Monday, March 31, 2014

NYC Midnight: Round Two

I was so excited to make it through the first round of the NYC Midnight short story contest, and then I realized round two would require me to write a 2000 word story in only three days. When I got my assignment, I think I actually groaned out loud. My assignment for round two was to write a fantasy story that involved dancing and a repossessor. What the hell was I going to do with that and how on earth was I going to do it in three days? What I came up with is the story you are about to read. I would love your feedback...did you like it...did you hate it?

Shoe Envy
Bill WIlbur

            When it came to fairytale kisses, Snow had them all beat.  She had been in a coma until her prince leaned in for a closer look and accidentally brushed his lips against hers.  That was the truth of it, no matter what the storybooks say.  It had been an accident. But it is true that kiss woke her from eternal slumber and became THE KISS, the one smooch by which all others were judged. 

            When it came to swords, there was the mighty Excalibur.  Hair was Rapunzel’s thing and you couldn’t think of a little prick without thinking of Sleeping Beauty.  But when it came to shoes, there was where the waters grew murky, the ocean, by the way, belonged to Ariel.

            Cinderella had her glass slippers, and while they were beautiful and considered THE SHOES by nearly everyone, there was another pair, belonging to another girl in a faraway land.  Cinderella had long heard tales of the ruby slippers and the girl who clicked her heels incessantly.

There were days when Cinderella could think of nothing else. She hated sharing the spotlight.  If shoes were to be her thing, than they should be hers alone.  She shouldn’t have to share the glory with some farm girl.  Shoe envy can be an ugly thing.

So troubled was Cinderella, that she’d summoned her fairy Godmother, who arrived, as usual, in a giant bubble, which floated through the air propelled by the soft flutter of hundreds of bluebirds all flapping their wings.  As the bubble landed softly in the courtyard, the birds began dropping onto the grass, their tiny chests huffing and puffing. 

Glinda stepped through the slick transparent wall with a loud pop as the bubble burst.  She made her way up the path to the castle, gingerly stepping around the passed out birds on the ground. 

“Cindy!” She squealed as Cinderella appeared in that doorway.

Cinderella ran down the hill toward her fairy Godmother.  “Glinda!” 

They embraced and made fake kissy noises in each other’s ears.

“I’m so happy you could come,” Cinderella said as they walked up the hill, the heels of her glass slippers sinking ungracefully into the soft hillside.  Heels on a slipper, who does that?  “It has been such a long time.”

“Well, how could I resist your note.”  Glinda smiled.  Clearing her throat she recited, “Glinda, come at once. It involves shoes. Love, Cindy.”

Smiling, Cinderella said, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.”

“I’m a girl aren’t I?  Shoes are like men.  You can’t have just one pair.” 

Behind her, the bluebirds were recovering and beginning to flutter around in circles.

Cinderella led her fairy godmother into the castle, explaining her situation.  They plopped down on Cindy’s bed and stared at the ceiling.  “Those ruby slippers should be mine, they’re too fancy for a farm girl to wear when slopping the hogs.  I must have them.”

“Be careful, dear.  The last girl to say that melted.”

Cindy pouted.  “There must be some way.”

“Well,” Glinda said.  “I could ask Dorothy to give them to you.  But I doubt she would.”

“You…you know her?”

“Of course, dear.  I‘m her fairy Godmother too.” 

Cinderella sat up in the bed.  “All this time I thought you were mine.”

“I am, Dear,” Glinda said.

“No,” Cindy responded.  “ONLY mine.  I didn’t know I had to share you.”

“You should know something else,” Glinda touched Cinderella on the cheek.  “I gave Dorothy the ruby slippers.  They were a gift after she dealt with a certain unpleasantness in Oz.  I give all my girls shoes.”

“How many of us are there?”  Cinderella asked.

“Oh, too many to count, Dear.”

Cinderella jumped up.  “You can ask for them back!”

Glinda shook her head.  “No, I couldn’t do that.  A gift, once given, is forever.”

“But, I’d give you back my glass slippers if you asked me.”

Glinda smiled, patting Cindy lightly on the arm.  “I’m sure of that, Dear.  But Dorothy is a sportier type of girl…made of heartier stock.  She is stubborn and self-righteous, and she holds on to what is hers. She does have a bit of a gambling problem though.  Can’t resist a bet.  It’s how the wizard got her to steal the witch’s broom.”

