OFFICIAL EVENT Iwaku Love Contest 2024: Entries + Voting

Which piece do you think should win?

  • Crimson Musings

  • Love Through a Demon's Eyes

  • The Unspoken Word

  • Mother's Grace

  • Heartbeat

  • Four Letters

  • A simple message for ya

  • An Aubergine Sea Princess Fable

  • Rendezvous

  • Swings

Results are only viewable after voting.


elegance is more important than suffering
Original poster
Posting Speed
  1. Multiple posts per week
  2. One post per week
  3. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Primarily Prefer Male
Slice-of-Life, Gothic, Horror, Fantasy

Hello lovers, it's me, ya ghoul!

I am thrilled to be hosting Iwaku's first annual love story writing contest and even more thrilled to show you all our excellent submissions this year. To remind you, this year's themes were:
- Forbidden
- Serendipity
- Partnership

We would love to have you join us in the Iwaku Discord Server on February 17th at 3 PM CST to hear some of these pieces read aloud and discuss them. Please keep any critiques for the authors constructive, and remember that all opinions are subjective, so refrain from giving any sort of letter grade or rating. When discussing the pieces, here are some questions you can consider:
- What do you enjoy most about the piece?
- Does it fit well with the selected themes?
- Is love (of any kind) a main factor of the story?

Using the poll above, you can vote for which piece you believe to be the best. The voting here will not determine the winners alone, but member votes will play a role in our judges' decision. As a reminder, our judges this year are the wonderful @Reina, @kroyote, and @wolf. Our three winners will get their pick of a $25 Etsy gift card, a custom profile ribbon for 3 months, a $15 Amazon gift card and an Overcooked game code donated by @MiharuAya.

Now, without further ado, please enjoy this year's submissions!

Crimson Musings (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
By: @Havoccultist
Word Count: 1232
Chosen Theme(s):Partnership & Serendipity
Chosen Format: Short story/Fanfiction/One shot

Crimson Musings (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

The peace Fodlan now enjoyed beneath the banner of Emperor Edelgard had been hard fought, but well-won, and spelt a new era of prosperity and equality for all. What's more, those who slither in the dark would find themselves incapable of interfering in the affairs of surface dwellers again thanks to the actions of the Emperor and her strike force, specifically Hubert von Vestra and Byleth Eisner, the two of them having personally weeded out the last strongholds the Agarthans had in the newly unified land over a decade ago. Yet even now–some ten years hence–there was conflict festering just beneath the surface; from the various disenfranchised ladies and lords scheming to regain their former lot in life regardless of the harm it did to their liege's burgeoning meritocracy, to the tense yet promising peace talks with Almyra just across the eastern border, to their dealings with Brigid and Dagda beyond the western sea. It was upon these issues that Byleth found his attention falling more frequently as of late, for though his wife had promised to appoint a worthy successor and abdicate the throne, she had not been able to find a moment of peace in which to do so. There was so much left for them to take care of that El stepping down from her position as Adrestia's figurehead now would result in major unrest, if not all out civil war considering what some of the northern and eastern houses were up to.

Although few in the empire noticed it, this new peace of theirs was as tenuous now as it had been back when they'd first secured it. Granted, they didn't have draconic gods running around pulling the strings of a highly influential church to worry about anymore, but still. Crests persisted in many bloodlines yet–including Edelgard's–as did the various relics, and both of those could still be used to devastating effect should they ever fall into the wrong hands. While the imperial army had done their best to gather and destroy what relics they could, many more remained unaccounted for, straight up disappeared, or had simply been hidden away too well for anyone to find. Though disappointing, at least the protests hadn't been too bad. Many people shared El's vision, more than Byleth expected, so the confiscation hadn't caused too much of a stir save for amongst the nobles…


Byleth jumped. Whirling in place he turned to find Edelgard propped up against the door to their bedroom, arms crossed with a worried expression wrinkling her face. Though she still wore her armored regalia, the manner in which she carried herself was relaxed. Casual. More casual than she would allow herself to be at court certainly. 'Twas a side of her that only a select few ever got to see, and Byleth considered himself lucky to be numbered amongst them.

"Are you alright? You've been cooped up in here for a while now."

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Byleth squeezed his eyes shut with a sigh.

"I'm sorry, I got lost in thought again."

Edelgard smiled.

"You're beginning to make this a habit, my love. Do the affairs of state truly weigh upon you so?"

"If I am being completely honest," he began, his brow furrowing. "They do. It's not my own health that I'm worried about, mind you, but the burden such things place on you."

Letting his hand drop, he met her gaze.

"There's so much work left for you to do that you've hardly gotten a moment to rest, let alone pass on rulership so we can live together in peace. Haven't you done enough? Haven't we done enough?"

The corners of Edelgard's mouth twitched downward a hair. Her husband looked exhausted, his eyes worn and hollow, yet a fire raged behind them all the same. It was that same silent conviction which had drawn her to him in the first place, his dashing good looks aside. She sympathized with his desire for rest, for a break from the ceaseless discharge of political and societal issues currently plaguing the empire, but they could not waver. She could not waver. Though they had done much there was still much left to do, and Edelgard would see that work completed one way or another. She had fought for far too long and sacrificed far too much to do otherwise.

They both had.

"We most certainly have not," she replied evenly, clasping her hands in front of her dress. "We cannot rest until the last shackles the church and nobility put into place have been broken. You know this just as well as I do."

There was a heavy silence then, broken only by the chirping of birds as they flitted about beyond the chamber's windows. It stretched on for a beat longer before Edelgard continued.

"I understand your longing for rest," she said. Her shoulders slumped a bit as the tension left them. "Believe me I do, for I want the same, but we must abide a while yet. For I will not see our children or anyone else's raised beneath the same yoke of tyranny we were."

Another spell of silence followed. This one even lengthier, not to mention much more awkward, than the last. Byleth allowed his gaze to wander about the room for a moment as he gathered his thoughts, before finally addressing his partner.

"You're right, I'm…"

He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

"I'm sorry."

Edelgard's smile returned, gentler this time, and she closed the distance to embrace her lover. Or his torso rather, since she was quite a bit shorter than him.

"It's okay. While I hate to see you so distressed, I am glad to know that you care."

Craning her neck, she stared into Byleth's eyes.

"But enough of this. We have something far more important to attend to at the moment."

Byleth raised an eyebrow.

"Oh? And what might that be?"

"Our tea party, naturally. Don't tell me you've forgotten?"

The mercenary blinked as a wave of embarrassment rose to color his face. In all honesty he had forgotten until she'd mentioned it, what with all the other problems that were weighing on his mind. Still, that didn't stop his brain from trying to make excuses, or his mouth from spewing them. Edelgard, on the other hand, merely pressed a finger to his lips with a giggle, staunching the flow of hasty rationalizations.

"You can make it up to me by giving me your portion of the Saghert and Cream."

Edelgard watched her husband pass a hand across his forehead in an exaggerated fashion.

"Truly, my emperor, you demand too much!"

"I demand only my just desserts," she said before pulling him towards the door. "Now come on."

With that the two of them departed. Weaving through the halls of the imperial palace they made their way to the royal gardens, though they would not linger here for very long. Early on in her reign Edelgard had ordered a private area for just the two of them be set aside, one they could use to get away from their responsibilities for a time. It was here that they had their tea, and here that Byleth–inevitably–lost his dessert, although he couldn't really complain. It made Edelgard smile, and that was all that really mattered at the end of the day.

Love Through a Demon's Eyes
By: @Fluffy
Word Count: 1996
Chosen Theme(s): Forbidden
Chosen Format: Narrative Short Story

You know that one quote that goes "There is nothing sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name?" Do you think that could apply to demons like me? As a demon, you'd think I wouldn't want to hear my name because those who speak it can gain control over me. Knowing my name can give a person so much power. I met someone special, though. Someone who I trust with my name.

