On a whim, I entered the NYC Midnight short story contest. Turns out, there were around 4,000 entries and only a little over 500 were selected to move on to round two.
“The Final Battle” ended up placing first in my heat. They assign you a genre, character, and subject.
Mine were: Drama, A child with dwarfism, and an escape. The maximum word count was 2,000.
While I wait for round two results, I thought it would be fun to post up my round one winning piece. Enjoy!
Gulgrom slowed his pace and fought with the underbrush. With each chirp of a cricket or croak of a frog, he advanced a single footstep forward. The fate of Melakrihn rested on him. A single deep breath and another tenth of an inch closer to King Chreighton, Gulgrom drew his sword. One more step and—
“No!” came a shout from Amareh, a centurion elder.
King Chreighton took a swift turn but was too late. Gulgrom’s sharp blade pressed into the king’s hefty chest. Not a second later, Gulgrom was being lifted into the air.
“Huzzah! Long live King Gulgrom! Ruler of the Scalandorian realm!” The chant, mixed with a multitude of cheers, filled the humid sky until it reached the stars.
After the crowd calmed, the Melakrihn clan surrounded Gulgrom. Addram, the most powerful elder, approached and placed his arm around Gulgrom. Addram raised his hand to quiet the rest of the members. “As you all know, the Scaladorian realm will be participating in Final Battle this year. Our dwarven clan has spent ages forming alliances within the realm. Be it known, on this eve of the sixth night of July, that Gulgrom has been betrothed to Cyrrith, princess of the elven clan, Amyyll. The joining ceremony commences on the tenth eve of April and shall surely solidify Scaladorian’s first win in Final Battle!”
Gulgrom’s heart flipped. Not only did he find himself responsible for the entire kingdom of Scaladoria, he was trusted with the heart of Princess Cyrrith. No one had a chance to notice the dreamy glaze that overcame Gulgrom’s eyes as the abrupt honk from down the road would’ve disturbed any opportunity to do so.
Gulgrom sighed and turned toward a gravel lot. He approached his mom’s car and snatched the handle, climbing inside.
“I told you not to slam the door, Kevin.”
Evelyn Hughes sighed and put the car in reverse before making her next announcement. “You know, Kev—”
“Gulgrom, Mom. When you speak of me as Kevin, it takes me out of character. Oh, and after tonight, it’s King Gulgrom.”
“Kev—I mean, Gulgrom, this is what I wanted to talk about. Dad and I think it’s great you have this hobby and all, but it’s time to start making friends in the real world, like that girl from the group…what’s her name? Meghan.”
Kevin shut down at ‘real world’. Did his mom mean the real world where Jared Ransin once set his Ninja Turtle lunch box on the highest shelf in homeroom? Or the ‘real world’ that deemed him as special needs? Like they couldn’t understand it, so they labeled it…that ‘real world?’ If so, Kevin much preferred the alternate reality where he was a hero, a king, and soon…a husband.
“Well, I ran into Meghan’s mom at the store. We think that since you two have so much in common, it’d be so fun if you met for shakes at Burger Bonanza.”
So much in common? Kevin snorted. What? A shared diagnosis of Achondroplasia?
“It’d be like a little date,” she giggled. “But, not really a date…you’re twelve. No dates.”
“No, mom. I don’t want or need a ‘little date’. As king, I am betrothed to Princess Cyrrith of the elven clan Amyyll.”
“Cyrrith…Cyrrith…” Evelyn’s mind searched to place a name with a face. “Wait…isn’t that Ruth Fenstauffer? She’s sixteen, isn’t she? A little old for you, don’t you think?”
“No, it’s princess Cyrrith, and she is one-hundred-and-eighty-four. I turned two-hundred last month.”
“Well, I think meeting up with Meghan and her mom would be good for you.”
Good for him? Or good for his mom? Good for her to know that her son could truly be “normal” and not some geeked-out-fantasy-nerd type? Kevin didn’t respond, and as soon as the car pulled into the two-car driveway, he jumped out before his mother could nag again about Meghan and secured himself in the basement to spend the rest of the evening spelling runes.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about, Ross! He stays up all night…spends all his time in this fantasy world and—”
“Dammit Evelyn! That is his world! It’s the world he succeeds in!” Ross Hughes straightened his tie and took a final sip of coffee.
“Where are you going?”
He nodded toward the door. “Work.”
“Sure! Run away.” Evelyn shrugged. “Run off to work where you can hide behind charts and graphs. Leave me here to deal with our son!”