Cinderella slumped back onto the bed.  “Isn’t there any way?”

Glinda thought for a moment and smiled.  “Perhaps there is something.”


A bet was offered and accepted, and word soon spread across the land.  A dance-off between Dorothy of Oz and Cinderella of The Kingdom was set.  Many people travelled great distances to watch the winner-take-all match.  The fields around the castle filled with commoners and hucksters alike.  Those with no money, and those who wanted it. 

Winner of the dance-off got the shoes.  Both pairs.  Glass and ruby slippers both.   For three days the crowd waited and on the fourth a great cheer began to rise.  Dorothy had arrived, but she had not come alone.  Walking beside her were the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

Together, they approached the massive door to Cinderella’s castle. 

“I’m having déjà vu,” said the Tin Man

“It sure does feel like we’ve done this before,” agreed the Scarecrow.

Dorothy said nothing.  Her face was a mask of determination and she clutched her handbag and her little dog too.

The door swung open as they approached and Cinderella stepped out.  Her eyes darted to the girl’s shoes before rising to look at the girl herself.  She was a plain girl with hard eyes, and really, who wore pigtails anymore these days?

Dorothy curtsied.  “Hello ma’am.  I’m very pleased to meet you.”

Cinderella pasted a smile to her lips.  “The pleasure is mine, Dorothy.  Welcome to my kingdom.”  With a sweep of her arm, she said, “Please come in.”

Crossing the threshold, the cowardly lion looked all around and sighed, “Here we go again.”


The royal atrium at the castle’s center began to fill as the wealthiest among them bought their way inside.  Stadium seats had been constructed by the royal masons along all four walls for the best view of the battle.  Mutton vendors walked among the seated crowds where two pence bought a slab of meat and goblet of ale to wash it down.

High above, a skylight illuminated a royal pedestal draped in royal cloth at the center of the royal dance floor.  Off to one side, a royal band of minstrels tuned their instruments.

Presently a stout man with facial hair so long, it nearly hid his short, round torso waddled to the center of the floor and stood near the pedestal.  He held his hands up to the crowd for silence and after several minutes the room was quiet.

From somewhere beneath his beard, the stout man produced a scroll and unrolled it with a flourish.  “Hear ye, Hear ye,” he proclaimed.  “Let it be known that on this day there will be a great contest.  Cinderella of the Kingdom challenges Dorothy of Oz to a dance-off.  A winner-take-all competition for…” and here he paused to examine the scroll for a moment.  “…for…uh…shoes.”              

The crowd, made up almost entirely of women, erupted in a tumultuous cheer.  The few men in attendance, presumably there to witness a catfight, applauded discreetly.

The stout man rolled the scroll tightly and muttered, “That’s how I roll,” before slipping it back beneath his beard.  He reached out a hand and snatched the royal cloth off the pedestal to reveal two pair of slippers, one made entirely of glass and the other encrusted with rubies.  The crowd gasped collectively, and one man in the front row suddenly leapt to his feet in excitement.  Presently, the minstrels began to play.

From the east entrance, Cinderella entered the arena, and from the west came Dorothy.  They were both barefoot.  They stood side-by-side at the center of the room while the crowd bellowed, and turned to face the spectators along each of the four walls.

The stout man held his arms up again and the crowd grew instantly silent.  There was a great flutter of wings from above as Glinda’s bubble descended through the skylight surrounded by hundreds of bluebirds.  She drifted slowly down until her bubble burst on the floor.  The bluebirds collapsed all around as she walked to each girl and hugged them.  “How exciting,” she said.

“The battle will consist of three rounds,” announced the stout man.  “Each lady will perform a dance of their choosing and Glinda will be the sole judge.  She will declare the winner and award the shoes to that person.  Her decision will be final and we shall all abide by her verdict.”  The crowd erupted again, and the man in the front row nearly fainted. 

“As this is Cinderella’s home, Dorothy of Oz shall go first.”  The stout man lifted the pedestal and carried it off the dance floor, gently pushing exhausted bluebirds out of his way with the toe of his boot.

The minstrels resumed as Glinda and Cinderella left the dance floor, picking up bluebirds along the way.