Here's the funny thing about my special person, though… He's a demon hunter. Isn't that crazy? Someone who typically despises demons actually loves one. He loves me.

Let me start by saying that the demon hunter's name is Luxor. I have all sorts of pet names for him, though. I like to call him Boyfriend, and I like to call him Plaything. I also like to call him Princess, Honey, and Luxybear. Believe it or not, he loves all of those names.

I wish I could say that it's always been easy for me and Luxybear, but it hasn't been. Our relationship began in a big huge labyrinth, where demons are fated to wander aimlessly for the rest of their lives. It's a clever way of capturing and torturing us, I have to admit. I got to experience it for myself for several weeks. The cheeky demon hunter lured me to the labyrinth and kept me prisoner there. I'm not even going to get into how he got me there in the first place. It's somewhat embarrassing. We're going to just move on to the next part of the story.

…Okay, fine, I'll tell you what happened. He summoned me. He learned my name from somewhere and summoned me. I had zero control over it and I don't know, for some reason that embarrasses me. But also, I have to say, it was really sublime to hear my name being called. It felt good to be needed. At least, I thought I was needed. I thought I might be meeting with a top-notch summoner, but I met with Lux instead. And then he tossed me in that labyrinth hoping I would rot there.

I want to interrupt this for a moment and say that Lux has more than made up for what he's done to me. After he freed me from the labyrinth prison, he took good care of me and pampered me while I sorted through the trauma. He was with me every step of the way. I know how messed up that probably sounds. Well, love is messed up. I'm messed up and so is Lux. Somehow, it all works out.

Anyway, back to where we left off… Ah yes. I was talking about how I was totally meant to rot in that labyrinth. Truthfully, I understood why I was there. I'm a demon, after all. To most people, I'm a monster. And they wouldn't be wrong in thinking that. I've killed before. I've killed many times and I'll probably do it again. For what it's worth though, I don't kill for no reason. Everyone that I've ended has been some kind of evil-doer, like an abuser or a murderer. It's my way of trying to do some good in the world. I'm a dark spirit of vengeance. I love to go after the corrupt souls of the world and I love to make it rain red with their blood.
For those reasons and more, I probably deserved to be in that labyrinth. Even though I was killing for good reasons, I was still killing. I think that's part of the reason why I didn't get too pissed off about being there. I was like 'Well, I deserve this' and just went on to try and find a way out of the maze.

Moving on back to the subject of Lux… Let me tell you, I had the hots for this demon hunter even while I was trapped down there. Which is kind of fucked up, right? I should have hated his guts! I should have wanted to strangle him and put my foot in his ass! But no! No, my stupid heart had to develop stupid feelings for this stupid demon hunter. As a result of this, I kept pulling my punches whenever we'd encounter in the labyrinth. Because once we saw each other, I would break out the claws and he would break out a fancy weapon. All those times when I could have severely wounded him or even killed him, I didn't. I couldn't. I secretly didn't want to hurt him. I didn't really understand why at the time.

And I'll tell you what. Every time I saw Lux, my heart would beat wildly in my chest. Not out of fear but excitement. I couldn't wait to see him again. He's such a beautiful man with pretty red hair and one of the most handsome smiles I've ever seen. Ugh, I would die for that smile. He makes these cocky little smirks too that I can't help but get weak over. It seriously pisses me off how attractive he is. And what pisses me off even more is he knows he looks good. He's fully aware of what a fine looking gentleman he is. Sometimes when I compliment him, I get answers akin to "I know." What an arrogant brat. I can't believe him sometimes. I love him, though. I love him so, so much…

I know that Lux loves me back just as much. I'm pretty sure he always loved me. I wasn't the only one pulling my punches during our encounters. Lux used to bring down the most impressive weapons I'd ever seen, but not a single one harmed me. We would do some kind of playfighting instead of actually fighting and then we'd walk away with zero scratches on us. That's how it went every time for the few weeks I was trapped down there. Lux would show up with the intention of battling me but no actual battle would take place. It felt more like he was visiting me to hang out.

Eventually, those hangouts came to a stop. Because, one day, I was led out of that labyrinth and given a proper place to stay. Lux didn't want me to be trapped down there anymore. He made sure I had a bed to sleep in, good food to eat, and plenty of wine to drink. He made sure I had everything I needed. I was comfortable. More importantly, I wasn't alone anymore. Lux stayed by my side from then on.

On the first day of my being free, I immediately started flirting with the demon hunter. I figured I might as well start right away. I was dying to hold him in my arms, plus I could tell it would be a challenge to win him over. (Also, he deserved to feel a little uncomfortable for putting me in that labyrinth.) Lux isn't a very open person by nature. He wasn't very honest about his feelings at first, either. For instance, he told me that he let me out of the labyrinth from the goodness of his heart, nothing more or less. I knew there were other reasons, though. Reasons that have everything to do with loving me. But… Even though he had eyes for me, he wasn't wanting to admit it or allow himself to feel those feelings. It was up to me to nudge him in the right direction. And I had to crack the outer shell he'd built around himself. I had a hard time accessing his soft side at first. In time though, I managed to get there.

How did I get there, one may ask? I was annoyingly persistent, that's all. No matter how often he tried to shut me down, I kept throwing flirtations or compliments at him. I knew, deep down, that he had feelings for me. I could just tell. I could feel it. I wanted us to get together already. A handsome fellow like Lux could get snatched up at any moment and I wasn't going to let anyone have him. I wanted him all for myself. I didn't care what anyone would have thought about it. I was going to keep pursuing this demon hunter until he asked me to stop.

There's a funny thing about that. He never did ask me to stop. He acted annoyed with me at times yet he never discouraged me from continuing. Secretly, he didn't want me to give up on him. He wanted me to keep poking at him with my flirtations and sweet talk until he finally gave in. Lux was all too aware of the layered defenses he had around his heart. Which was no problem for me. I was determined to knock down all those walls so I could claim that heart for myself.

I'm proud to say that it didn't take me long to get through his emotional barriers. Once I realized that this demon hunter had a weakness for me, I exploited that weakness so hard. I had to do something. The guy was giving me a hard time. I gave him a hard time right back by flustering him with charming words and distracting him with the mischievous smiles I make. He loves that shit. I don't have to do too much to get his attention. It's actually quite easy.

Finally, I did get to him. I knocked down those defenses of his and reached his heart. Once I had that heart in my grasp, I, of course, treated it with all the love and care in the world. I let my Luxybear know that nothing would ever hurt him, least of all me. He wore so many scars from the claws and teeth of demons who'd attacked him. I knew I needed to be reassuring and promise to be gentle. We had a very tender, sweet moment. I embraced him tightly and told him that if he wanted me, he could have me. I was all his to have, to love, to kiss.

Lux made sure to give me the same loving care. He promised to always take good care of me. He gave me all the kisses I could ever want and he held me tightly in his arms. I felt so safe. I felt so warm. I felt like I was finally home. I didn't have much of a place to call home before I met Lux. Although, in this case, home is a person instead of a place.

Us being together is deliciously forbidden. A demon hunter isn't supposed to be romantic with a demon. We're supposed to be their natural enemy. Lux and I couldn't help ourselves, though. We really wanted each other. And we wanted to say "fuck you" to the demon hunters and the demons who disagree with our relationship. Which happens to be most of them. Any demons or hunters we come across tend to express disgust and discomfort. They really don't like seeing us together. Not that we care what they think. They can fight us if they want to. We'll kick their asses because we have a special bond. Nothing and no one can keep us apart.