Ross sat his briefcase down and relented. “What can I do to help?”
“Nothing. Go ahead; go to work.” Her right arm flailed toward the door and she turned and started rinsing dishes.
“Evie—” She didn’t acknowledge him as he grabbed the mahogany case and headed out the door to work.
Evelyn Hughes waited until she could no longer hear the engine of the red Honda in the driveway, then poured herself another cup of coffee. Before she could sit, the hallway toilet flushed. Evelyn walked to the door and stood, arms positioned in an impatient fold. Once it clicked open, she started the familiar lecture. “Do you know what time it is? Hmm? Do you? It’s half past nine! I already told you, one more time and this whole fantasy game thing is over. Do you hear me? Over! I’ve had quite enough. What am I going to tell principal Macey when she calls?”
“Mom, Final Battle begins in two weeks. Two. I only have fourteen days to upgrade weapons, redo uniforms, enhance defense, and spell enough runes. Now I’m in charge of the whole kingdom.”
Evelyn smacked her hand against her forehead. “I’ve had enough! Enough! When are you going to realize that all you’re doing is avoiding the world? This little game of yours…it isn’t life! You’re going to get hurt!”
“It is my life!”
“Just get your things. I swear to God, Kev. One more time and you’re out of the game.”
The ride to school was the type of deafening silence that made a guy wish his mom would just start rambling.
As they pulled up, the bell was ringing for second period—earth science. Kevin stepped out and rushed to the door. Even so, he still managed to arrive late for class.
“Glad you could join us, Mr. Hughes.” Mr. Jensen grabbed the roster to check Kevin as tardy. “Grab a Petri dish. Today we’re discussing mold fossils.”
Kevin turned to the shelf that held the dishes. The remaining ones rested at the top. His cheeks grew hot as he grabbed a stool and positioned it in front of the cabinet. Even on his tip-toes, he wasn’t able to reach high enough to grab one.
“Here, I’ll help.” Kevin relented and allowed Allison to step up and get a dish for him.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. She nodded and returned to her table.
He walked to his assigned seat. Even Allison needed a stool to reach the dishes. He glanced at her and she smiled. He turned back to the fossil in his dish—in a few years, she wouldn’t need a stool; he would. Kevin Hughes would always need a stool.
He swallowed and rewired his thoughts. Cyrrith was as powerful as she was beautiful; the eldest of three elven princesses. His heart sped at the thought of the betrothal. The enhanced magical abilities alone would be enough to prove the alliance an efficient brainchild of Addram.
Although he was aware the time spent at his desk in science class would be best used to strengthen Scalandorian’s battle plan, Kevin pulled a clean sheet of paper and began to write.
gold flecks of moon—
Moon. Would that be cliché? Would his words be worthy of such beauty? Moon what? Moonshine? No, that was a drink. He thought harder—moonbeam? No. Moon-sparkle? Cyrrith did spend time with unicorns. Sparkle might work, Kevin thought.
gold flecks of moon-sparkle.
That I might be—
Kevin glanced up for a second, just to consider what he “might be”. The room was empty. “Ah, Mr. Hughes. I see you’re back.” Mr. Jensen’s eyes narrowed. “The bell rang two minutes ago. You best be on your way to third period.”
Yay, third period—music class, with its never-ending symphony of up-down-up-down-up-down’s that wore on his back after the third or fourth time. Regardless, Kevin was not about to make a special request of staying seated for the duration. He grinned and tolerated the discomfort.
At the end of the school day, Kevin was surprised to see his dad at the pick-up line. “Dad?” He asked as he got in the car.
Ross chuckled. “She’s out with a friend. Probably having a girl’s day. ‘An escape,’ as she called it.” A moment passed. “Bud, you gotta be more responsible with getting up and ready for school.”
Kevin folded his arms and watched houses jog by the car window.
“Man, I get it,” Ross continued. “Back in my day…shoot…twelve-years-old, we’d sneak out of the house and walk down to this abandoned railroad track. It was haunted, we thought. So, Larry Morganheimer would sneak coffee, and we’d hang out all night trying to catch a ghost…still not sure how he got the coffee, though. So, I’m with you on this—but you’re driving Mom crazy. Can you work harder to get up in the morning and get to school?”
“Thanks, bud,” he said as he pulled into the drive. “You gonna be okay? I have another meeting.”
Once inside the house, Kevin sat at the kitchen table, determined to finish the poem.
gold flecks of moon-sparkle.
