Merope

I had imagined pinks and vermillions, an impossible sunset contained within an industrial warehouse. I had heard the chitter of squirrels and felt spring breezes. But when I awoke to a thump, felt the vibrations through the floor of my Nomad cell, and saw the most beautiful open door I had ever seen, I knew I wasn’t hallucinating.

The forklift carrying my cell headed toward the receiving door of the warehouse. We passed dozens of other people like me, locked inside 5-foot by 5-foot boxes with clear walls called Nomads. All of them were shielding their eyes with their hands from the bright light, watching me. It wasn’t strange that a worker would be moving one of the inmates to another part of the facility.

It was the open door that was strange.

As we approached it, the forklift slowed. The light became so strong I had to cover my eyes, too, but soon I felt warmth on my clothes, my hair. The forklift set me down on a hard surface, and then nothing happened.

Little by little, my vision grew accustomed to the daylight. The worker had dumped my Nomad in the middle of an asphalt patch. I sat there for some time. I did not mind the waiting; it had been so long since I’d seen the Sun.

At dusk, my Nomad expanded. The ceiling raised, and the walls backed away until it had grown to the size of a conventional living room. The wall closest to the warehouse turned a bright cobalt blue and a pristine white couch inflated from a panel in the floor. Pin light eyes dilated in the ceiling. I didn’t believe that the Nomad’s new dimensions were for my own comfort.

A golf cart approached. I recognized its passenger as the Nomad salesman who had captured me. The ends of his mustache curled malevolently and his gilded cloak shone in the fading light. Clasps secured around my ankles before the driver opened the door to the Nomad. I decided not to try to escape yet; I would have one shot, and the two men blocking the only escape meant this wasn’t it.

“You are in the presence of Grun Dolbry, prisoner. Only speak when spoken to.”

And then the salesman was inside. He smelled of pine and of a pomade that reminded me of my grandfather. The driver shut the door behind him.

Dolbry’s eyes leered at me before he spoke. “Prisoner,” he sat on the couch directly opposite me. “Your family has paid for your release.”

A rush of relief flooded me, but I did not show it.

“That’s cause for celebration, yes?” He bent his arm and spoke into a gadget that looked like a watch: “Two cod fillets, green beans with almonds, and a Cabernet. Is that suitable?” His gaze hitched on to my lips.

“I was hoping for steak.”

“Sorry, but that’s not on the menu. Beef shortage because of the drought out East, you know.”

Of course I didn’t know.

A dining table and chairs rose between us, and the man immediately moved to sit. The clasps pulled my ankles forward. The smell of the fresh food made me stumble. I struggled not to faint at my hunger.

“Please sit. I am very pleased to be dining with you tonight. You have made me quite a bit of money.” He cut his fish into pieces, then brought one to his mouth. I tried to ignore the noises he made as he chewed, but the sounds nauseated me. My food remained untouched.

“Of course, where there is a bee, there is a hive,” he smiled, smacked, clicked, glopped. “Carry on with your supper, prisoner. It will be a while before you’ve another. Are you not hungry?”

“You’re not freeing me,” I declared to my plate, then, remembering my plan of escape, I took a large bite of fish. Transfiguration required energy.

“Ah, you’ve discovered your appetite. You women change your mind too quickly.”

My mind focused on barbs, beaks, and wings; I didn’t hear another word he said to me, but I continued eating. Eventually, the man set his napkin down on his plate and walked to the door, and when he finally opened it I felt the feathers prick up on my skin and the clasps slip free of my legs. I was aloft and out the door before the man could react.

The night was as dark as the inside of that warehouse, but I was a dove flying above the tallest oaks. On my way to see my sisters.

Very very early draft. Constructive criticism welcome.

The Art of Distraction

“SO IS THIS WHAT YOU DO HEREmake Rube Goldberg machines?” Jacob said, after I’d spread string, scissors, plastic cups, and a few small peg boards across the breakroom counter. He was sitting at the table eating a sandwich and fries from a styrofoam box. I watched as his paisley tie dipped into ketchup. That’s how new he was to the pediatrician’s office—no one had told him yet that Medical Assistants could dress business casual.