Dorothy of Oz raised her arms above her head, and brought them down dramatically with a heavy strum of the mandolin.  She leapt and twirled and mesmerized the crowd who had never seen such movement.  Spinning faster and faster as the music swelled, Dorothy leapt high in the air and landed in the splits.

The crowd jumped to their feet and the man in the front row actually ran from the room in his excitement.  They cheered for a full three minutes and only calmed down when Dorothy walked off. 

The music started again, slow and melodic, as Cinderella entered from the opposite side of the room.  She began her dance with a curtsy to the crowd and then twirled and danced with an elegance and grace rarely seen outside the castle walls.  While Dorothy’s dance had been filled with an angry sort of beauty, Cinderella’s commanded the room with its simple sophistication.  As the music faded, she finished as she had begun, with a curtsy.  The crowd sat in stunned silence trying to catch their collective breath.  They’d witnessed a magical performance.

Dorothy erupted onto the stage for her second dance with her hair flowing free around her face, no longer retrained by pigtails. She performed a strange dance full of jerky half movements and angry screams that left the audience stunned.

Cinderella followed with a dance where she was carried by servants for most of it to give the appearance of flying.

For their final performance, they shared the stage and battled head-to-head to a fast number played by the minstrels. Spinning madly and flipping her hair around, Cinderella twirled in a spirited tribal dance from the farthest reaches of the kingdom, while Dorothy laid some woven mat on the floor and spun on her hips and back, legs in the air.  The dance was intense and both girls were out of breath at the end of it.

As the crowd applauded, Glinda rolled inside her bubble across the floor, her bluebirds still recovering, and stepped out. 

“My, that was exhilarating.” Glinda motioned for both girls to stand next to her. “I don’t know how I will ever choose, you both deserve to be crowned the winner.”  She sighed. “But choose I must and so the winner of this dance-off is…”

A scream cut her off mid-sentence and a hand maiden rushed out.  “Milady,” she curtsied to Glinda.  “The shoes, they’re missing!”

“What!?” shouted Cinderella.

The maiden handed her a note and Cindy unfolded and it read.


Royal Order of Repossession.
By order of the royal credit bureau, both pairs of shoes have been repossessed. Glinda and her shoe habit have grown out of control and until payment can be made in full, said shoes shall remain unavailable.


Cinderella glanced to the empty chair in the front row where the excited little man had been and then at Glinda, who only shrugged.







Sunday, February 16, 2014

NYC Midnight 2014 Writing Contest: Round One

So for this round, I had one week to create a short story based on the criteria they gave me.


Here is what I came up with, I would love any feedback you would care to share, bit good and bad!

Feel the Burn
Bill Wilbur

Jacob Bodeen tossed off the sheets and sat up in bed. This was the third night this week that he couldn’t sleep. The heat was part of it. His broken air conditioner wheezed and shook and tried to cool the place, but all it really succeeded in doing was pushing the hot air around the room like a soft breeze from hell.

Sleeping with the window open barely helped, but the bright lights of the billboard directly across the street lit up his room, painting the walls in their bright red neon. The advertisement was for some new brand of lipstick and both the lips and the stick glowed with the promise of electric sex.

The woman on the billboard, more beautiful than any he had ever seen, was looking directly at the camera with her lips, full and voluptuous, parted ever so slightly as the tip of the red lipstick was poised for penetration.

Jacob didn’t know anything about advertising, but he knew what he liked.
On more than one occasion he had stared back into those deep hazel eyes and pleasured himself. On those nights with his eyes closed and his mind lost in fantasy, he could swear the woman in the sign whispered the nastiest things into his ear.

He was handsome enough, and had dated women off and on most of his life, but none of them compared to the beauty out the window. And once those women got a good long look at the scar tissue that covered most of his body, they couldn’t run away fast enough.

With a sigh, he rolled onto his side and allowed the billboard to lull him to the edge of sleep with the soft buzz of its incandescent spotlights. His eyelids grew heavy and just as he started to drift, with the prospect of sleep no longer just a distant concept, a loud thud came from the bathroom followed immediately by the unmistakable sound of the toilet lid slamming shut.