That I might be worthy,
to hold her hand beneath
the night’s sky.
Kevin released a pent-up breath. The poem wasn’t long, but he felt it offered a good representation of his feelings for his betrothed. Would Cyrrith feel the same? Sure, she’d often been kind to him. How could the poem not win her affection? The idea of reciting his writing to her over-filled his being so much so that he concocted a new idea.
As a king, he decided the best course of action would be to meet his lover outside her window—a few pebbles tapping the glass would be enough to gain her attention. Then, he could render his feelings beneath the field of stars. When she fell madly in love with him, his mom would have no choice but to accept his life. She would be forced to see Scalandoria was real and the only illusion was her perception of normal.
He folded the paper just in time for Evelyn to enter. “Kevin,” she acknowledged. “Homework done?”
“Yeah, Mom…umm, Mom—”
“Excuse me for a second.” She didn’t stop, just kept walking toward the master bedroom.
Kevin eyed her as she disappeared behind the door. Escape, indeed. He shook his head and exited to the basement to strategize attack plans for Final Battle until dinner.
“I expect lights out early tonight, Kevin,” Evelyn called after her son as he trotted down the stairs upon finishing the dishes. No answer.
Kevin waited through his parents’ conversations and a few late-night television programs before slipping on his beard and into his wide-legged trousers and boots. Then, he threw on his gambeson with buttons and slipped on a pair of gauntlets. Satisfied, he grabbed the handwritten poem and made a silent getaway.
Fortunately, Cyrrith lived a couple blocks over in the same neighborhood. He continued down the sidewalk, his stomach knotting a bit tighter with each lustful step. Before turning the corner, he nearly gave up and returned home, but no—he must continue one of the most significant quests he’d ever set out on. He was King Golgrum, dwarven warrior and rune master—nothing would change that.
On his way, he gathered a few loose pebbles and stored them in his satchel. His anxiety evolved into full-on panic when he approached the house. What window belonged to Princess Cyrrith? How would he figure it out? His conundrum was met with headlights coming around the corner and growing narrower in front of the house, Cyrrith’s house. Maybe it was her? Kevin was overcome with relief—she would exit the car and he’d know her room because she’d turn the lights on once she got up there. Problem solved.
Or not. Kevin’s forehead tightened as Addram got out of the driver’s seat and swung around to open the door for Cyrrith. Once she was out of the car, Kevin’s insides unthreaded as he watched the couple lean into one another for a lengthy kiss.
“I had a good time tonight. Thank you,” Cyrrith said.
Addram smiled. “I’m glad.”
Kevin shook his head. How could they betray him? His bride and the most respected dwarven elf caught up in an affair. He slowly backed up, not realizing the drop off. “Oh!” he cried out as he flew backward.
Addram was at his side. “Kevin…what are you doing here? And dressed up, too?”
Kevin’s chest heaved, and his voice shook. “No, the better question is, Addram, what are you doing here? With my future wife at that!”
“Dude, just call me Adam; that’s my real name. You know that. Kev—man, calm down. Ruth and I have been dating for a few months.”
“B-but…you set me up to marry her! This is treason!”
“In the game, Kev. In the game—that’s what it is, it’s just a game.”
Disillusioned, Kevin found himself at a loss for words. Nothing could save him from the torturous reality of his future wife’s betrayal—the poem cried as the paper twisted and crumpled in his hand. Should he challenge Addram to an evening duel? A better idea came to him. “Banished!” he yelled.
Ruth cocked her head. “Banished? As in kicked out of the game?”
Kevin’s cheeks grew hot. “Banished!”
Adam took a step toward him. “Dude, you can’t do that just because we’re dating.”
Kevin narrowed his eyes. “Watch me!”
“Dude, that’s fucked up. Hope you feel good about losing friends. Over what…some stupid game!”
Ruth put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “It’s okay.” She turned to Kevin. “He can’t ban us from the game. We can appeal and get back in. He’ll probably be the one who gets kicked out.”
Kevin gulped the lump back down his throat while he studied the angry eyes of Ruth and Adam. Disgust—his heart felt as though it stopped beating, and his breath shortened. The wind snatched the poem from his hand like a cruel thief. Could he really be kicked out of the game?
Before the others could catch a glimpse from the single tear that slipped down his cheek, Kevin turned and stumbled down the sidewalk, disappearing as reality, whether perceived or not, often does. The dwarven king vanished into the uncertain darkness.