“Huh? No, I’m the Scribe? The one who inputs the doctor’s notes into the patient database? The job’s kinda tedious, so I started pushing thumbtacks into the corkboard behind my desk and wrapping rubber bands around them two at a time. Set up a little maze down the wall for a marble to travel down. Janet, the Nurse Practitionernot Janet, the Lab Tech—saw it and liked it. She started bringing patients by for demonstrations, and then she asked me to build a machine in here.” Stop rambling. Why do I turn into an idiot whenever a hot guy is around? “I’m Ethan by the way.”

“Hi. I’m Jacob. Your machine sounds cool. Where’d you learn to make them? Did you go to an engineering school or something?”

I answered his question by pulling out my college ID and showing it to him, not remembering the terrible picture on it. Scraggly beard, eyelids half-closed, a questionably-high James Franco smirk. Jacob pulled a matching ID card out of his messenger bag.

“We must have just missed each other on campus,” Jacob said.

After that, a pause filled the room. “When you’re done eating, do you want to see the machines?” I asked. Jacob nodded, mouth full of pastrami.

I took him down the long hallway past the exam rooms to the corner where my desk squatted and showed him the machine. I handed him a silver marble and pointed.

“Drop it on the highest rubber band there,” I explained, and we watched as the marble glided across the vertical maze, and down to where I’d looped the final band around the switch of my desk lamp. The marble clicked against the switch and my light turned on, which also caused Jacob to beam.

“Like I said, I have a lot of free time.” I tried not to notice his long eyelashes or his one crooked tooth; I itched my ear instead. “So, yeah, the kids liked it, and pretty much everyone in the office is looking for new ways to distract patients. It was a hit.”

“I see why.”

Two coworkers came out of the exam room next door and asked me to demonstrate my machine again, after which, one of them, Cindy from Billing, said she wouldn’t mind her own machine. I told her I’d see what I could do.

 

AT LUNCH THE NEXT DAY Jacob ventured down the hallway again carrying a milk crate with about a dozen random objects in it.

“Hey, Ethan, I did a little googling and brought you some supplies.” His elbow brushed my shoulder as he set the crate down on my desk. I could feel heat disperse through the ridges of my ears. “I…If you feel like it, I can help you with Cindy’s machine.”

“That would be great,” I said, avoiding his gaze by inspecting the items in the crate. Some dowel rods, duct tape, a hamster wheel, and… “A blender?”

“I figured if we couldn’t use it, maybe I could make us some margaritas? Not here…I mean, back at my place…but, you know, not like that.”

Not like what? A date? I felt tingling in my feet. “Why don’t we just play it by ear?”

The rest of the work day dragged. When it was finally just Jacob and I, we took out all of the things he’d brought. We decided to make a machine that would unfurl a sign at Cindy’s desk. Jacob started pounding pegs into a pegboard. When I caught myself watching the curve of his bicep contract with each hammer blow, I started tinkering with the blender.

“What’s the plan?” he asked.

I told him what I was thinking: dowel rods and a wedge to guide a marble into the bottom of a flat, paint-stirring stick. The stick would jerk and a string attached at the top of the stick would yank a paper clip free from the sign we’d hang from Cindy’s desk.

“Sounds good, but I wonder if we could incorporate her chair somehow or put something on the floor? I saw a video last night where they wrapped an electric cord around a chair les so when someone pulled it out the machine started.”

“We could, but how long do you want to be here tonight?”

He faced me, a grin triggered a set of dimples. That crooked tooth. I knocked something off the desk and was turning my head to see what it was when I felt something swipe my neck. I smacked at it without thinking, connecting with Jacob’s nose and cheek. He had tried to kiss me.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Are you ok? I was…um, let’s maybe not kiss? At work, I mean, with the security cameras. But definitely again.” I put my hand on his shoulder and winked. I never wink.

“Well, at least we got that awkward first kiss out of the way, right?”

We quickly set up Cindy’s surprise after that. Jake printed out a picture of a cat with a pink party hat over its ears and a wry look.

We tested the machine a few times and started repacking the milk crate with the items we didn’t use. I picked up the blender still sitting on the breakroom table where we’d left it.

“Hey, you still up for some drinks?”

“Absolutely, but we won’t be needing that.” Jake pointed to the blender. “I just needed some way to ask you out.”

To my NYC Midnight friends, this is an edited version of the story I submitted. Group 54—romantic comedy, a pediatrician’s office, a blender.

The Drowning of Vic Garland

Synopsis: Three days after the sinking of the Titanic a young nurse receives a meaningful package.

