Vote here for your favorite Character story; entries have been randomized. Please MAKE SURE YOU READ ALL ENTRIES BEFORE VOTING.Voting begins now and will end on July 3rd at 11:59 PM EST. Entries that do well will move on to the Character Final Poll, which will be posted at the conclusion of the 10th round preliminary poll.
"Oranges in a Thunderstorm"
I was… oh, I don’t know, eight years old, maybe, kind of a weird kid, didn’t have many friends. It was midway through summer; the few kids my age I got along with were out of town. I was bored, really bored – couldn’t think of anything worth doing inside, and it was way too hot to do anything out in the sun. I figured I might as well head into the woods behind my house, see if I could find anything interesting, a deer, maybe, or a creek or a pond I didn’t know about. The woods went back quite a ways, see; you could spend every afternoon out there for a decade and still find new stuff each day.
I grabbed a couple granola bars and a bottle of water and walked off, wandering aimlessly until I found a neat little waterfall sort of thing. I sat there for a while, watching it, and eventually decided to follow it upstream for a while. Somehow, I made it to a road cutting through the trees.
The road was narrow, but it was paved, paved with cobblestones, anyway. I started down the it, curious to see where it would lead, and I glanced up at the sky as I did so. It was darkening; storm clouds were gathering above. It would be raining before too long.
I’d been on the road a while, never seeing anything but trees and the same cobblestone path, when I realized how hungry I was. I’d finished off my last granola bar a good hour ago already, and trekking through the woods was taking up a lot of energy. What with the rain and the hunger, I was just thinking it would be a good idea to turn around and head back when a dark building loomed into view, a house that was really more a mansion than a simple house. It was on a cliff, and behind it, I could see the ocean churning in the building storm.
I walked forward, a bit apprehensively, I guess, but my eight-year-old mind was more concerned with getting indoors before the rain began in earnest (and maybe getting some food in the process) than the potential danger.
It wasn’t until I’d banged the wolf-head-shaped knocker against the door a couple times that I remembered the stories the other kids told about the house at the edge of the sea, the house where the witch lived. The witch who cast magic with some weird rock and—
The door creaked open, and, well, not that I knew much about witches, but the woman who stood there didn’t seem much like one. I don’t really remember much of what she looked like – she was young, I guess, and pretty. She did have a rock in her hand, I noticed, but it didn’t look very magic to me – just an ordinary chunk of granite.
She smiled down at me, somewhat amused. “How’d you get all the way out here, huh?”
“I, uh— I walked,” I stammered, more confused than anything. She wanted to know how I’d gotten here, but not my name?
“Walked, huh.” She laughed softly, though I wasn’t sure what was so funny. She shook her head. “Never mind. You probably want to get out of the rain, yeah? It’s not looking pretty out there.” As if on cue, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, chased a half-second later by an angry roar of thunder. I didn’t need much more invitation than that. “Hungry, too, I bet? Uh, here. Have one of these.” She grabbed an orange out of a bowl resting on a shelf just inside the house and tossed it to me.
She turned and walked off, a bit of a weird thing to do when you’ve got a guest, but I didn’t think much of it. I followed, peeling the orange as I did so. Suddenly I stopped – the fruit’s flesh was a deep, dark red. She turned, seeing my surprise, and laughed again. “What are they saying about me these days – the oranges are red from the blood of my victims or something?” I blinked. Actually, I had heard that. “It’s their natural color,” she continued, “and a rather nice color, at that. A genetic mutation.”
I cautiously popped a wedge of the orange in my mouth. Tasted fine. The rest of the fruit was gone in seconds. She smiled, pointing a thumb at another bowl of the oranges. “Help yourself.”
I did so.
"Days of Strife"
My name is Story.
It is a strange name. At least, that’s what my friends say. Or maybe what’s strange is that I have a name. That’s never been clear to me.
What is clear is that my life is currently pretty terrible.
My father, Reality, has explained that this is natural—to me, at least—and that it will continue for as long as I live, which, he says, will be a very long time. Father has always been rather blunt.
My mother is Imagination, and she tells me that one day things will be different, that in time my life will change, become more interesting, more complex,different. She never says it will be easier.
But it’s hard, living as I am.
Every day I go through all these odd phases. I’ve never known why I go through them, but it’s been happening since my birth. Mother, always on the lookout for things new and novel, gives them names.
First the “introduction” occurs. Physically it’s the easiest to go through, but it is the slowest, least exciting of all. Mentally I start out too sluggish to carry on my own. Typically it doesn’t take very long, as I slowly gain more and more of my faculties.
After that I leave my home for some time and make new friends. Maybe they’re new friends each day or maybe I just forget them at the end, but every day has me met with strangers. My mother calls this the “rising action,” but I think she’s just teasing. I don’t enjoy it much at all. It’s always very tense for me, and I worry to make everything as perfect as possible.
The “climax” follows. Invariably, some of my friends will clash, with each other, sometimes even me, my family…
Physically this struggle manifests within me as well. My mother calls this “internal conflict,” because she’s just like that.
This climax is always resolved, but not always well. Sometimes one of us will be victorious, leaving some parties in defeat. Sometimes we will all, bitterly, leave each other at a stalemate. Rare is the day when we all walk away happy.
After the climax comes the resolution, when I regress to a state similar to the introduction. However, this time I have to reflect on what happened before, and it pains me greatly. I wake the next day with no memories of the past, save for the knowledge that it caused me great pain.
Every day, I wake in fear.
My name is Story, and my life is a wreck.
