It pains me to have been forced to judge an affair as middle class as a first paragraph contest. Are we now to share our inner thoughts with one another in public? Are we all artists, running naked in the streets? How horrid.
Lord Bransford told me that the caliber of entries was the best he’d ever seen in any of his contests, but I found them all perfectly dreadful. If I had to choose a winner it would none of them. I would hate for people to be left with something as pointless as ambition.
However, Lord Bransford informed me that I must choose a selection of finalists, though why he didn’t write a will with these instructions and leave them in the care of an unreliable heir I shall never know. All instructions of import should be argued over at great length over the course of many years. What else shall we aristocrats do with our time? Learn to cook?
There were many common threads in these entries, perhaps the most common of which is death in far too many forms. I am all-too-familiar with death having frequented the halls of Downton Abbey, where one must check one’s pulse at regular intervals lest you realize you’ve been afflicted with a mysterious disease and perished before they could even put away the silverware. Luckily I shall outlive you all because you cannot kill the witty.
A weakness in many entries was an excess of chattiness, which I simply cannot abide. Save it for the gallows, where you shall doubtless end up with such excitable loose lips.
Another common trope was that if only the narrator had known what was about to happen then everything would have been quite different. Why yes, I do suppose that if one were a fortuneteller quite a bit about life would be rather different. But we don’t walk around gazing into crystal balls, do we? Life is interesting enough as it is, one needn’t be so surprised by it all.
Sighing, gasping, waking up, and looking into mirrors were all abundantly accounted for in these paragraphs. I began to wonder if I were reading descriptions of a typical morning for my granddaughter Lady Mary.
And dare I say there is much about England that is changing these days but I’m quite certain the definition of a “paragraph” has not changed. There were far too many revolutionaries who chose to ignore the strictures of the English language. I cannot abide revolutions, everyone winds up disappointed in the end.
Now, these are the honorable mentions, who will be allowed henceforce to bring me tea in the library, provided they are properly attired and have not engaged in any previous desultory behavior.
The instructions for voting is as follows. I argued with Lord Bransford that no women should be involved in something as sinister as voting, but he insisted that it be open to all. These are vulgar times indeed.
In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until Sunday, 7pm Eastern time to vote. Kindly do not e-mail Lord Bransford your vote (gracious me, what is “e-mail,” is it some sort of ghastly dance?).
There shall be no campaigning in private or public for yourself or your favorites, and suspicious voting may result in disqualification. Participating in this entire exercise should well be grounds for disqualification, but I suppose it’s far too late for that.
Anonymous commenting will be closed for the duration of the voting to ensure transparency. The winner shall be announced on Monday.
The eight finalists are…
The Mazda hit ice. Carter cursed, fought for control, lost it in kaleidoscope swirls, and the vehicle hurtled down a steep bank, jamming Tori against seat and headrest. Terror strangled her heart, breath refused to come and let out her screams. Stillness as the car stopped, engine running, headlights shining on pristine snow. Relief caught laughter in Tori’s throat, until she realized where they’d ended up. The Coldwater River. Confirming her fears, ice cracked loud as a pistol shot. Carter undid his seatbelt. Tori depressed the button on hers. It refused to give despite her frantic efforts. Carter opened his door, got out the car, then bent to peer back in. “Goodbye, Tori,” he said.
Peter had seen strangers in the road before, but there was something different about this man…something sinister. Most people passed on their way without a thought for what might lie on the opposite bank of the river that ran beside the road, but this man, in his tattered cloak that fluttered restlessly around him, stood bent and still. He seemed to be staring at a spot on the edge of the road, as if he knew that was where a bridge should begin.
It was a good day until fire started falling out of the sky. The sun was just up, and the leading edge of the spring burn was behaving exactly as the kindlers had predicted, which was a relief, because this was Thus’s first year as an outrunner. Ahead, he could hear the high whistles of his herd of capas, and see their broad silver backs parting the grasses, leaving gleaming, vee-shaped wakes behind them. They moved toward the firebreak restively, but without panic. He supposed they must have grazed their way back across it in the night. It didn’t matter. This was the one day that Thus and the other stewards didn’t need to be responsible for their small allotments of the People’s larger herd. A capa could keep out of the way of fire more easily than the People, because capas weren’t responsible for putting it out. He still felt a wash of protectiveness, though. He’d delivered some of the young for the first time this year, turning their tapering heads and soft, wrinkled paws to lie correctly along the birth canal before drawing them, dark and shining, into the world, where the rhythm of their mothers’ hearts gave way to the susurration of the grasses.
She was a striking girl, all shadow and stillness. Judith watched her carefully. Twenty years teaching middle school had taught her the subtler ways to approach them, the ones who wore solitude like a shell. If you look away, they disappear. But if you look too close, they withdraw. You have to learn to look sideways.
Delia walks over to the couch where I’m sitting, asks me, “Seriously, why’d you manslaughter your baby?” I tell her she already knows I don’t know. “Huh,” she considers as she crosses her arms. Her hair a tangle of grey curls. Maybe, maybe-not Delia has room to judge: she manslaughtered her mother, who was eighty-three.
Time is a funny thing. People often discover this quite young. You can be in time, on time, buy time, waste time, but you can never trust time. Even though some folks will claim time’s on their side, or their ally is time, or they have time, time doesn’t know them from any other of the trillion souls that live and breathe upon the earth. Time is oblivious to us and likes it that way, thank you very much. “Time,” as most people know it, is purely a manmade manifestation of numbers on a watch or shadows on a sundial, even radioactive isotopes oscillating rain or shine, but Time itself is as elusive as the future to a dying man. We desperately seek to control it, manipulate it and force trains to run to it, but as we never understand from whence the universe came or where it’s going, we’re lost in contemplation of Time’s vagaries. For instance: the past can be as alive to a person as the present, seeming to exist as one within the eye of the observer, just as Einstein posited. To those who insist upon it, time – the present and the past – can be experienced simultaneously. Bartholomew Lewis was just such a man.
I would have given Mom a good-bye hug, but StepThad’s arm rested across her shoulder. Like the two of them were glued together. Double hug or nothing.