 

No further updates of the Titanic survivors have been wired.

The White Star agent stops hurling the sentence at the journalists long enough to check for my brother’s name. When he finds it printed on the original passenger list, he mumbles where on the wharf I can find the other families.

Pier 59 teems with thousands of anxious women in crumpled hats, somber gentleman with their hands behind their overcoats, and photographers documenting it all. Most everyone’s heads point toward the White Star pier where the RMS Carpathia broods, but I continue looking for the cordoned-off portion of the dock the agent told me about. I push forward until I find myself under the steel arch that reads “Cunard Line.” My confusion and the near-ice falling from the sky make my progress through the throng of people feel like a morphine dream.

Men use newspapers to shield their eyes; the names of the surviving first-class passengers’ names bulge from the front page. There is no word yet on the lower classes, but reports are grim. Images of my brother, poor darling Vic, drifting in a gulping sea float through my mind. I fear they will continue until the moment I see the ridiculous orange feather aflame in the band of his homburg.

A tall officer with a mustache like a push broom crosses his arms as he shouts, “This section is for families of passengers only, ladies and gentlemen. If you are not relation, please wait for the ship elsewhere.”

I grab the man’s arm and allow my fears to spill out. “My brother, sir, James Garland? He goes by Vic. He’s a salesman, hospital cots. Look at me. Please. I’m his sister. People say we resemble each other. Will you watch for him for me?”

The man’s sparse eyebrows rise higher above the thin bridge of his nose before he says, “Of course, my dear, but until he comes, wait with us. Take comfort in the company of others in your particular quandary.”

A woman standing nearby immediately starts complaining about the Cunard company’s decision to drop off the Titanic’s lifeboats before allowing the survivors to disembark. Others agree. A man with an aristocratic air announces that a few of the survivors with the most pressing medical needs have already been sent straight to hospital, that family members should check with a White Star agent for more information. A matronly woman takes my arm.

“I do hope it’s good news for your brother.” She pats my hand and her touch sets in motion a wave of unsteadiness. “This too will pass away, young lady. Chin up, now.”

Hollow words with good intent. Exactly what put my brother on that abominable boat. I think of the belongings he didn’t take with him, still piled high in one corner of my lodgings. He had asked his man Thomas to arrange the suitcases, boxes, and empty birdcages to look pleasant. When he saw Thomas’s work, he dubbed it the Eiffel Tower and insisted upon addressing every letter he wrote to Mademoiselle Garland.

“Would it help to tell me about him?” I feel the matron’s cool grip on my arm.

No, I think. I can hardly think of him without being reminded of our fight the day I sent him away. I can’t bear to remember the look on his face, hear again the apologies for his crimes, what the police described as “sexual perversions,” the schemes, the aliases, or the promise I extracted from him to leave New York. Searching for a safe topic, I blather on to the woman about his dog, who is likely curled on my kitchen floor, with an old nurse’s uniform of mine for a bed. I tell the woman he named the Boston terrier “Her Majesty” because it amused him to walk through the neighborhood calling it out. I tell her that he wore his dog’s collar around his wrist whenever he left home.

“He sounds like a nice man,” she says. I do not say otherwise.

The Carpathia eventually slides into port and dock hands carry the recovering survivors on stretchers down the gangplank. Everyone on the wharf jostles to see the precious cargo. Photographers flash their cameras. The matron eventually releases my arm when she spots her niece’s face.

Then the survivors who can walk proceed silently down to the waiting crowd. One by one the pale men and women find their loved ones, cries of joy and grief follow, until at last the end of the cortege proceeds up the wharf and there are no more survivors to be seen. 

I collapse into the officer’s arms.

“Come, miss,” the officer whispers. “I’m sure the agency has the finalized list now. Hope is not lost; perhaps your brother waits for you in a nice, warm room at the hospital.” The officer takes my arm, and conveys me to the shipping office. The same agent from before tells me that my brother’s name is still absent from the list, and I feel every vibration in my body—digestion, respiration, cognition—cease. I can hardly find my own hands inside my gloves; it takes the kindness of the police officer to deliver me at home.

 

In the confines of my parlor I unpin my hat and peel off my wet gloves, my coat. I am warming my feet by the fire when someone knocks. Her Majesty starts barking. I find Thomas, the valet Vic gave to me while he was away, standing on the stoop wearing a soot-stained coat and a cockeyed grin. He clutches at my wrist, behavior of which I would reprove under other circumstances.

