Iron Writer 2015 Spring Equinox Open – She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

I did not win my bracket for the Iron Writer Challenge and won’t be advancing forward in the competition. But I did win the popular vote in my bracket. I just didn’t wow the judges. Below is my entry for the The Iron Writer Challenge 2015 Spring Equinox Open — The Kurt Vonnegut Bracket. Entitled “She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through” my entry is a continuation of the story I started with “Carried Away By a Moonlight Shadow” which was the winning story for the Iron Writer Challenge 102. You might recognize the titles of these stories as the lyrics of a song…I do plan to continue the story on from here; I have an outline that will eventually be a longer short story.

The Required Elements

  • Artemis
  • A Dilettante
  • Jello Wrestling
  • A Moon Rock


She Couldn’t Find How To Push Through

When the ghost that lurked in her home was eaten by shadows, she began to doubt she had ever seen him at all.

The quiet old house became alien. She couldn’t make the finish on the second floor bannister match and three posts had to be re-turned. She began to doubt herself; she was a dilettante. Her plaster work was uneven, and she couldn’t sand and smooth it properly. Maybe seeing him was mold-induced madness from this house. Weeks passed. In frustration she left off restoration and began cleaning out the attic. She daydreamed of a beach somewhere warm.

It was April when she saw him in the mirror above the fireplace, when the moonlight hit it from the plate glass window in the parlor. Her own reflection was missing. His pale face was pressed against the glass; his expression one of terror, body hidden behind the fireplace as though it were a wall. She touched his hand against the glass and felt it give. She could feel him for a moment, until the shadows in the room behind him came to life and dragged him away as they had that night in the kitchen. The next night the same thing happened, and every night until the moon waned. Her reflection reappeared.

In May she was ready. The jeweled pin he left behind had no reflection either. She pressed it through the wavering glass, and he took it, but he couldn’t use it to banish the shadows. They swallowed him up each night, until the moon waned.

In June she used mirrors to direct the moonlight and saw him for five days instead of three, but couldn’t save him. She found his trunk in the attic. An army uniform, a sword, a photo and papers. His name was Delias. His sword had a reflection; he could not grasp it.

In July, she discovered a marble statue of Artemis from the attic had no twin on the other side. She placed a lunar meteorite in the parlor and the statue glowed an unearthly blue in the amplified light. She touched the huntress and fell inside her, and the statue grew and molded to her like armor. The air around her was thick, like wrestling through jello, but she forced her way to the mirror. Her face was unseeing stone. Catching up his sword, she heaved herself over the mantle and through into the mirror room beyond.

The shadows leapt forth immediately in response to her arrival. She stepped in front of him, brandishing his sword. A voice in her head said the weapon was wrong; Diana preferred a bow. But she did her best, cutting through the dark like fire. She banished the shadows back to where they belonged.

Danger past, she turned to him. “My darling!” he said, and put his hand to her face, but it passed through her skin. On this side of the mirror, she was the ghost.

“I’m afraid you’re trapped,” he said in sorrow.

Judge’s Feedback

Here is the spreadsheet of rankings for my story (judges names are blacked out) and the written feedback I received.

2015 Spring Open Rankings

2015 Spring Open Feedback

I’ve posted several questions about the spelling/grammar scores, given that I had the piece professionally copy edited, but I haven’t received any response about why they marked down to 9 what should have been 15. Lots of vague answers, but nothing specific, and a lot of deflection of my questions.

The Iron Writer’s Challenge is a flash fiction writing competition where you construct a 500 word story using 4 assigned elements. Your story competes against 4 others and is judged by official judges and also voted on by the general public. Winners compete in a tournament and stories are gathered in a published anthology each year. It’s a fun challenge to get you to flex your writing fingers, learn how to make your writing as lean as possible, and work with some potential obstacles. I wrote about my planning for the challenge here

Short fiction: Lincoln Dunwoody

Lincoln Dunwoody is a piece of short fiction I wrote in August of 2014 as an exercise for the class Scenes from a Book taught by Candace Denning at the Indiana Writer’s Center.

Lincoln Dunwoody is the guy who opens my cans for me. He likes to tell people he’s my owner, but that’s a bit of a delusion. Lincoln has trouble remembering his briefcase in the morning, and I’m building a weather machine in the spare room while he’s at work, so who owns who in this situation?

I know it seems contradictory that I’m building a weather machine and that I can’t open cans, but you’d be surprised how resourceful I am for a cat, despite the cursed lack of opposable thumbs. I can do a lot of things with my teeth, and I know how to apply basic physics – gravitational, electrical, and magnetic forces, friction, tension, air resistance, applied force, spring force. I’ve used them all in my science projects.

It’s just that damned twisting motion of the can opener that defies mastery. I tried meowing loudly near the television when the commercial for cat food that comes in pouches comes on, but Lincoln just pets my head and coos silly stuff at me like “I’m sorry, Truesdale. That is a pretty lady cat, but she’s just on TV. Someday we’ll both meet nice ladies to go out with.” I don’t need a lady, I need food I can fix myself.

Truesdale is the name Lincoln calls me. My actual name is Jake Mortlock, but it’s probably better that Lincoln doesn’t know that, in case I have to go on the lam.

Honestly, Lincoln is a bit of a lily pickle most of the time. He’s sort of round and squishy, and he hasn’t got much hair, except for a bristle of a mustache that he needs to trim more often because it ends up in his mouth when he talks. And he talks to me a lot. He likes to narrate what he’s doing, as if I can’t see it for myself as he fusses around the apartment.