On that note, I hope Lux knows how much I cherish our connection. And I hope he knows how much I love him. There's nowhere else I'd rather be than by his side. I do my best to remind him of this multiple times a day, every day. Demon hunter or not, I'm with him for life. For as long as his life may last, anyway. But we don't need to get into how the lifespan of a demon compares to a human's. What matters most is today. There are all those quotes that say to "live for today because tomorrow is never promised" right?

That's what I want to do. I want to live for today.

The Unspoken Word
By: Anonymous
Word Count: 1964
Chosen Theme(s): Partnership & Serendipity
Chosen Format: Short Story

(Vaguely) Implied Child Abuse


The first time Coral meets her brother (and is made aware he even exists) is late into the evening on December 25th; she's sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter, the last few bites of her sandwich bulging in her cheeks and she's just inspecting the sticky jam and greasy peanut butter coating her fingers when his figure takes up the entirety of the hall's threshold. The first thought that registers in her brain is that he's shockingly similar in features to her, and then she thinks he just looks small. Not small in height, he's tall (something she can tell even with the space between them) and his broad shoulders and stocky build are obvious under the slightly too-small coat he's wearing— but he's small in the way people are when they've spent a lot of time hiding in plain sight or ducking their heads underneath everyone's gaze.

They don't do anything except stare at one another; Coral slowly chewing through tacky peanut butter and him steadily dripping melted snow onto her mother's wooden floors. It's her father coming into the kitchen, similarly dripping, and ushering them both into the warm living room that breaks the staring contest. She learns about him in quick succession; his name is Cove, older by three years, would be staying with them from then on, and that the expression on his face is a funnier one to parse through than the adults, it's an imbalanced combination of sadness, frustration, and a subdued kind of acceptance (like a cornered animal becoming intensely and helplessly aware of being successfully trapped). Coral doesn't ask the big questions, the ones she's sure everyone in the room is expecting her to, she just shrugs and says, "Okay."

By New Year's, Cove has been moved into the room across from hers, and the biggest issue has already been brought to light by then; he hasn't said a single word to anyone since whatever happened for him to move in with them. She doesn't take it to heart, it wasn't like he was giving her the cold shoulder or anything, he was nice enough whenever she ran into him (as in he boiled enough water for her tea in the morning and let her use their shared bathroom first every time), it's just he wouldn't speak. One of her 'friends' meanly comments that maybe he'd wanted her family all to himself and was using muteness to get all the attention; but they didn't have to sit through a sad dinner of boxed mac & cheese with a side of even sadder vegetables, and watch as their mother tried (and failed) to coax Cove into a conversation— by the end of it, her mother's red lips were a thin line, Coral had eaten only a few pasta noodles, and Cove had cleaned his entire plate but hadn't looked up once.

She sneaks into the kitchen later that night and is halfway through the first half of a sandwich when a shadow darkens the archway. If she could raise one gripe with her brother, it would be that he was just always watching, nothing more and absolutely nothing less. She's not used to being the sole person in an unwavering spotlight without forcing it on herself, and it takes everything in her not to bristle at him. But it's also a bit entertaining, sometimes she'll stare at him over dinner, and see if he even blinks ( or even breathes for that matter).

It's a game for her now, whenever her father leaves town or stays late at work and her mother cooks, it's the only thing to distract her from the fact that the cool glass of water on the table was the only edible thing. "Hungry?" she asks around a mouthful. He doesn't say anything, but she's nothing like her overbearing parents, so she doesn't expect him to. His eyes zeroing in on the offered half is enough of an answer, and maybe it's because she's never been forced to share or had to fight to keep anything she wanted, that it's as easy as breathing to slide the slice over. Even when she knows what she's already eaten won't be enough.

"Do you prefer grape or strawberry jelly?" she ventures when the silence gets so tight and quiet that she can hear her own chewing, he doesn't answer but he's looking at her and that's enough. "I'd say grape, for me. Strawberries good and all, perfect for egg sammys. But grapes got this tart that's unbeatable." More silence, she loudly sucks jelly off the side of her ring finger, "Momma likes strawberry, the heathen," she snickers when she says it, imagining her mother's affronted face, "But dads got a taste for something even worse; apricot. And jam at that, horrible! Hunks are the absolute worst." Coral gives an exaggerated shudder, one she's not even sure is faked when it feels like it rattles somewhere deep in her bones.

Something she's learned about herself is that she can talk to fill spaces, if let loose, she could go on about the exact difference between jams, jellies, and even preserves if she was feeling particularly smart. This is exactly what she does, the bright green numbers on their microwave tell her it lasts about an hour, and the whole while Cove leans against the counter and listens. Even when they both finish their sandwiches, then a glass of milk each, and another sandwich when her stomach rumbles loudly in protest of only having had half a whole. He just stays there, watching her animatedly explain how biting into the hunks in jam gives her a bodily reaction that she hasn't been able to suppress. And that hour and some is pleasant and soft, in a way she's never felt around her family.

Their mother pulls Coral aside a week or so later, her brows furrowed and her red-painted lips already pressed into a signature shape of disappointment or thinly veiled distress. "Has your brother said anything to you?" For a moment, she's confused, wonders what brother? Then Coral remembers her taller but also somehow smaller older brother and shared nights spent quietly acknowledging that their mother couldn't cook, and then of silence filled— in the same way two people would fill it, with any and every topic she could think of. She doesn't know what to say, a hesitancy that has her mother bulldozing forward anyway, slender hands squeezing tightly at Coral's shoulders, "I just don't think it's normal for someone like him to go this long without talking."

Normal to Coral's mother meant girls who were occasionally seen but definitely never heard, and boys that would be boys. It meant Coral wasn't considered a normal girl, always talking and making sure she was heard at least once by every person she could. It also meant that her perpetually mute and a ghost in behavior brother fell into the same category as her. But not being normal also made her recall worse things; Sundays, incense and dust-smelling pews, kneeling until her knees turned raw and stiff, chanting prayers until the words sounded entirely foreign, and blistering welts or invisible prickling cuts. She's speaking before she's really outside of that place yet, "Yeah, we talk a lot." A nonchalant shrug, refusal to elaborate, and a sharp whine of annoyance end the conversation soon after.

Another week passes, and on a Sunday night, they resume their schedule. Not because of any inedible meals, but because she hadn't been present for dinner. So at half past one, she's standing at the counters, mouth stuffed with a sad sandwich, puffy-eyed and red-nosed. She's barely managing to swallow down each mouthful, forced to take every bite with a sip of milk to push it all down into her stomach. Coral doesn't say anything or look up when Cove comes quietly into the kitchen, just slides the other half over, hoping that he won't point out the missing ingredient or the lack of her favorite jelly (she can still hear her mothers screech somehow drowning out the sharp crash of glass shattering).

He doesn't because he won't speak, but he's staring a lot harder than usual; like he's trying to pick at a flap in her skin and rip it open to flay out her insides and every single wound too. It frays even more at her already overwhelmed edges, the gangling teen not used to being stuffed into such a small space and expected to breathe easily. She still takes a deep breath in and tries to hide the way it comes out shaking. On a Sunday night, in a dark kitchen illuminated only by the neon light of a microwave and the dimmer lights from a far-off street lamp, Coral takes in a deep and ragged breath before she promptly bursts into tears. It's an all-consuming sensation, being on the precipice and accidentally falling into the deep dark.

She's a silent crier because she's practiced keeping it all in her throat and chest, even if it makes it harder to breathe (to do anything other than suffocate under the terrifying roaring of waves that pour saltwater endlessly into her open mouth). It's the first time Cove ever touches her; clumsy but warm and limitless in surrounding her, an odd type of comfort (one she felt in equal parts sheer appreciation and smoldering humiliation). But it's so far from the prim perfectionism of her mother's empty comfort, and eons away from the cold malleability of her fathers, that it's the first time she actually feels comforted (just to be comforted) by someone she thinks of as family.