“The German Hospital, miss. We’re to look for Ludwig Kranz.” He places something in my hand. I find a thin leather strap with three ornate bells attached. I call Her Majesty to me and refasten the collar around her neck.

Update: Feedback from the contest judges:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{1589}  I like following this young woman around as she looks for her brother–it’s tense. Nice scene witht the well-meaning old woman. Nice ending.

{1657}  Linguistically lovely! Well-balanced story: background, dialog, description, action. I was intrigued.

{1601}  Good use of specific detail to bring the reader along to the time of the Titanic. Excellent use of the mandatory elements (especially the dog collar) woven into the story. Excellent use of dialog as well.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –

{1589}  Give me placement of our narrator at the very beginning, a sentence or two about her.  How would she know what a morphine dream was like?  The fight she had with her brother is not clear. What does she think about this fight? Is she sorry? How does this event affect her?

{1657}  Consider restructuring the story, or refocusing it, to capitalize on the mystery. At present it doesn’t come into play until the very end (and feels a bit forced).

{1601}  I think it might strengthen the story a little if the narrator elaborates a little about her brother’s crimes.

The Sponsor

AFTER THE “ALL CLEAR” SIREN echoed through the streets of the town, Zsofia and Piri emerged from a shelter and continued their walk home from work. Piri steered them a different way—down a street Zsofia usually avoided. They found themselves marooned between porches of makeshift halfway homes filled with men and women eagerly smoking. They were soldiers recovering from battles with the Ambassador’s armies. Each of them wore gold headbands, the rebel force’s insignia. The color—of scrum, of corn, of pride—symbolized the reasons for the war. Zsofia felt eyes search her as she passed. Could they tell her secret? Could they see she was not one of them?

One soldier, her hair in tangles past her belt, presided over a low table holding the dismantled pieces of a gun. A chamois cloth skittered like a hummingbird from part to part despite the fact that the woman’s hands remained at her sides. She snarled when she caught Zsofia’s eyes.

Zsofia thought of a wolf and shivered, but maintained her bearing. A reflex. After many steps, they turned a corner and Zsofia burst open: “Why did you take us that way?”

“I forgot they lived there now. I’ll make it up to you.” Piri put her arm around Zsofia’s shoulders and handed her a brown box with a wide, red ribbon. “Here. To celebrate your husband’s promotion.” Zsofia stopped walking to open the gift.

Beneath layers of pink crepe paper lay an elegant pair of shears. The lowering sun highlighted its ornamentation. With the blades closed, the ovals at the ends of the handles formed a lowercase g, as if its purpose was solely for pleasing the eye and not for the slicing of hair. Without thought Zsofia told her friend she couldn’t accept such an expensive gift: food and scrum were scarce, and Piri’s tunic hung so loosely on her frame. Everyone in the kingdom starved, except the people living in the Ambassador’s castle.

“It’s nothing. Mother left us an enormous collection. If this pair weren’t with you, it would be at the bottom of a drawer.”

Zsofia cocked her eyebrows at her friend. Piri reassured, “A beach can’t possibly account for every grain of sand.”

“They’re beautiful, thank you, but I only magic with water. What would I do with them?”

“My sister taught me how to cut hair using these…” Piri wiggled her fingers. “It’s easy once you know how. I thought I’d give you lessons every night after work until you’ve got it.” Piri took the shears from Zsofia. “And when we finish with the lessons, I’ll cut your hair, how does that sound?” She opened and closed the blades. Snip, snip, snip. “I’m told all the women of the Ambassador’s court wear their hair short. Shall we practice a bob so you’ll fit in nicely when your husband finally calls you to the castle?”

“I doubt I’ll even see courtesses when I’m there.”

“Yes, but it’s just a matter of time before you spend your days with them. Soon you and Laszlo—with your specialties—will be at the Ambassador’s elbow, I’ve no doubt.”

Zsofia felt a pang of guilt knowing she will leave behind her friend. Piri would never ask for an invitation to the castle, but Zsofia knew she hoped for one. Who wouldn’t wish to escape ration shortages and warning sirens? Zsofia knew that chanters like Piri were unlikely to be accepted within the walls of the castle. The Ambassador favored specialists. Zsofia failed to see why—they were all conjurors. What difference did it make if some spoke words and others willed their magic?