"A Heart Torn"
Elizabeth always carried a pebble in her pocket. It was one of her quirks, she supposed. Her mom had beseeched her to throw it back into the woods or river, “where it belongs.”In Mom’s eyes, it was a weight on Elizabeth’s shoulders.In Elizabeth’s eyes, it was a good luck charm and perhaps the last vestige of her father’s life.Elizabeth had known her father had a bad heart by the tender age of seven. Situations weren’t much harder for her to solve than jigsaw puzzles: She had noticed the pills on Daddy’s bureau and the low-sodium foods he ate and casually asked Dad one night if his blood pressure would continue to rise if he didn’t take precautions.He had given her a what-did-your-mom-tell-you look and had said, “Yea- yes, Ellie. I’ll balloon up and explode if I don’t eat those foods!” He had puffed his cheeks for emphasis.“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth had said.He had paused abashedly before sobering. “And how would you know?”“I looked it up.”“Does your mom know?”“I guess — she could see me.”He had sighed. “Ellie, I’m fine, okay? As long as I follow a strict diet, I can live a life just like anyone else—”“I know that, Daddy.”Daddy had sighed again and turned on the TV.Traipsing along an impromptu path, little more than gaps in the underbrush widened by years of walks out here, Elizabeth took out the rock and admired its surface, worn smooth by years of rushing water. It gleamed faintly.The trees about her were tinted shades of sunset by autumn. The orange vista was calming to her whenever she found herself thinking of Dad.It was odd — on this very path, down near the river, Dad had died of a heart attack right after giving her the pebble she now held.She had been thirteen. She vaguely remembered screaming as he fell and running for the house, but it was blurry. Mostly, she remembered impressions: the humid air, the pounding of her footsteps, the feeling that the world was tipping under her as she had flung open the back door and called 911 before even telling her mother what was happening.But she had known Dad would be dead when she returned. She had told the 911 operator not that her Dad was dying but that he was dead. And he was.Even now, at seventeen, she felt alone.Her cell phone beeped. Mom had texted. Elizabeth looked up at the sky once more before turning back along the path, but she took her time.
"Avoiding That Awkward Moment"
Antje was born in the Netherlands and moved over to America when she was eleven. She never truly felt at home there until she went to Dordt College, with its strong Dutch heritage. When people found out where she came from, and that she spoke fluent Dutch, they treated her like royalty. She was their golden girl, their goddess. Everybody loved her.
Those were good times. Her only regret was that she let it get to her head when she was a freshman, since she lost her focus on academics. Still – good times. She didn’t think she could have been such a good student in the following years if it wasn’t for how loved she felt. And she earned a triple-major, so she knew it made a difference.
She was finishing up on her doctorate in engineering now, feeling as sharp as ever. Many people called her a genius, though she didn’t like that description. It didn’t feel right. She had struggled in high school, and her success came from hard work.
Antje sat at a library table pouring over her notes, trying to figure out her latest project. She was almost literally looking at rocket science, and it was beyond her, no matter how hard she worked. She clenched her short blond hair with her hands, taking out her stress and trying to focus, but regardless of catharsis she couldn’t think far enough outside of the box to solve seemingly unsolvable problems. Sometimes genius needed a little help.
She thought back to her Dordt friends. Who would understand this stuff? None of her friends went into her particular focus.
Antje called Carol. “Hey, how are you doing?”
“Antje? Antje! It’s been forever!”
“Yeah, you bet,” said Antje. “Carol, I have a question. What do you know about jet engines?”
“I haven’t the slightest – but hey, since we’re talking, did you get my wedding invitation? It’s next week and you haven’t responded!”
Antje raised an eyebrow. Carol was getting married? It seemed like everyone she knew was getting married nowadays. Meanwhile, she was twenty-five and had still never dated. “I might have,” she said.
“Well, you’re invited,” said Carol.
“I won’t have the time. Sorry. This doctorate is a monster.”
“Well Jack is coming, and he’s super-busy, more than you. If he can come, then you can come. And I know you so much better than him, so it would mean a lot to me if you came to the wedding!”
“Jack? Jack who?”
Oh. Antje knew him all too well. Back when she was a freshman, he was a senior and had just come back from a junior semester in the Netherlands. He spoke with her in Dutch for an hour every day to stay fluent, but she could tell he liked her. She liked him back, but they only had one year together, and then he went and joined the Air Force and never had time for the outside world ever since.
“And he was an engineering major, too. He works on airplanes, so if there’s anyone qualified to help you, it’s him. Just come, Antje.”
Antje bit her lip. Suddenly she wanted to go even less. Jack was the only person she had ever really had feelings for, and she didn’t want those to reemerge after all these years. That would be a heck of a way to appear needy.
She packed up her blueprints and headed home.
“Moeder!” she cried. “Waar is uw verlovingsring?”
One week later, Antje attended Carol’s wedding wearing a blood orange dress. After the ceremony, Carol went into the crowd and pulled out Jack, easily distinguishable in his captain’s uniform, and introduced him to Antje before leaving them along together.
“It’s John, now.”
Antje flinched. That was a very handsome name.
“How about I just call you Captain?”
“For you I can just be ‘Mister.’” It was then that he noticed the ring around her finger. “You’re engaged?”
“Yes. He couldn’t make it, but he’s a wonderful man.”
“That’s awkward, considering that Carol just made a very obvious attempt to set us up. You’d think she would have noticed if you were carrying an expensive rock around your finger.”
“No, I was looking for someone to help me with my engineering doctorate.”
“Will I be calling you ‘Doctor’ from now on?”
Antje clasped her hands behind her back. She didn’t like the sound of that – not when it came from him. “No, you can call me ‘Mrs.’”