They somehow decide to climb up onto the roof, Coral laughing nasally when she almost slips on the rickety eaves and Cove miming for her to be quieter— though the severity is understated by how his mouth is twitching like he's trying to hold in a laugh or a smile. Everything in her aches, her insides raw like they always are when she cries, and her body aches because of the barely visible welts across her legs and forearms. But it's downplayed by her brother's hands helping her up to the top. On the same night, it's also the first time Coral sees him laugh and it's both the loudest thing she's ever seen him do and the quietest she's ever heard someone laugh. When Cove laughs, she learns it's the only time she'll ever see his widest smile; and how there's a gap between his front teeth and his nose will flatten the wider the smile gets.

From then on, they sit side-by-side at dinner, Coral scooting as far to the edge of her seat as she can without quite literally falling off it. And if their mother cooks that night, they share rough kicks under the table whenever she shovels hard pasta onto his plate and he sneaks still slightly frozen vegetables onto hers (though it doesn't matter, most of the food ends up on his plate one way or another, and he always eats it all). On Sundays, he'll bring her a sandwich and a glass of cold milk when she's too weak (and scared) to leave her room, and even though he could have made enough for them both, they always share. It means, when her mother's lips get thinner and her dad's colder, she'll loudly stomp into his room and talk and talk (loudly, as if to drown out someone else's voice) until the shadows under the slit in the door are satisfied, and she'll keep talking until Cove stops ducking his chin like he's waiting for something and actually starts to listen to her.

Coral wonders if that's what it means to have a family.

Mother's Grace
By: Anonymous
Word Count: 940
Chosen Theme(s): Serendipity, Partnership & Forbidden
Chosen Format: Short Story

Cult Behavior


"No, really, near the alligator graveyard." Mel's inability to whisper had Amaris sneak up on the young sister. Her ears sharpened at the excited giggles that followed from the audience Mel had gained. "A hut on crow legs, and a man, not a ghoul, but I don't think he is one of us either," the young priestess continued. It piqued Amaris' interest who decided not to interrupt the conversation. Foreigners were rare in their parts, especially alone. The fen wasn't welcome to strangers. It preyed on those alone together with the Pale Mother that watched over her children.

Mel was surrounded by now. The sisters listening in bathed breath eager to hear more of this stranger. Their baskets abandoned in the field of Tatary flowers they meant to harvest.

"He told me of the blue skies of the old world, as if he was there himself!" The excited exclamation made Amaris frown. A mental note following that she should address the issue with her sister-mothers.

"Praise the Pale Mother's grace for making the sky visible," Amaris had cut the story short. And while the sister scattered about, rushing back to their jobs, Amaris decided to pay the stranger a visit.

There had been no trace of a lie in Mel's story. Near the alligator graveyard a hut on strange webbed feet raising it above the treacherous grounds of the fen could be found. It took Amaris by surprise, who thought of the hut of Baba Yaga. A favourite amongst the dowagers to scare their youngest sisters with.

It was Sham, the sole habitant of the hut, that surprised Amaris the most. None more so than the Pale Mother herself.


Was it love or did she love his stories?

"I want to see you in the moon," Sham had whispered into her hair. A sentence that made Amaris shiver. Eyes fluttering close as she imagined the watchful eye of the Pale Mother.

"Tell me more about the clouds," Amaris responded instead. Diverting the question and pushing away the thoughts to her own vows.

Amaris had returned to the strange hut. At first to check in on Sham. After to hear more about the blue sky and the stars at night. Always alone and in secret. For she knew, if her sisters knew and the Pale Mother could see, her shame would be endless.

"Sometimes clouds are solid," Sham started, fingers brushing over her naked shoulder. "Sometimes they cast back the light of the sun, like your hair," she hears, fingers treading through her hair.

Once Sham had explained to her that the moon, the Pale Mother, was a mere reflection of the sun, not her own source of light. It had been a statement that had angered Amaris, her promise to never return rang clear. But it was the promise of more mystique and the golden eyes of Sham that captivated her, making her return.

"I want to see you in dusk, when the moon and the sun meet," Sham had told her. The vision of colours mixing together to signal the end of the day such a pretty picture. Amaris was nothing if not vain, growing weak at Sham's promise that she would still be the fairest of them all.

"The Pale Mother loves all equally." Amaris explained in turn, revealing the promise of the Micco. For the priestess meant to love all as equals like the Pale Mother.

"Even me?" Sham teased, though Amaris knew what he actually meant to ask as she didn't hesitate to answer;



"State your name, sister," the dowagers commanded, their crony voices mixing in unison. Hidden within the folds of darkness only her silver reflection kept Amaris company. A reflection of hollowed out darkened eyes and blotched skin. Her prided beauty stripped away after days of going without the Tartary Seeds.

Disgraced. That was what Amaris was. Impure in the eyes of the Pale Mother. Undeserving of her grace after her shameful conduct. But Amaris knew now that the Pale Mother was a mere reflection of the sun. Her answer clear;

"Amaris Mooney."

The declaration earned a round of disapproving sounds from the dowagers at the shared name.

"Amaris, sister," one dowager corrected her, reminding the sister of her duty and vows.

"State your sin," another dowager asked. The question for which Amaris had waited, her fists balling and her heart racing and her back straightening.


The answer came in conviction, earning another round of disapproval.

"And that man?" the question came, the poison clear in their voices. To the Pale Mother and the sisters of the Micco there was only one right answer.

It wasn't Amaris's answer.

"My lover. Like I love the Children of the Fen, like the Pale Mother intended," she sounded instead.

"We shall see what your answer will be after," came the promise of the retired sisters, leaving Amaris in the dark.

Sham's eyes were always set on the horizon, his tales hailing from an even greater distance.

"Water of Tatary," her sisters had explained, their voices devoid of guilt. It was explanation enough of the punishment given.

"Dreams for an endless dreamer," the mothers added nonetheless. All knew that the brew gave no sweet dreams. Not to those not graced by the Pale Mother. Not even by those graced.

Moving lips whispered lines of old poetry without a sound, never to utter her name again.

Leaning over Amaris kissed her husband goodbye. The one she was never meant to have under the watchful eye of the Pale Mother.

"It was love, sisters," she repeated when the dowagers found her with child.

By: @RiverNotch
Word Count: 230
Chosen Theme(s): Forbidden
Chosen Format: Verse

Infant Death and Deformity

There's two kinds of neural tube defect
caused by a lack of folic acid
in the mother's diet, or else by failure
of the embryo's cilia to transport

the acid to where it's needed. First,
and most common, Spina bifida,
where the tissue around or of the lower spine
is not entirely closed by vertebrae

and bulges out like some oversized
zit. Worse still
is when it's that other major mass
of central nervous tissue left exposed

and through the natural currents of the womb
the regions of the brain responsible
for memory, thought, and sensation
are sloughed off like a bit

of dead skin. This condition,
Anencephaly, is almost always fatal,
although there are those occasions where the child
is born breathing, crying, seeking out

its mother's touch, its mother's milk, and only
after a number of days does its soul
realize its place in the body
is worse than a prison, there are

no doors nor windows, so the heart
just stops.
The child dies. At no point would the mother
think she merely lost a mass of cells

or some other kind of parasite---she lost
her child---and yet
your so-called faith subjects her to the sight
of exposed brains, of a skull

less than half the proper size,
of a struggle to breathe for which
the only miracle
is a death by hours, not days---

Four Letters
By: Anonymous
Word Count: 280
Chosen Theme(s): Serendipity & Partnership
Chosen Format: Prose Poem

Four letter word. What a lovely name. If by happenstance I have occurred to you, then by this instance I consider myself blessed. Never in this lifetime would I expect to be more than merely a number in your stock, but a body— solid and fair— to be postured by your side.