“Did you notice the witch cleaning her gun back there?”

Piri’s steps stuttered on the cobblestone. “Please don’t use that word. Yes. She could benefit from my lessons as well.”

“Do you think she’s heading back to war?”

“Maybe, or maybe she’s just getting married in the morning.” Piri snapped the shears again.

“She was telekinetic—why would she be fighting for the Rebels?

“No, her lips were moving. She’s ordinary, like me,” Piri said, before tugging a coil of Zsofia’s blonde hair. “Ordinary in magicking, that is. I’m extraordinary with shears. You’ll see. When I’m done with you, your sponsor will think you’ve always lived in the castle.”

 

LASZLO’S LETTER ARRIVED A FEW WEEKS LATER. On the morning of her interview for admission into the castle, Zsofia walked many miles in a storm. The rain squelched any excitement or nervousness she felt; it also drenched her fresh haircut. As she approached the massive wall encasing the castle, she strained to make out the crenelated peak of the tower against the sky. Aside from mountains, it was the largest thing she’d ever seen. Guards met her at the bridge; one verified her name, the other carried her baggage into the gatehouse and set it down next to three chickens. From that point on, Zsofia could not say where inside the castle they took her, except that when their journey ended her wait began.

She sat alone in a cavernous room the color of October wheat. An oak desk guarded her, its face marred with a stain. She wondered about it until the sun leapt into the room through several windows widely spaced along the far wall. A beam shone directly on the stain.

Eventually another guard came and asked Zsofia to stand. After she obeyed, he magicked her chair back and to the side of where it had been, and asked her to take it once more. He positioned another chair some distance in front of her. An ornate throne emerged from the shadows and heeled behind the desk. Then the guard with the telekinetic specialty left for a moment and returned with a man dressed in a purple coat. The coat had embroidered eagles the size of drop cakes stacked talon to head down the front. The man’s face was plump and familiar, his shoulders broad and sloping like flying buttresses. Her Laszlo.

She stood to embrace her husband, but the guard barked for her to sit. Laszlo smiled apologetically and then took the chair closest to the desk. Another eagle eyed her from the back of her husband’s coat.

The guard announced the Sponsor. Doors ahead of them parted and a tremendous woman entered, cape aflutter, and took the stately throne. Her long hair was magicked above her head; it lazily swayed with her movements as if she were swimming underwater. Floating opalescent lights spun and flashed from between the tendrils of her hair—it was the work of a very talented specialist, no doubt.

The caped woman addressed her small court. “You are Lazslo, the newly appointed deputy to the Ambassador’s vizier, yes?”

“Yes, Sponsor.” Laszlo’s voice sounded frail. He looked so different; Zsofia panicked that he was not well.

“And this is your wife, Zsofia of Vischla.” The Sponsor kept her gaze on the papers before her.

“Yes.” Her own voice sounded weak. “Yes, Sponsor,” she added, tightening the muscles in her abdomen.

“You, sir, are requesting your wife be brought into the embrace of the Ambassador. You have paid the three million scrum fee and have successfully petitioned the courts. Am I correct?” A flash of emerald light gleamed from her hair.

“You are. Thank you for your consideration, Sponsor.”

“Very well. Let’s begin. To be your sponsor for immigration,” the Sponsor cast her gaze upon Zsofia for the first time. “I must know a little about you. How did the two of you meet?”

“We met when we were young, Sponsor,” Laszlo said. “Before I was brought to the castle I was merely Laszlo, one of the Ambassador’s accountants for the town.”

“Was it always your intention then to bring your wife through when you had permission?”

“We hoped, yes. We are very lucky that it only took three years to garner the Ambassador’s attentions.”

“I see. And you, Zsofia, I notice you are rather thin. Are you ill?”

“No, Sponsor. Our town has been occupied by the rebel forces for many months. We have little there, but what we have we share.”

“When I last saw her she was glowing with health, Sponsor,” Laszlo said. “A few months within the walls will set my darling to rights.” Zsofia did not like the tallow drips she heard in her husband’s voice.

“Being from rebel territory will count against you, I’m afraid. Do you have any specialties with which to bolster your case?” Another flash of light from the Sponsor’s hair, this time amethyst.

“Yes.” Zsofia’s voice held strength. “I am a Water Specialist.”

“Splendid. We are looking for conjurors like you, to purify our wells. Proceed.”