Jacob rolled over, turning his back on the most beautiful woman in the world, and stared at the doorway to the bathroom. The neon glow of lipstick was not strong enough to penetrate the shadows that far into the room. He squinted into the darkness a minute more, listening. But when all he heard was the sound of his own breath, he lay his head back down; sure that sleep would elude him for the rest of the night.

Staring at the ceiling, trying to take deep, rhythmic breaths, a soft lullaby entered his thoughts. It was the same song his mother had sung to him every night as a child when the night terrors would wake him screaming from whatever nightmare they’d chased him through. She would come and sit at his bedside, stroking the top of his head and singing a sweet song of love and loss.

That was always the thing with lullabies, they sounded sweet and innocent but the words sometimes told a different story. And as the grown-up Jacob drifted away on the lilting voice filling his mind, he thought that tonight, the lullaby sounded just a bit sinister.

The thumping woke him around three o’clock. He came instantly awake. The room was like a sauna and the hot air had a weight to it that was hard to move through. It took real effort to raise his hand to his face and wipe the sweat from his eyes. There was a humid stickiness to the air, like when he took long showers in the winter with the apartment sealed up against the cold and the water hung lazily in the unmoving air.

The toilet seat slammed in the bathroom and Jacob started. He swung his legs over the edges of his bed and listened intently. There was nothing for a long time and then, softly there came a thump. It had been subtle and deliberately quiet, as if whoever was in there moved stealthily, not wanting him to hear. Or maybe they had wanted him to hear after all. Maybe whoever it was had made just enough noise that he would hear but the neighbors wouldn’t.

“Who’s there?” He called out to the darkness. Reaching beneath his bed, Jacob retrieved the baseball bat he kept there. He’d hit the winning run with it during the CIF playoffs his senior year in high school, and if it was good enough then he was damn sure it would be good enough for whoever was in his apartment.

Jacob edged toward the bathroom door. Snaking his hand inside, he flipped on the light.


He took a second, longer look, staring into the mirror which showed the shower and the rug on the floor and the towel rack where his towel hung, it showed the clothes hamper in one corner and the toilet in the other. The lid to the toilet was down. Across from the commode was a small window, too small for anyone but a small child to crawl through. Everything was clean and tidy and where it should be.
He edged around the door with his bat raised high and stepped into the bathroom. The smell hit him full force like a punch to the face, and he recoiled back out of the room. It had smelled of urine and shit and burned plastic, there was no other way to describe it.

It had smelled like his childhood.

A sudden, horrible memory slammed into him and he nearly slumped to the floor with the weight of it. He was thirteen years old and it was the last week of summer camp. For the entire summer Jacob had avoided a beating by the camp bully, a fifteen year old named Stanley Renker, though there had been several close calls. A dozen times in the mess hall, Stanley had knocked the tray from Jacob’s hands and whispered, “Feel the burn.” But Jacob was good at making himself scarce and for the entire summer, the dumped trays had been the worst of it. Until the final week.

They came for him while he slept. His cot was closest to the door of the cabin and they simply reached in and grabbed him under his blanket. He struggled and fought, but the blanket held him like swaddling and he was defenseless. Somebody pulled a pillow case over his head. He screamed and a few lights went on in some of the cabins, but nobody came to rescue him. It was summer camp after all and pranks were a part of the experience. They built character according to the counselors. They were harmless. By the time the adults figured out they were wrong, Jacob was nearly dead.

The bullies carried him out to the lake and tied his hands and feet with knots they had learned that very summer. They gagged him with a jock strap from somebody’s locker and tossed him into the blue plastic outhouse that stood lakeside for emergency use. “Feel the burn!” Stanley shrieked as Jacob struggled and lunged from the outhouse. Stanley shoved him back against the wall and Jacob slipped to the floor in whatever disgusting slime was there. The bullies laughed and slammed the door shut. Jacob heard a padlock snap into place and knew he’d lost the fight. He’d have to wait until a counselor came down for a swim in the morning. If this was the worst of it, he could bear it. The humiliation would be bad, but he would only have to deal with the jeers for another week.

From outside the outhouse there was a commotion and then a voice said, “Jesus, Stanley, what the hell are you doing?”

Stanley only laughed and repeated, “Feel the burn.” But there was something in his voice then, something that scared Jacob bad.

