The rules were simple. Write a complete story based on the photo we provided. The trick? The story had to be exactly 200 words. Not 201. Not 199.
The Golden Donut contest attracts writers from all across the world, and to place in the top ten is a true accomplishment.
Here are the top nine 2014 runners-up, in no particular order.
Congratulations to you all!
The Second Trailer – Meg E Dobson
The team swept the area for bombs—nothing, and I’m up next. My protection gear chaffs. Baby powder never works here. Welcome to New Orleans.
When the camera scope reveals nadda through the FEMA trailer’s door, I ease it open. Creak, but no blast. Rivers of sweat flow from my neck and into my boots. The stink reminds me of Desert Storm, where I learned my trade. Go Army.
Inside, there’s no obvious bomb, and manikin bodies are piled in a corner. I hate manikins. Body part by body part, I check and move on. Check and move. Check. Move. Inside a plastic stomach cavity, I spot the glint of red and yellow wire connected to the C4 and the tiny cell phone glow. Setting to work, I forget the chaffing, the sweat, and the stink.
When I emerge, the squad leader lifts the stop watch in triumph and everyone cheers. Expecting free beer, I strip my sweaty gear. The trailer two down from this one explodes. I roll into the dirt.
That’s when the laser light blooms crimson on my chest. Check the perimeter. With my job, it’s going to be someone else’s screw up?
The Mannequin Murders – Susanna Nash
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy hurried into Dummies for Windows and found the officer in charge.
Sergeant Oak told McCarthy, “Need your expertise.” He eyed Bergen. “Think you can help?”
“Maybe. I’m no dummy.
The three strolled past workers standing rigidly, smiles painted on their faces, then entered an office with a tightly closed safe, two stolid employees, and the victims.
“Narrowed it down to these two.” Oak pointed. “Mr. Pine claims he never left the loading dock. Mr. Wooden says he was gluing on wigs.”
Bergen snifffed a shiny spot on the body in the front corner. “Wet glue.”
“Wooden is the killer,” McCarthy snapped.
“Desperate for dough?” Bergen noted Wooden’s jagged cuffs. “Caught trying to rob the safe?”
“Yeah. The manager surprised me. I twisted his legs, but he wouldn’t give me the combination. Then those kids stumbled in.”
“Look at their angelic faces. How could you?”
“Yeah, look at ’em. I could tell they were gonna sing.”
“And him?” Bergen pointed at the body in the back of the room.
Wooden woodenly replied, “Tried to nail me. Had to disarm him.”
Oak cuffed Wooden and thanked McCarthy, who said, “A hollow victory.”
EXIT PLAN – Vy Kava
I pushed the buzzer and the voice box next to the door crackled.
“What do you want?
I was to say today’s date-September 11.
The door opened. Harsh florescent light illuminated a warehouse crammed with steel shelves filled with mannequins in various stages of completion. A burly man approached.
“I wired the 100,000 yesterday.” I said.
“We got it….How tall are you?”
“Follow me.” He grabbed a gurney and began sifting thru the shelves dragging two handless arms, a torso and two legs.
I followed him to his workbench. He attached the body parts with a screw gun. From a box he pulled two lifelike silicon hands with arthritic fingers and attached them to the arms.
“Give me your rings.”
I reluctantly turned them over.
He brought over a mannequin’s head that looked just like me- the eyebrows, the crooked nose and the scar over my right eye. Next came the clothes – a black suit, shirt and tie.
“You think it will fool them?” I asked.
“It is all arranged with the funeral home in Florida…. Good luck.” He shook my hand.
My next stop was breakfast at the Twin Towers.
The Wait – David Swords
Karl moved slowly as he straightened the fourth floor attic of Steinman’s Department Store. In the fifteen years he had been Steinman’s janitor, this was his least favorite job. Dirty and dark. Dark because of the oil lamp he had to use for lighting.
The lamp threw eerie shadows around the room as Karl moved boxes and clothing racks. Just as he thought he was getting a handle on the mess, he gasped as the light fell in the corner and revealed a pile of mannequins thrown together. Mannequins stacked one on top of the other, like cordwood. Men, women and children. All unclothed. All different, yet all the same.
Karl felt uneasy at the sight. As he turned to get back to work, he heard a sound behind him and saw movement in the shadows. He turned to see a mannequin rising from the floor. Then another, and another. All pointing at him. Gaunt faces and ragged clothes, all pointing at Karl.
As he stumbled back and knocked the lamp over, he knew. As the flames engulfed the clothes of Karl Mueller, the former Auschwitz guard knew, they had finally come for him.
He had been waiting.
Out-Take – Toni Goodyear
I stare at the dummies, the young woman and boy I imagine as my own — my pretty mother, killed by “bad brakes” four months ago, and my older brother, dead with her. Soon they’ll be clothed and put into a car to burst into flames against a Hollywood mountain. Their job is to remain silent as their limbs rip and their faces melt.
Boom, I say, but no one moves.
Under my breath I tell them what’s been planned next, this time for me. My father and his friends say I have ripened. I am fourteen year old scotch, ready for tasting.
“Where’s your dad?” the studio pyrotech asks.
“Don’t know. He said meet him here.”
He frowns, and signals the Cadillac be brought around.