Zsofia bowed her head slightly and showed her palms to the ceiling. Little by little, she summoned the moisture from the oak desk, the window frames, Laszlo’s chair. The droplets scurried across the expanse of the room to gather just inches from her fingertips. She moved them in circles, zigzags, chevrons, and then into an eagle which she made fly over and give her husband a peck. The Sponsor released one shrill cackle.

“Impressive, my dear. And what do you do in your days with the rebels?”

“I spend them at the bogs harvesting water. I spend my nights tutoring children and learning to cut hair.”

“The tutoring is fine, but aiding the enemy is not a good thing to mention in court. A better answer would be that you were finding ways to undermine their plans.” Flashes of amber strobed the room, matching the paint on the walls.

“The rebels were my only source of food, Sponsor, and the water I harvested also quenched the thirsts of my family, my friends.”

“Yes, of course.” The Sponsor picked up a quill. For a long while the only sound in the room was the scratch of its nib on parchment. Yet another guard came in and bowed to whisper in the Sponsor’s ear. Zsofia could not discern words or tone, but after he spoke the Sponsor set her quill down. “Deputy, it seems cutlasses were found among your wife’s things. Unfortunately, your prestigious position and her specialty will not hold against a conviction of treason.”

Zsofia rose and stepped toward the desk. “What are you talking about? I packed no swords.”

“Guard! Bring the weapons here.”

The whispering soldier returned carrying Piri’s beautiful gift broken in two.

“Those are shears. I told you, I’ve been learning to cut hair.”

“Carrying a weapon of any kind into the gates of the castle is illegal and shall not go unpunished.”

“But if I’d had ill intentions, it would be in my apron or strapped to my thigh, wouldn’t it? Please. There must be an office I can appeal to, a line I can stand in. Please, Sponsor, I just want to be with my husband.”

“There is no office; there is no line, Zsofia of Vischla. There is but one door in the gate, and I am it. It is my responsibility to adhere to the laws of the Ambassadorship which you have clearly violated. Guards! Take her to the holding camps. Keep the evidence.”

Laszlo finally stood. “Surely, that’s not necessary, Sponsor. We can… ”

“Do you question my authority, Deputy?” Crimson lights spun wildly above the Sponsor’s head.

Laszlo sat back down.

 

ZSOFIA VOLUNTEERS FOR THE WATCH. She started a few months after she arrived in the camp. In the daytime, her job is to inform the guards of daily arrivals and departures. It is a job she enjoys. One of the delivery men sings as he comes over the hill with his wagonful of onions and salt bread. His carefree demeanor has deemed him her favorite, though they’ve never spoken. The other prisoners are kind. They talk of the weather, of their families and their towns—but never of their court hearings. Zsofia has yet to see a prisoner leave the camp. When they found out she cut hair, they had someone smuggle scissors in—Zsofia guessed it was her delivery man. She cuts to busy her hands; she is not permitted to use her specialty. Laszlo sends letters she doesn’t read, she’s sure they’re syrupy with excuses. She doesn’t know that Piri has agreed to stand as a witness in her defense. She thinks of her friend fondly: Piri could not have known the betrayal of her gift.

At night, the camp is different. Her job is only to watch for dangers, although when peasant boys from the town nearby throw rotten plums and crabapples and slurs through the gate, the guards turn their heads. Still, Zsofia prefers the watch at night because that is when new prisoners are brought in. She can’t help studying their silhouettes as they trudge up the hill. She resents her searches for the slope of Laszlo’s shoulders among them, hoping, but not expecting, that he’ll come. Every day is the same.

Until very early one morning, Zsofia is surprised by two small reflections of light a little distance from the gates. They are low to the ground and remain the same width apart. The eyes of a wolf. Despite the safety of her position, Zsofia holds her breath and keeps still as the form creeps closer. A few minutes later, she hears a low growl behind her. Just in time, she sees the same wolf break across the camp yard toward some trash cans. She quietly descends the rampart steps and finds a hiding place near where she thinks the wolf entered the camp. She crouches, waiting for it to return. Waiting for it to reveal its secret. Waiting to follow it under the gate and out into the countryside.

**This was my entry to the NYC Midnight Short Story contest. The prompts they gave me were fantasy as a genre; weight loss as a subject; and a newly wealthy person as a character. The story received an honorable mention. I’ve posted the judges feedback here.