The sudden smell of gasoline filled the night air and Jacob edged to the door, peering through the crack at its edge. A soft orange glow filled his vision and then the first of the flames licked up the side of the outhouse. Jacob screamed and kicked at the door. The blue plastic walls began to run and molten plastic dripped from the ceiling onto Jacob’s skin. Within a minute, the entire outhouse was aflame and beginning to melt into itself. Jacob’s skin blistered as the burning plastic dripped onto his scalp and arms. His heart hammered in his chest and he knew he was about to die.

With every ounce of courage he had, amped up by the intense fear of being burned alive, Jacob lunged against the door, coating the right side of his body in burning plastic. With a shriek he lunged again, and the melting door bulged outward. With a third lunge, he broke through and the melting door wrapped around him as he fell. Rolling down the slight incline, Jacob threw himself into the lake. The plastic cooled immediately and bonded to his exposed skin. The world grayed before his eyes and he forced himself up onto the bank of the lake. As his head hit the dirt, he passed out.

Stanley and his goons spent three years in Juvenile Detention and were released on their respective eighteenth birthdays. Three years and they reemerged with a clean slate, while Jacob spent those same three years undergoing one hundred fourteen separate skin graft operations, and the rest of his life horribly disfigured. Twelve years of therapy had done nothing to alleviate the anger.
With a last look around the bathroom, Jacob flipped the light off, and in the afterglow of the dying filament he saw it. His subconscious registered the shape behind the shower curtain while his tired mind tucked it away as a shadow and a trick of the light.

Jacob climbed back into bed, blew a kiss to the woman outside his window and closed his eyes. From the bathroom came the unmistakable sound of the shower curtain being drawn slowly back followed by a soft thump. He sat up in bed just as his shampoo bottle rolled from the darkness and across the bedroom floor.

“Who’s in there?” He yelled as he jumped from the bed, his baseball bat already in his hand. Lunging through the doorway, he switched on the light poised to swing at whoever he found.

But the bathroom was empty.

The shower curtain was still pulled across the tub as he had left it, though the bathmat beneath it was wet and showed the very distinct impression of a foot. Jacob whipped the curtain aside and slammed the bat forward into the empty shower. He swung left and right, his heart beating a tribal dance in his chest.

There was nobody there.

He stood perfectly still, breathing heavy and feeling like a fool. Halfheartedly he swung the bat at the bunched up shower curtain and sent it flying like a vinyl ghost in the wind. Laughing a nervous laugh, he shook his head. He set the bat down, straightened the shower curtain and knelt to examine the bath mat. As he traced the moist impression, a woman’s voice slammed into his mind. “Behind you!”

In one fluid motion, Jacob snatched up his bat and spun around to face the empty room. He looked at his own reflection in the mirror and all at once all the breath left his lungs and he slumped forward. The bat grew heavy in his hands and when he dropped it he barely heard it hit the tile floor. Somebody had written on his mirror in what looked like blood. The words ran down and dripped red onto the sink.


He stumbled backward out of the bathroom, pulling the door closed and didn’t stop until the back of his knees hit the mattress. Sitting down hard on the mattress, he fumbled for his cell on the nightstand. As he punched in the numbers, a loud thump hit the backside of the bathroom door and his brain suddenly brought forward the shadowy image he had registered earlier behind the shower curtain.

“911 operator, what is your emergency?”

The toilet lid slammed three times in succession.

“I…uh…I think someone is in my apartment.”

The bathroom door rattled in its frame as something heavy slammed into it from the other side.

“Are you in the apartment, sir?”

“Yes,” he whispered. There was the sudden, unmistakable sound of glass shattering and his toiletries being thrown around the room. It sounded like a war zone in there.

“What is your apartment number, Sir?”

“Apartment Four-A”

“We have a unit on the way, Sir. Can you leave the apartment or are you confined in some way?”


“Help is en-route and will arrive in approximately three minutes, Sir. I suggest you wait outside for the officers.”

“Thank you,” he said and hung up. Stepping into his slippers, he headed for the door to do just that when the female voice in his head screamed, STAY!
He stood indecisive for a few seconds, his hand hovering over the doorknob. There was no noise coming from the bathroom and so he let himself relax. He sat down in a chair near his dresser and glanced out to the woman on the billboard. She looked as beautiful as ever with her slightly parted, invitingly full bright red lips, the phallic lipstick teased ever so close to them. Her teeth looked longer somehow and sharper. And she was winking at him.