Four letter word. It is bizarre. Could I be fortunate to be of your company? Never had it dawned on me that I could be under this stance, where I would be among kindred souls.

Four letters. It is that simple. Yet the intricacies of its nature perplexes me. I am just a haze in this sphere, still, you gave me a name. A form, an identity— and for its entirety, I feel endowed.

Four letters. It could have been more. You exceed concept and understanding. But perhaps you require no meaning. Only amity.

Four letter words. How are you this blithe? That under this delight, you give my world so much gravity? With you, I abhor the waste.

These four letter words. Could they be appropriate? I am at loss. Nothing can ever express the lightness I feel in my crux.

Your four letters. They overwhelm me. I do not deserve them. However, you do not mind. You dote on me just the same.

My four letters. Would they suffice? Would they be worthy of your presence? Could they convey my sentiments with innocence?

Four letters.
It is just four letters it takes.
Four divine alphabets that transformed me.
Tell me, will you accept my humble four letters?

It may not be enough in the end.
Nevertheless, just know one thing:

I am lucky to have you.

A simple message for ya
By: @strangeatlas
Word Count: 1980
Chosen Theme(s): Partnership
Chosen Format: Short Story

Childbirth Complications, Suicidal Thoughts

Not supposed to mess around with your sponsor. Anna told me that the first time we met. "We're partners," she said, "I look after you and you look after me. You start messing around and all that shit starts to get in the way of what really matters. That's staying clean." Thing is, I always been hooked on something. It was my ma's tit, then it was smack after that. I've never been clean. I just change my fix. I could get off that shit, as long as I could get hooked on her.

First it was just her laugh, seeing the sun on her hair, seeing her coming to meet me, hearing her call my name, her moves at the club, the feel of sweat on her skin, the smell of the bed when she's gone, the look on her face when she sips her coffee first thing in the morning. I couldn't get enough. I didn't need anything else.

We broke the rule, but we stayed clean. Got a nice job at the airport. Got a nice place. Paid the bills. Got a savings account. Never had one. Felt nice. I think it was cause I was finally thinking about what would make me happy not just tomorrow or this weekend, but next year, and even after that. Things made sense.

But you know, people are really living like they're skating on a frozen lake. Everything is pretty and the ice is smooth and shit, and you think everything is fine and it always will be. But sometimes, the ice gets thin. You wander in the wrong place, you're gonna break through, and then you're gonna drown. Simple as that. That water is below our feet, every one of us. I mean it.

See I don't really remember if it was her idea, or if I talked her into it. I know she told me her body was broken because of all the stuff she did when she was young. She knew I wanted a little boy, and I think maybe she came around to it on her own. But then I think I'm just lying to myself.

People only risk their lives for something they love. Maybe it's a man or a woman, or maybe some kinda cause, or maybe even money, but they only risk it for something they love. And that's what really kills me. She only did it cause she loved me. Gotta live with that.

I knew something was wrong the minute I came home. There's a cup a tea with the bag still in it, cold. A chair was down on its side on the floor. Her phone was on the counter, but she wasn't home.

Doctor said congrats, I'm a father. Took me to see him. He was a little thing, stick thin, in a little bed under a glass box, and buncha tubes coming out of his mouth and his arm. Machines beeping. Papers on the counter. "Extremely premature." "Extremely Low Birth Weight." "Low chances of survival, high risk for disability." I don't remember them telling me about Anna. I think I was just sitting there staring at my own reflection in the glass, and I was already underwater. But yeah, Anna didn't make it. She died that day.

Doc said I could visit the baby as much as I like, and that they do better when a parent holds them every day. The warmth of your body, sound of your voice and your beating heart makes a big difference in how well they do. It lets em know somebody love em and that they got a family. I didn't come a single fuckin day. Not a single fuckin day.

After that, I was either drunk or high or both. I lost my job. I got behind on rent. I went to Anna's funeral and her father kicked me out for something I did. I don't even remember it. I think what really got me was that the whole world just kept trucking on like nothing even happened. The sun kept shining. I saw people walking by, talking, laughing. And know what? Why shouldn't they? Bad shit happens every day. My baby was spending the first months of his life alone in a glass case with tubes coming outta him. His momma was dead. Nothing mattered. I was ready to die too.

Got messages from the doc. First one was about how he's doing and I couldn't fuckin understand half the words she said, and maybe I didnt wanna. Then came a bill, and I found out one week of stay in that hospital was more than my rent for two months. I'm ashamed to say I thought more than once about tellin em he ain't mine. But when I think how Anna did what she did to bring him to me, the shame stopped me cold. So I reached for the bottle and tried to forget about it all.

Then I got a voicemail. It was child protective services. They gotta make sure I'm ready to take him home. I realized if I don't take care of my shit, they gonna take him from me, forever. It shook me.

My place was fucked, had shit everywhere, I looked like shit, and I knew it'd get worse before it got better. I ain't got any baby stuff and I ain't even got a clue what kinda baby stuff you need. I didn't even think I ought to be taking care of any kid, but I knew I had to try, because if I didn't, well, what the hell was all this even for?

The next day, by some crazy chance, I saw my little brother at the bus stop across from the grocery store. Hadn't seen him since he was 12. He had the decency to listen to my story. He asked if he could see the baby. Didn't wanna, but I said yeah. Down at the hospital they took one look at me and asked if I was sick. Said yeah, because the truth was worse. They told me I couldn't go in, because the babies can't get sick, which was fine with me. They did let my brother in. It was about two hours when he came back. He said they let him hold the baby, and it was the first time anybody held him. He said, he's definitely my kid. Something about the look in his eyes.

It broke me. It ain't fair. It just ain't fair. This wasn't how it's supposed to be. When he was born, his ma was supposed to be holding him, and I was supposed to come in and sit beside them both. Anna was supposed to look up at me and tell me he look like me. We were supposed to look at each other and laugh and smile and shit. We were supposed to come home together. I don't feel like a dad. Nothing like that happened. Anna died and the baby stayed and I went home alone. I wasn't a dad. I was just some fuckin weirdo.

The baby still needs a name, but I ain't ready to name a baby. And besides, Social Services was gonna take one look at me and take him away. My little bro asked me if I wanna keep him. I said yeah because I couldn't listen to myself say no. He'd help me on two conditions. One, we'd live at his place and we'd live by his rules. Two, he catches one whiff of any junk or booze and he takes him straight to Social Services.

The next week I moved into my little brother's place. When I get there, he tells me to put down all my boxes because he gonna show me something. Turns out he's been busy. He's got a room all decked out, crib with a little mobile, baby blankets, a little dresser filled with little baby shirts and socks, little teddy bear, toys, little baby books, everything. He got diapers and wipes and shit. It's all there. And he points to a futon on the side and says that's where I'm gonna be sleeping from now on.

Honestly, it was that moment that I finally got my head straight, and I only got my little bro to thank for it. Even though things didn't turn out like they do in the movies, fact is I'm a dad, and there's a little baby out there who's waiting for me to figure that out. I ain't afraid to admit I was cryin when I did. Big fat tears, and I was hugging him and sayin shit but not making much sense. Seeing that little nursery, I really felt the love, pullin me up outta that cold water under the ice, and suddenly I was up in the sun, and my eyes were burnin, but I was warm again. I could really breathe again.

The morning social services came, my bro put makeup on me to hide all the shit my body was going through. The lady from social services came and had a look around. She says she wouldn't a let a baby anyone near me with my background, but she liked the apartment and she liked my brother, and she said the foster system ain't much better these days. So I passed the test. I got to keep my baby. I love my brother so much and I'm never gonna be able to pay him back for that.

