which a green gas sprays into my face.
I love this! In just a few sentences, Jim whips us back and forth. Cass is safe! No, Cass is in jeopardy! Wait, is Cass safe?
Then, BAM! It turns out Cass has found the cure for the Vere and will save the planet!
I didn’t even know if Cass could possibly make it to safety when I stopped writing my portion of the story. I really had no idea how to get Cass out of this jam. I left that task for my intrepid contestants.
And Jim delivered.
I’m offering 3 prizes for the October Contest. Learn all about the contest here.
- Purple Sugar Skull
- White Sugar Skull
The winner of the contest gets the first pick. And the other two prizes are available for the top two finalists.
I wanted to share 3 more story endings from the September Contest. These excellent writers came up with their own fascinating and fun endings.
But first, the October Contest has just begun. The deadline is October 15, 2020, so you have plenty of time to read the story and write your own ending in 500 words or less. It’s lots of fun and if you enter, you may win a prize!
Also, in honor of Halloween, I wrote a story beginning that’s a little bit scary, in a very Sci Fi way. Hope it gives you spooky chills and Sci Fi thrills!
In the meantime, let’s get back to the September Contest finalists.
If you have already read the story beginning or the winning version of the story with a beginning and ending, then you’re ready to read these 3 different endings by different writers. Remember, here’s where we left Jess:
So it was merely by luck that he was sitting on the back deck after graduation, drinking a beer and peering up into the sky, that he saw it.
by Emae Church
At first, he thought it was a firefly, glowing in the dark above him.
But this burning object was growing.
As if on cue, the crickets hushed and the wind held its breath.
Jess’s eyes filled with a burning glow, reflecting the pending doom racing towards him.
He should have scrambled for cover, screaming for his life; his safety.
But he didn’t.
The scorching rock arrested any thoughts to flee. You won’t escape me, it taunted through Jess’s mind.
Even as the heat evaporated the tears and sweat from his face, Jess had a final thought…
Graduate killed by comet…
This is sure to hit global press…
Everyone will remember me.
by Ava Chisling
A light blinked back at him. Jess froze. He closed his eyes tight and then opened them slowly. He wasn’t a big beer drinker–or any kind of drinker, really–and so he wondered if he was imagining things.
The lights blinked again. Three short bursts. Jess leaped out of his chair to find his phone. Where is it? He had to record this.
He pushed everything off the patio table. Nothing. Patted his pockets. Empty. The lights blink again.
He panicked. He wanted to ask his roommate for help but couldn’t. He was already considered a bit of an outcast on campus, and blinking alien lights wasn’t going to help.
Jess gave up on his phone, grabbed a pen from his backpack, and held it above a soiled beer coaster. He leaned all the way forward, so as not to miss the order of the lights–or the coaster.
He waited. Nothing. He waited some more. Nothing. The pen shook in his hand. He bent over further, his nose practically touching the screen.
“WTF?” he exclaimed out loud. “Come ON!”
After 15 minutes that felt like 94, Jess threw the pen so it slid off the table and he sat up.
“EFF!” he said. “Just EFF.”
Jess was just about to close the screen when the lights flashed again. This time three long blinks.
Just what IS this? Jess thought to himself.
He knew first hand that hacking was a thing in college. And while intercepting laser light communications may not be the most popular activity for students–finding sexy selfies wins that prize, obviously–the fact was, he was in a science program and perhaps someone was having a laugh at his expense. Maybe he was being live-streamed right then and people were crushing him with comments.
Or worse. He was a meme. And he’d gone viral.
Or maybe it was nothing. A reflection. Or a nerd like him in another country, on another continent, also trying to “reach out.”
It all sounded so stupid. Maybe it was.
He sighed and turned off his screen. Dejected, Jess headed back into his flat, sipping his half-empty warm beer. He entered the living room and said goodnight to his flatmate who didn’t look up from his ipad. Jess headed down the hall into his room and closed the door quietly behind him.
He slipped into bed fully dressed, wondering what in the world happened, if anything at all.
On the patio, the lights blinked again. Three. Short. Spurts.
by Jim Hamilton
A pale white dot in the blackness that turned out to be much closer than it initially appeared. A moment later, it hovered right in front of him, a glowing sphere about the size of a softball.
Jess dropped his beer in surprise as the ball orbited around him, turning his head to follow its trajectory.
“Hold still while we scan you!” commanded a voice in his head.
Instinctively, he froze and held still as the orb circled his body several times.
“Now think a happy thought!”
Jess remembered the smell and taste of the warm apple pies that his Mom used to bake.
“Now think a sad thought!”
In spite of himself, his Mom’s passing and her funeral caused tears to well up in his eyes. He tried to ask a question, but discovered that he couldn’t move his lips.
“What do you fear most?”
He pictured himself dying—his biggest fear of all, of course. The glowing ball shot upwards and receded from sight, leaving Jess alone on the deck again.
He shook his head, thinking that he must have dozed off. He leaned down to pick up his fallen beer and went into the house to get another one.
After clearing the atmosphere, the probe jumped home to Tau Ceti, where the scans it had collected were analyzed.
“Looks like we have a winner here,” said Krexx.
Jaylee nodded. “Their needs are simple and their primitive brains are easily controlled.”
Krexx opened a comlink to their sector chief and her holographic image appeared before them.
“We’ve got nearly eight billion air breathers, Mum. They’re a ninety-eight percent match to our optimum profile.”
“Ninety-eight percent? That’s some prime stock, you know.” She grinned. “At a thousand credits a head, I don’t need to tell you what that means for us.”
Krexx returned the grin. “Just remember whose idea it was to check out the source of those light bursts.”
“Don’t worry, Krexx, you’ll get your usual bounty.” With a final wave, she cut the connection.
Jaylee opened a link to their Chief of Collections. “Hi there, Jemal. We’ve got a new job for your team. I’m sending you the coordinates now.” He smiled. “There’s nearly eight billion of them, so make sure that you take enough arks.”
“Got it!” replied Jemal. “I’ll let you know when we’ve finished collecting them.” He dropped the call.
“Pay up, Krexx,” said Jaylee. “I told you that those laser bursts meant something.”
“That you did,” said Krexx, as he handed over a ten-credit note. “That you did.”
Please post your comments below. I’m sure these excellent writers would love to hear some kind words.