Last night was really odd, though. Lincoln didn’t talk at all when he got home after work. Usually he seems resigned and drops his briefcase obliviously just inside the door, but last night he swung it merrily round in the air and flipped it on the table, did a couple of half-steps like he was dancing, and tried a little whistling. It came out odd, so he switched to humming, which sounded better, although I still couldn’t figure out if there was a tune. He dance-hummed his way into the bedroom and started undressing. I went in to watch, because it was 6 o’clock and not time for bed at all. In his underpants and t-shirt, he pulled a bag from the closet and zipped it open to lay out a black suit I’d never seen on the bed. Then he retrieved a shoebox from the closet shelf, and a square brush, and he dusted off a pair of shiny (stylish!) black shoes that I’d also never laid eyes on before. He foxtrotted into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, combed the few hairs he still had on his head, and to my shock, actually trimmed that silly mustache. He hummed his way into the spiffy duds and even tied a bright red tie, straightening it in the dressing room mirror, brushing off wrinkles and fastening cufflinks. With neatly folded pocket square tucked in, Lincoln Dunwoody looked downright dashing. Of course, then he spritzed on some cologne that made me sneeze, but nobody’s perfect.

He checked the time – 6:50 p.m. – and danced to the front door, turning to me as he left. “You hold down the fort, Truesdale. I have a date tonight.”

Will wonders never cease? I didn’t want to miss any additional action, so I decided to put my weather machine work on hold and add to my Minions Project in the kitchen instead so I’d be near the door when Lincoln came home. The Minions Project is where I gather up all my cat hairs into a ball under the refrigerator. When I get enough of it together, I’m going to chew through the lamp cord and apply some electricity to the hairball, animating it into a tiny baby cat that I can control with my mind. Eventually I will build a small army and we will take over the world.

I was still absorbed in my cat bath at 9:45 when I heard Lincoln’s heavy tread on the stairs. He was not dancing when he came in the door. He was not humming. Lincoln was sad. His head was down and his shoulders drooped. He didn’t even seem to see me; he just dropped his keys on the table, loosened his tie, and proceeded to the bedroom. He slowly put his happy suit of clothes back into the garment bag and zipped it up as though he was putting it away forever. Back into the closet went the shiny shoes and bright red tie, and Lincoln Dunwoody sat down heavily on the edge of the bed in his underwear, looking much older and more battered than the 45 years that he was.

Even smaller-than-average tuxedo cats with nefarious plans to rule the world have compassion. Who could look at this scene and not feel some sympathy? I don’t have a white heart shape on my chest for nothing. I curled myself around Lincoln’s ankles and purred, swishing my tail back and forth to pet him. Happily, he brightened up and leaned over to pet me. “At least I’ll always have you, won’t I, Truesdale?” Of course you will, you big silly billy. I need you to open my cans. And when I finish that Longevity Mechanism, we’ll both be immortal and I’ll need you to carry my sacks of money to the bank.

But for now I needed to work on a different plan.

The next morning when Lincoln opened the door to head out to work, I squeezed past his ankles and zipped down the hall. Lincoln came running after me, because he also suffers under the delusion that I never leave the apartment (I have a strategic hole in the bathroom screen) and would get lost if I were out (I have personally mapped half of Prospect Park). At the end of the hall, Apartment 5G belonged to Alice Coddington, owner of Eagle Magnetics, a company that does sheet metal fabrication for magnetic shielding. She inherited the company from her father, and she’s a looker, let me tell you. I heard about Alice from the Gerrold the Beagle in 5B, who said that Alice also inherited a fluffy white cat I should get to know. I heard her door opening at about this same time every morning, so I took a chance. Normally I like to think things through, but sometimes you have to roll the dice, and that morning I was in luck.

Alice came into the hall at precisely the right time. I immediately rubbed my head against her pretty ankles and then flopped on the floor at her feet, purring loudly. She bent over to pet me, and Gerrold was right, she was really pretty. I shamelessly curled up on her toes just as Lincoln arrived to fetch me. “I’m sorry. He never tries to get out; I don’t know what got into him.”

Normally I’d correct that nonsense, but I was pouring on the charm. “What’s his name?” Alice asked.


“That’s so sweet. Aren’t you a sweet kitty, Truesy?” Alice cooed at me, and I made a mental note to steal some extra treats from Lincoln later. I deserved them for this performance.

“I’m sorry; I’ve got to get to work.” Lincoln said, scooping me up.

“Oh, me too. Maybe you could bring Truesdale over this evening and he could meet my Sasha? She’s a sweetheart, too. I’ll bet they’d get along.”

Even from my perch in his arms I could see Lincoln’s face light up like a Christmas tree. I just kept purring like a jet engine.

Nobody puts a plan together like Jake Mortlock.

1,342 words.

Iron Writer Challenge: Accepted

I signed up for the Iron Writer Challenge, and will be competing on February 12th. How it works – 5 authors each write a 500 word flash fiction story in a 4 day span of time including 4 required elements (example: 1968 Elvis Presley Comeback Special, Someone mowing/cutting grass, A note left on a car, Argyle socks) then compete against each other for the most votes & judges approval.

I’m hoping to brush up on my short fiction writing skills and have some content to add to my short fiction page as well.