When the call came from the hospital that the baby's ready to come home, I was finally ready to see him. It was the first time since the day Anna died. Nothing was gonna be easy. He had a huge list of problems I couldn't understand. He had a bunch of expensive equipment I needed to rent and a bunch of medications that were expensive as fuck. I'm never gonna be out from under the debt. They really needed a name then, and I named him right then and there. Jacob. Wasn't my first choice, but Anna loved that name, and now it reminds of everything we planned for. Everything we hoped for.

But you know, it's been some years and he's been doing alright. I dunno know for sure, but if I didn't have Jacob here reminding me of everything I'd learned, I think I'd be dead. We're looking out for each other, like partners. Me, him, and my little bro. Not what I had planned for my life. Not what my little bro had planned either. It's rough, not gonna lie, but it works. Somehow, we're happy.

So anyway, I just wanna leave y'all will a simple message. Everybody, and I mean everybody, we're all skating on ice. Maybe you can't see it when things are going well, but that cold cold water is there, waiting. Remember that. Any moment something crazy can happen, car accident, you or someone you love could get sick or get cancer, maybe you lose your job, or maybe you are betrayed by someone you trust, and then you fall under, and before you realize what happened you're drowning, and the water is cold and dark and you're freezing and you can't tell which way is up and if you don't hang on, the current's gonna sweep you away. Try and keep the people you love real close, because someone you love, someone you may not expect, can really help pull you out. And when you're out above the ice, remember to reach out to people, cause it's hard to tell sometimes that somebody is under the ice, and if you're not there today, well, the opportunity to help could be gone before you know it. That's it! Hope my little story means something to ya. Peace and love, and Happy Valentine's Day!

An Aubergine Sea Princess Fable
By: @Ocha
Word Count: 1784
Chosen Theme(s): Partnership & Forbidden
Chosen Format: Short Story

"The crude matter must be placed in the solution with golden tongs or else,…"

Ember, Wizard of the Blue Flame looked away from the parchment before her as a hand came to sit upon her knee.

"Mama, will you tell me a story?" Was the request. Ember smiled at her daughter, who'd only recently turned seven. Her long thick hair was braided up, but was perhaps a bit messy and her big brown eyes, nearly the same color as her hair, looked up pleadingly.

Ember sighed and took up Elaia's hand in her own. A request for a story was a sure sign that Ember had been too absorbed in her studies lately. "Let me take a few notes. Why don't you get ready for bed and meet me over at the couch?"

Elaia nodded enthusiastically and then ran off. Ember quickly jotted down the notes so she wouldn't forget what ideas were churning in her head from reading this new material. Once she stood up from her desk she flicked her wrist to dim the lights in the tower. She was going to have to take a break from her studies, she couldn't remember when they'd last left the tower, which meant Elaia hadn't left the tower. She was pretty sure the child had been talking to the roses at the base of the tower earlier in the day. Not that she didn't encourage Elaia to talk to her 'thorny siblings' but she needed to talk to people that could reply.

Ember walked over to the couch to find Elaia already there, now in her nightgown and her favorite blanket by her side. Ember noted the braid was now messier. While it was Elaia's responsibility to keep her hair tidy if she wished to keep growing it out, Ember was decently sure the morning would find her helping her daughter with brushing out her hair. In fairness this was another indicator they'd been stuffed up too long in the tower.

Sitting on the couch, Elaia crawled up next to and slightly on top of her mother. She was a kind child and took several minutes to get the blanket just right on the both of them, which was of course the moment the kitten pounced on Ember's lap. The little tabby was too smart for his own good. "Okay are we all ready then?"

Ignoring the sharp needle like claws now in her thigh, Ember took the nod from Elaia to start.

"Once upon a time, on a far away island, there lived a lonely Princess," Elaia liked princess stories despite actually meeting a few. Granted some were not completely spoiled and had been playmates to her during visits to royal courts.

"The Princess's father and mother and brother were all very busy people, or so they said, and did not spend much time with her at all. However on her thirteenth birthday her father promised her she could request a big present and so she did!"

At this point Ember tried to make her voice higher pitched to sound like a younger girl. "'I request six companions, each and every one of them must look like me.'"

"Her father, the King, agreed to the request and brought in six young women of noble birth to be her companion, but the Princess was not pleased. 'They took nothing like me!'"

"The King realized he had not listened well to his daughter and an invitation to all the young women who thought they looked like the princess were welcomed to apply to be her companion. Many came to the palace, pleading their case to being close in resemblance to the Princess. However she did not want just close. The seasons changed again and again before she eventually had her companions. Lily, hm, yes Lily was a minor noble. Honeysuckle and Magnolia were both from the city. Clover and Iris were from the countryside. And lastly there was Poppy who had been an orphan living at the temple of, um, the Cunning One."

Elaia turned to look at Ember. "Was Poppy pretty?"

Ember should have known that the orphan would interest her. "Oh yes, very pretty. After all she looked like a princess."

"Oh, right!" Ember was not going to remark that not all princess were considered pretty.

"Soon the seven women were fast friends. They rode horses together, and crocheted together, and even studied together."
Ember suppressed a laugh as Elaia made a face at studying. "Some were better at one subject and some were better at others. And because they all looked alike the Princess realized she didn't have to do all the princessy things. Lily loved balls and was wonderful at dancing and conversing with the nobles, Magnolia was very sharp and would go to meetings about trade, while Clover would sit at court where people petitioned the Crown. And when they were all together each would tell what they heard and all would discuss what they thought. Soon the Princess knew many things because she could talk with her companions and they could teach each other."

"Then one day a Son of the Emperor came to the island."

"Was he pretty?" Apparently it was very important to Elaia that everyone was pretty. Ember probably needed to break her of that pattern of thought.

"Well there were many people who thought so," Ember wasn't going to do it all in one night though. "The King and the Queen and the Prince made a big deal about the Son of the Emperor being there and threw parties every night, and so of course Lily attended. And there were many many court functions, and the other women would trade off. The one activity that the others would not do was sit at the high table for dinner. No one wanted to be pretending with the royals perhaps actually paying attention to the Princess. They rarely did though."

"That's not nice!"

"No, I agree, it's not nice at all. However, do you know who was paying attention?"

"Um, the Son?"

"Yes, the Son of the Emperor. He would sometimes bring up something they'd talked about while they danced, but he didn't know who he was dancing with wasn't the Princess."

"'You're going to have to tell him,' one of the companions said after Lily tried to recall everything she had discussed while dancing. It was too much to remember though. Worse, there were signs he might want to propose. 'If he learns the truth he'll expose us,' another worried. Lily shook her head, denying he'd expose all of them. She knew him best after all."

"'But does he know you?' Poppy asked. Poppy was the one that best understood people's hearts. 'I propose a test. If he can pick Lily out of all of us we shall give him our blessing and tell him the truth!' 'And if he doesn't?' One of the others asked. "He will never know he was courting someone other than our princess and we'll make him so miserable he will leave without proposing to anyone.'"

"Everyone liked this plan and so the next day the Son of the Emperor received an invitation to go riding with the Princess. When he arrived he was greeted with seven identical riders. They would not tell him who was who and as they rode they would exchange spots to be riding next to him to talk. They questioned him about his hopes and dreams, his fears and nightmares. The topic stayed on him so all could know him and judge. When they reached a spot on the trail that looked out onto the ocean they dismounted. It was a very romantic spot. 'Now, tell us, who is the Princess that you wish to dance with each night.'"

The Son was not quick, he stopped and looked at each woman for a long time. It was thought by them he had no clue and was trying to trick them into giving something away. Finally he went over to the princess. 'You are the king's daughter, princess of this island. However you are not the one I wish to continue dancing with.'"

"The others did not fidget, still unsure if he was going to truly know. He addressed each of them, showing he knew when he had talked to them in the past. Magnolia during an intense trade meeting, and Clover after a session of Court. Honeysuckle in the Gardens, and Iris down at the Docks. Poppy he stood in front of and smirked, and it was maybe he wasn't so clever, but then he spoke. 'I think you were the one that I had to prove myself to the most. You were not going to let the Empire take anything, or anyone, from you,' and he glanced back at the Princess before looking back at Poppy. 'So I ask nothing you won't give freely. Will you give me your blessing for this one?' And he finally turned to Lily."