Last night, my father stumbling drunk, needing my help to prep the car, easily tipped into the big, dark trunk. Then the knife from his tool box, killer cold in my hand.
Before bed, I filled my brother’s mouth with blast powder from the pyro kit so he won’t be noiseless as he dies again.
Boom, we’ll scream together, as family fire lights up the sky.
Etched in Red – Kate Cleary
Jackie Shaffer hated cleaning out the storage units of customers who didn’t pay their bills. Frankly, it gave her the creeps. Jackie checked the unit’s number, snipped off the lock with bolt cutters, and pulled up the door. Okay this was weird. Front and center was a bizarre collection of life-size plastic dolls. Lifting one up she saw a set of initials etched in red on the doll’s feet. Another doll had similar red markings.
Adjacent to the macabre dolls, plastic storage bins rose to the ceiling. Grabbing a step stool in the unit Jackie pulled a container down and bent down to open it. Inside was the photo of a young girl, a butterfly necklace, a piece of coated wire that appeared to be covered in dried blood, and a plastic doll with feet initialed AJ.
A cold chill ran up Jackie’s spine. Her breathing became labored as she examined another container confirming her worst fears. Time to get out of here. Jackie turned to leave and heard a grunt as a slick cord wrapped tightly around her neck.
Later the man sat on the stool whistling while etching a red JS on the doll’s feet.
Reminders – Darlene Jacobs
The detectives investigating Heather Graham’s death thought the unclothed mannequin of a young child sitting atop her bed odd. And everyone was puzzled as to why a pretty, popular girl like Heather would throw herself out her third floor sorority house window. But I knew.
It was the day after the end of rush week. Last night pledge mom Heather had made the terrible mistake of bringing back the long forbidden practice of hazing. She and her sorority sisters gleefully poured liquor down the pledges throats, imposed paddling should they have had the audacity to throw up, and forced the girls to expose themselves to the neighboring fraternity for ranking, all in the name of sisterhood.
Everyone had long forgotten why those naked mannequins in the attic remained. My future in the fashion world was cut short over 25 years ago in this very sorority house. My death from alcohol poisoning had forced an end to hazing.
No one should ever again have to go through the fatal bullying that I did. Perhaps the detectives would finally connect the fact that mannequins were appearing on each of the seniors beds as the body count grew. They’d finally remember.
Survivors – Cathy Neumueller
The door creaked on arthritic hinges. “I’m sure this room has been checked a dozen times. This is a waste of time,” said Adam.
“We’re almost out of food,” said Eve. The two human survivors slowly entered the clutter filled but surprisingly dust free room. It was almost like someone was living here but it had been obvious from the stuck door that no one had entered the room in a long time.
Eve startled at the sight of the figures sitting amidst the junk. At first she thought that they were people. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed to see that they weren’t real. It had been a long time since they’d seen anyone else alive.
After the humans had left and the door was creaked closed the armless man said, “They’re gone kids. You can open your eyes.” He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but it still amazed him how humans could have been so stupid to destroy their environment. He figured that there were only a few left now that the human society had collapsed. “And they used to call us dummies,” he chuckled.
(H)Armless Man – Christine Hammar
The (H)Armless Man
Cleaning father’s drawers, I find a photograph of two sitting childlike dolls. They look like my half-siblings, Derek and Dinah, only dead. Their mouths are open, eyes shut, faces stony. Dinah’s arm is raised as if she is about to comfort Derek.
They drowned when they were seven. An accident, everyone said.
Close to them in the shade sits an armless doll, a grown man, staring at nothing with cold, empty eyes. He reminds me of our father who fought in Libya in 2011 and lost his arms.
The photograph scares the heck out of me. I wonder why father had kept it.
As I look at the photograph for the last time, I see Derek’s and Dinah’s eyes open. They smile and nod.
A picture forms inside the photograph. Father with Derek and Dinah playing in the lake. Then another: father smiling and holding them under the water. Then another: father smiling while toweling himself dry.
”We thought you should know,” Derek’s voice says quietly.
”It was no accident,” Dinah’s voice whispers.
The pictures fade and the dolls are there again.
Crying, I tear up the photograph.
Lucky thing father died two weeks ago.
* * *
And, once again, the winning story.
Practice – Rick McMahan
Jill strode down the darkened hall, her hollow footfalls in sync with the words drifting to her.
The training room door was open, a weak light escaping.
Every CPR mannequin was strewn across the floor like he had tried each one before settling on the smallest.
Kneeling, Ray was pushing on the dummy’s chest. His t-shirt was soaked through with sweat.
“Partner,” she said.
He looked up at her, but she knew he was looking through her at the memory. Dispatch sent them to a nice neighborhood with manicured yards and kids playing. A worried employer called when a female employee never showed for work. Jill found the woman’s body on the bed. A baby was never mentioned. Ray found one floating in the tub.
“Roll call’s in ten, partner.”
More than sweat glistened on his face. Standing, he turned away to pull on his uniform shirt.
Post-partum depression. A fancy word for a mother drowning her kid before suiciding herself. It took Jill and three EMTs to pull Ray away from the baby’s blue lips.
“Next time if I try harder, Maybe I can save him.” Ray’s voice tight. “I was just practicing.”