The word infiltrated his mind again and he felt his sanity begin to slip ever so slightly.

A loud knocking at the door drew his attention away. “Police, open up!”

Jacob glanced back at the woman out the window. She was looking directly at him again and he thought he detected just a tinge of madness in her eyes. Her grin had pulled up a little further at the edges revealing long, white, razor sharp teeth.

“Mr. Bodeen?” A sharp rap at the door. “Are you there, Sir?”

Jacob rushed across the room and opened the door. A young, short officer with a sharp angular face stepped into the room followed quickly by his partner, a tall, wide man with a head of shockingly blonde hair. The big man glanced quickly at Jacob and then surveyed the room. There was no recognition on the man’s face whatsoever. Why should there be, the last time they’d seen each other was nearly ten years old. Back when they were kids. Back at summer camp.

The shorter officer spoke while the big man moved about the room like a panther stalking prey. “My name is Officer Harrington. You stated to the 911 operator that you believed someone to be in your apartment. Do you believe that to still be the case, Mr. Bodeen?”

Jacob only nodded. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the other officer. He stared, disbelieving. Ten years after nearly killing him, Stanley Renker had become a cop.

“The bathroom,” Jacob wheezed.

Stanley pulled his weapon and proceeded to the closed door.

“Please wait out in the hall while we clear the room, Sir.” Harrison followed Stanley the goon toward the bathroom door, unsnapping his holster but leaving the pistol sheathed for the time being.

Jacob came up behind them. “It sounded like an MMA fight in there,” he whispered.

They both looked back at him and for the first time, he noted a glimmer of recognition on the goon’s face.

Stanley turned back to the door and knocked. “Police! If anyone is in the bathroom you have ten seconds to come out or make yourself known.”

They held their breath. The seconds ticked by.


Stanley turned the knob and, with a deep breath flung the door open. He lunged through and Harrison went in after him. Jacob stayed where he was until Officer Stanley called out to him.

“Mr. Bodeen? Could you come in here please?”

Jacob braced himself and stepped into the bathroom. There was no damage, no broken glass, everything was as it always was. He glanced at the mirror. The words were gone.

“Well, Mr. Bodeen.” Harrison walked over. “Everything appears to be in order. Perhaps it was a bad dream that felt real.”

Jacob nodded but he wasn’t really listening. Instead he was staring over the officer’s shoulder at Stanley, and at the shower curtain behind him. A dark shape shifted stealthily behind the curtain until it was directly nearest the man who had nearly burned Jacob alive.

TAKE THE GUN! The woman’s voice screamed in his head. KILL HIM!

Before he knew what was happening, Jacob reached out and snatched Harrison’s pistol from the holster. He pushed it into the man’s chest and pulled the trigger twice. Even as the short man fell, Jacob pivoted and pointed the gun at Stanley who had his own pistol up.

“Feel the burn, Stanley?”

Recognition flashed suddenly on Officer Stanley’s face and his hand wavered.

NOW! The voice in Jacob’s head screamed, and he felt his mind snap fully. PUSH HIM NOW!

Jacob put his head down and charged. He heard Stanley fire once, twice, and then he plowed into the bully, knocking him back into the shower.

The scream in Jacob’s head was deafening and he dropped to the tile floor.

A sudden darkness swirled up and over Stanley, wrapping around him like a blanket. “It BUUUUURRRNNNS!” he screamed before the inky blackness poured into his mouth and down his throat. His eyes grew wider and his body began to convulse and in just a few seconds, Stanley ‘The Goon” Renker died.

“Feel the burn, fucker,” Jacob said and tried to stand but the world tilted and he slipped on the linoleum. There was blood soaking his shirt and pooling onto the linoleum. He tried to push himself up but his foot slipped in the blood, and he sat down hard. His head grew heavy and he rested it on the toilet seat. Words appeared on the side of the tub, written in what looked like blood, but Jacob knew better. He recognized that particular shade of red. It was lipstick.

I love you, Jacob.

He smiled a weak smile and closed his eyes while hysterical laughter filled his mind.