"All the women were excited and while Poppy did give her blessings. It was with a condition. 'Until the vows are spoken, none shall know you are marrying anyone other than our Princess. Her rank, meaningless to us, will cause trouble.'"

"He agreed, and the next day asked the King for the woman he loved's hand in marriage. The King agreed, not noticing the peculiar words he used. Soon it was negotiated that the Princess and four of her companions would travel with the Son of the Emperor where there would be great feasts in the coming weeks in anticipation of the wedding."

"And they lived happily ever after?" Elaia asked with a great yawn.

"Yes, yes they did," Ember agreed before kissing the top of her daughter's head. "Now let's get you to bed."

"Mama?" Elaia asked once tucked into her own bed, the kitten at her feet. "Who stayed?"

"Poppy and the Princess. They wanted a happily ever after too. Sleep well my little turnip," Ember lowered the lights with a gesture until one candle was dimly lit. She stepped out, lightly closing the door and walking a ways until she was looking out the window. She did not see the harbor below. Instead she saw fires, and fighting, and bloodshed. A memory that didn't belong in a fairytale. A soft hoot caught her attention as an owl flew past. Maybe the Cunning One was reminding her not to dwell on the past. Then Ember laughed at herself. Like one of the Dios would concern themselves with her. She glanced back inside, amazed at how much love resided in this damp little tower and how unlikely her Ever After currently was.

By: Anonymous
Word Count: 1549
Chosen Theme(s): Forbidden
Chosen Format: Scene

Édgar waits for me as I slip from the servant's entrance into the garden. Cast in the waning light of dusk, I see him. He is surrounded by red carnation bushes, all in full bloom. A freshly plucked flower is in his fingers, the rich red twirling by its stem. I stop some distance away, observing him. His pale hair and pale skin, his downcast dark eyes shadowed in the rapidly dimming light. They are features I know well, ones I could trace in charcoal without a glance. I feel a voyeur, watching him as I do, but I am compelled to stillness. My heart leaps in anticipation, but there is something else there. A nervousness, not born from the illicit nature of our affair.

Édgar, however, is not still. He startles, and looks my way.

"Bas!" He says through a broad grin. It is natural, the sort reserved for me. It is not the fake smile he shares with the world, and I know I am special to receive such a thing. His true smiles are less and less. My heart feels lighter to see this expression, even if the subtle slip at the end does not escape me.

"I've missed you," I say, as if I don't see him every day. But it's not the same to see him like that. Out there, beyond our own private world, I can be little more than a fly, staying aside so as not to be swatted. Beyond our garden of hushed whispers, or tucked between the satin sheets of his bed deep in the dead of night, we are strangers. We must be. All but imperceptibly, the corners of his lips quiver. I still feel trepidation, but I walk the final steps to close the distance between us.

"What's wrong?" I ask as I wrap my hand around his hand, soft petals suppressed beneath our fingers. His skin is cool against mine, and I wish to encompass it in the warmth of my flesh. I long to warm the faint chill out of it. "If it's that I kept you waiting—"

"It's not that," the other boy replies quickly, tersely. He smiles again. It is fake. I want to plead with him to tell me what is wrong. Am I the cause? Have I somehow done this to him? Nothing would make my heart ache more.

"Please." Édgar sounds desperate, almost small, his previous assertion gone. "Let us not waste our time together."

He doesn't deny it. He doesn't say, "nothing is wrong." I do not doubt the other boy's fondness for me, he would not lead me astray, yet I find myself fearful that I am what troubles him. It is his heart I want to ease. And any pain he feels, I want to take away. He's right, however. Our time is rare, and I cannot bring myself to waste it.

"All right," I say, with obvious reluctance in my voice. Édgar smiles again, sincere once more. And I know I am his. His hand slips from mine, and he reaches up, the carnation in hand. I tilt my head, and Édgar tucks the stem of the slightly battered flower into my curled hair.

"You're perfect," he whispers warmly. The goofy grin which spreads across my face comes unbidden. It's crooked and I feel silly for it. But he only looks at me, fondness in his eyes. I raise my hand to brush his cheek. Édgar leans into it momentarily, before reaching up to take mine in his. It is warm now, soft and free of the calluses which harden my own hands. The golden-haired boy leans forward to place a small kiss upon my lips. For the brief moment our skin touches, I know everything is right.

Gently, he tugs at my hand.

I am submissive, allowing him to lead me through the garden. I do not ask where he is taking me, I do not care. Édgar pulls me further from stray gazes as we pass by flowering bushes and old fruit trees, their apples green and small. As he leads me, the grasses grow longer, untamed. It is not long before the sun dried weeds crawl up our legs. There is only a trickle of daylight left, tucked barely along the horizon. We are beneath a starlit sky, and a bright full moon.
Woe befall us if we're found.

Édgar releases my hand, satisfaction on his face. Not a moment later, he drops into the grass. He is dressed simply, only in trousers and a loose shirt, leather shoes pulled on in a hurry for our rendezvous. In the warmth of the summer air, he needs nothing more.

"You're going to get covered in dirt," I protest.

"I don't care," he replies. And as if to make his point, Édgar leans back into the grass, eyes upon the canopy of stars above him.

"You'll be in trouble."

"I don't care," he repeats, a hint of a mischievous smile on his pink lips. "Join me," he says. My clothes are already stained, far from the fine fabrics of his, and it is silly for me to protest the action, yet I hesitate. For only a moment, however. I place myself upon the ground beside him, with much less of a thump than he had. Édgar grins, and his fingers immediately crawl back into mine. We remained like that for a long moment, him on his back staring at the stars, and me sitting, admiring him.

"The sky is bright tonight," he says, unprompted.

"It is."

"If only we could ascend to the Heavens together."

I do not tell him that Heaven is not for us.

"Anywhere with you is where I want to be," I say. Édgar looks over to me. There is that smile again, reserved and tinged with sadness. I shift, lying down beside him, dirt be damned. I do not relinquish his hand. Eyes like coal look once again to the sky above, and my honey gaze follows after them. Silence fills our moment. A silence so quiet I can hear our breaths in the air. Édgar asks me about my day, and I trouble him with tales of my menial tasks and chores. Of mundane things which should hold no interest for him, and yet he always asks to hear them. When I have satisfied his curiosity, I ask him about his day. He tells me of problems I'll never have, and of delights beyond my reach. I used to feel something of envy, but now I only wish to hear fragments of his life I cannot touch. Quietly and content, I remain beside him. Fingers wrapped in fingers. Eventually, words fade, and we lay there in silence.

"Bas," he whispers. His voice is quiet, almost inaudible. It is full of underlying sorrow. I know, before he says anything more, I know it's going to be something awful. The bad news he bore all night. Édgar sits up. My eyes drift to his back, covered in thin strands of dried grass. He retreats his fingers from mine. My hand has never felt so cold.

"Bas, I…" Édgar doesn't look at me. His gaze remains fixed on the horizon. I know he intentionally avoids my gaze. "My father found a woman I am to marry," he finishes. The sound of his sorrow fills me with grief. But I know he is not done. I know. In the tense moment following his statement, I sit up. My hand goes to his cheek, and gently pulls his face toward me.

"No," I say, in a whisper.

Édgar's eyes remain downcast.

"I'm sorry," he says. His fingers move to gently caress my hand where it rests on his cheek before removing my fingers from him. "This can't be forever," he says.

"No," I plead. My voice is almost petulant. Desperate. Édgar meets my gaze. He smiles, and it is by far the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen. "No," I repeat, as if I have forgotten all other words. I feel the tears in the corners of my eyes. I blink and they roll silently down my cheeks.

"I love you," he says.

"Then stay with me."

"I can't."

"Please," I whimper, barely audible. He tilts his head slightly to the side. That sad smile stuck on his lips. He looks like he is going to cry, too.

"Stay here," I say. "Just a little longer."

Édgar leans forward and places a kiss on my cheek. I think he is going to get up, to leave me alone. Leave me without him. I know it will come, but I just want him to stay a moment longer. Maybe if he remains with me a few more moments, maybe then he'll stay forever. Édgar shifts slightly. I feel his shoulder press into mine. I feel the warmth of his presence against me as both of our eyes are cast to the brightening horizon. I barely breathe. If I move, the moment will be over. We watch the horizon as the sun begins to creep up.

"Okay," he whispers.

By: Anonymous
Word Count: 1385
Chosen Theme(s): Forbidden
Chosen Format: Short Story

Homophobia, Religious Guilt

These old swings no longer carry my weight like they used to. The metal chains creak and whine like an old man as they struggle to carry me when I sit in the flimsy plastic seat they hold up. Sometimes I fear they may just collapse and I'll fall ass first into the sand below me. They are old and rusted and have been so since I was a child. But just like when I was a child, they hold me regardless of any struggle.

"Hey!" A loud shushed voice calls to me.

I look up and away from my dirty sneakers to the boy in the puffer jacket. He was sauntering over with a puppy-like joy despite the cold that bit at us both. His cheeks and nose are clownishly red and all the more obvious on his pale skin. He rushes to the seat - swing at my side, rubbing his hands together furiously to gain some warmth on this cold night. "Fuck," he curses.

I frown.

"Sorry." His smile was apologetic but mostly cheeky. His eyes look up to the dark sky."Sorry, guy."

I snort back a laugh and instantly regret it because it only enables his behavior. "Guy?" I question, but he's already smug and smiley. The corners of his lips are upturned and his eyelids half lidded. He leaned against the chain of his swing and looked back at me without saying a word.

My heart stutters.

"If he's all forgiving, I'm sure he'll forgive that too." He leans toward me. His actions are slow, they are always slow, always leaving me space to decide whether I wanted to accept them. And just enough time for my heart to change its pace with every second spent as his hand reaches for mine.

I pull my hand away.

His eyes widened slightly, however surprised he was, he didn't let it affect the air around us. No, it was always my job to ruin things. And it was his job to fix what I ruined. Weren't we the perfect duo?

"I was thinking," he started, planting his heels in the ground to keep gravity from pushing his swing back into place. "I almost saved enough to get my own apartment. You know what that means?"

I did.

Of course, I did.

It meant we wouldn't have to meet at night in this same spot over and over again just so we wouldn't be caught. We could meet at his place, with closed walls and doors without the threat of being seen or walked in on by his parents or mine or the ever-watchful folk of this old town. It meant that he was willing to take several steps close to me. I just wasn't willing to take any more toward him.

"I didn't like your joke." I start. My hands are resting between my thighs. I focus my eyes on them so I can't see his face. I only hear his voice beside me.

"What?" He's confused.

"It wasn't funny. You shouldn't refer to him that way."

"Sorry," his voice was shaking - it was giggly. "God, not guy."

I squeeze my hands together, not for warmth but for control. I could feel myself getting warm, hot, even. I was scared of what I had to say next or how it would come out. And I think he could sense that because he practically pressed his swing against mine.

"I really am sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I won't joke like that again." His voice lowers to a whisper, soft and considerate.

"I got accepted into Trinity Catholic College." I blurt out before I can think about it any further.

He didn't say anything, so neither did I. I knew better too, but I did it anyway. I looked at him.

His face that once carried that stretched smile for me had fallen. His mouth seemed smaller and flat, his eyes were unblinking and full of panic. But he said nothing and only stared at me until I could no longer stare back at him.

"When do you leave?" He sounded smaller.


"And you're now just telling me?" His voice raised before he quickly remembered himself. Remember where we were and who we were. If our parents found us we both knew where mine would send me and what his would do to him.

I grip the chains of my swing hoping the cool metal will cool me down even as my temperature rises. I had practiced telling him this since I received my acceptance letter, and yet now that I was here there were no words.

It's his turn to be met with silence.

The quiet between us bothers him now more than it ever had before. And before I know it, he's grabbing a hold of my swing, jolting me in the process. I have no choice but to look at him and watch the rushed words come out of his mouth. "That's okay," his voice is getting higher. "This is better, actually. I can visit you there! I can see you the weekend after maybe? It's not that big a drive. Maybe -"

"I don't want you to see me." I didn't know it was possible for me to even say it. But I did. And before I lost all my nerve, I moved up and out of my seat. This was the part I was to walk away from the swings we spent every night on talking and laughing, away from the playground we met on at the age of seven and had become our haven, and away from him who made me feel safe and happy when it was rare for me to feel either of those things at all.

I only got a step ahead before he rushed out of his seat and grabbed my hand. His grip was tight and desperate. "Why? Why, now? No one will see us. I promise you, no one will see us." The grip he has on my hand somehow tightens more.

"He'll see us," I say because that's what it truly comes down to and what has always held me back. Not my parents, not his, not the people of this terrible judgemental town. It was always about Him.

"Please, Charlie."

He can't fix it, not this time. It isn't something that can be fixed. I'm not someone who can be fixed.

"Let me go." My face is burning now. I don't want him to see me cry. Not now or ever.

"If He really loves you-"

"He does."

It's a battle he can't win, and he knows that. "But is this what you want? Really? Can't you tell me how you feel? Like always. Please."

"There's nothing to tell you." I don't want him to know how I feel, I don't want to know how I feel, I don't want to feel at all. "Everything was a mistake from the beginning."

He's hurt. I know it because I can see the tears begin to well up in his eyes now. Finally, he lets me go, but not really.

"Can't you choose me instead? Just this once?" He's choking back a sob.

I want to kiss him. I never had given him a real kiss before. He's always kissed me, on my hands, my cheeks, my shoulders, whatever I would allow. But never the mouth. And I want to give him that, but that would be cruel when I'm leaving him.

"You know the answer to that." It's not an answer, not a true answer. Even as I'm trying to push him away, I can't find the resolve to do so entirely. I'm just praying the distance will end what never should have been.

With one final huff, I walked away from him.

I got a few steps away before I heard the familiar scuffs of his shoes against the concrete sidewalk behind me. He didn't say anything and neither did I. We both knew what would happen next.

I would go home, and he would go home after seeing me off, I would leave this town for college, he would visit me, and I would once again put off truly choosing. We will go back and forth as we always have.
Alrighty! After much deliberation, our judges have finally decided on their top three entries:

1. Rendezvous by @Dusk
2. Swings by @MaryGold
3. Four Letters by @Miyu

Thanks to everyone who submitted! I enjoyed reading all of these pieces and certainly would have had a tough time voting if it were up to me. If you submitted anonymously, feel free to come forward if you wish.

Thanks again to our judges and those who contributed prizes to the event as well!

I'm glad people liked my story, I'm surprised to have won against so many great entries. I wrote Rendezvous.

-unmasks Scooby Doo style-
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Congratulations to the winners!
It was I, Dio! I wrote Swings! Hearing it read out loud and what people thought about it really warmed my heart. Thank you all for enjoying my story!
I wrote Four Letters.

*Scurries away.*

I wasn't there at the hearing (which I regret, but life), but all the entries were beautiful. "A Simple Message for Ya" had me crying the most. I didn't expect to win at all, yet I am happy you've all enjoyed my prose poem ;-; Thank you so much! Also, congratulations to Dusk and MaryGold, your stories were amazing! 💗 💗