Contest #88 shortlist ⭐️

44 comments

Apr 05, 2021

Contemporary Fantasy

There once lived a quill-maker who carved fables into feathers. She dwelt alone in a wooden cabin, at the edge of a mountain range that jutted up sharply into the sky like teeth. She sometimes thought she lived in the bones of a great dragon which roamed the earth long ago, large enough to kiss the stars with fire.


Each morning, she rose with the sun and went out into the woods to collect feathers. The birds knew her and flocked to her eagerly, for she fed them seeds and stories in the dim morning light. In return, they gave her preened feathers of all colors and shapes, which she tucked away in her basket.


In the afternoons, she washed the feathers, sorted them, and lay them out to dry in the sun. And by the last light of day, she sat by her hearth and carved stories into the shafts of the feathers, fairy tales and fables and epic adventures. At the end of every week, she traveled down into the valley to the village, where she sold her prized quills to the traveling salesman who took them far and wide. 


On a cloudy morning that smelled of rain and dew, she found a boy in the woods, sleeping near the tangled roots of a birch tree. He was small, covered in earth and leaves, and muttered through pouting lips as he dreamed.


The quill-maker roused the boy gently. Upon seeing her, his eyes widened in fear and he dashed away, deeper into the woods towards the mountains. She chased after him but could not hope to catch him, young and spry as he was. Reluctantly, she gave up and watched, gasping for breath, as he vanished amongst the brambles and pines.


She gathered feathers slowly that day, hoping to find signs of the boy as she wandered the woods. He was nowhere to be found.


That night, she left a clay plate of food on the low stone wall near her garden, along with a cup of water. In the morning, the food was gone, but she found no other trace of the boy.


The village was a half day’s journey down into the valley. It was a small town, and she knew everyone in it. He was not from there. She had never seen another soul in these woods, not so near to the mountains. She worried for him constantly. It was not safe to be alone in the wild, left to the mercy of the sun and the earth.


Each morning and night for many days, the quill-maker left food out for the boy. She never saw him take it, but every time she woke or returned from gathering feathers, the food was gone. 


After thirteen days, she went to pick up the plate and discovered a collection of wildflowers resting on the stone wall. She put them in a jar of water and placed the bouquet proudly on her windowsill so he could see them.


One afternoon when the sun was hot overhead and the doves sang requiems from the pine trees, the quill-maker spotted the boy at the edge of the woods, watching her as she lay her feathers out to dry. She said nothing, did nothing to acknowledge his presence. 


The boy crept closer, feet sly and soft like a deer. The quill-maker rearranged her feathers, humming to herself. When the boy was close enough to hear, she spoke, low and calm like the sound of the trees. She told him a story.


“Once, there was a young boy whose voice was lovely enough to send the wildflowers into bloom. He wandered the woods, singing songs without words, until he reached a wide river. 


“Some of the prideful willow trees by the river bent to listen, and their branches drooped so at the sorrowful beauty of his song that the trees could not raise them again. 


“The river stood still at the melody, and he crossed into the field beyond without wetting his feet. Behind him, a lake began to form.


“The birds in the field sat hushed, the deer lay down beside the wolves, and the whole of the earth listened to him sing. Even the sun came a bit nearer in the heavens and was so moved by his voice, she cried tears of gold that fell onto the field like rain. Where the tears landed, dandelions grew, proud and strong and full of music.


“The boy wanders the wilds to this day, singing and shaping the earth as he goes.”


The quill-maker glanced at the boy, who now stood near enough that she could get a proper look at him. He was small, with thin arms and legs, dark like the shadows that dappled the forest floor. His curly brown hair framed his head in a wild halo that looked fiery in the sunlight.


She smiled at him. He grinned back, golden eyes shining. 


“Do you know any more stories?” he asked.


The quill-maker chuckled. “A few.”


That night, the boy ate with the quill-maker on her doorstep. He was wary of the cabin and did not want to enter, preferring the company of the open air. She left the door open so he could watch while she carved quills. While she worked, she told him fairy tales until he fell asleep, curled up on the grass under the first light of the stars. 


The next day, she woke to a bowlful of wild berries on her doorstep. The boy stood outside by the stone wall, watching the sun rise as if longing to join it in the sky. 


“Good morning,” she called. He turned and smiled at her.


“Would you like to gather feathers with me today?” she asked. 


He nodded, clearly eager to return to the woods. 


She picked up her basket and they set off, into the cool and dewy morning. The birds flocked as they always did, but seemed to favor the boy over the quill-maker. They brought her feathers and showered him with gifts of nuts and twigs and dandelions. 


When her basket was full, they returned to the cabin and he helped her wash feathers in a bucket of cool water from the stream. The quill-maker flicked droplets at him which shone like diamonds in the sun as they fell. He splashed a handful of water at her in return and they began to laugh. The quill-maker realized she had never heard a sound so sweet.


“Where are you from?” she asked, setting a brilliantly white feather out to dry.


The boy shrugged and pointed up, towards where the peak of the tallest mountain touched the sun.


The quill-maker glanced at the mountaintop for a moment and imagined the boy stepping out of the sun itself, making his way down the great dragon’s tooth to her. She was struck with fear that one day, the sky would call him back.


“Do you have a name?”


“Cyrus,” he replied.


“Where is your family?”


He shook his head. “I have none.”


She turned to him and smiled, marveling at the way the day brightened around him.


“You do now.”


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44 comments

Michael Boquet
19:26 Apr 07, 2021

What a cute story! I love the sweet ending. It's awesome that you wrote a fairy tale about someone who writes fairy tales. Very clever. This is definitely my new favorite story of yours! Great job.

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Claire Lewis
20:05 Apr 07, 2021

Thanks, Michael! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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Michael Boquet
14:59 Apr 16, 2021

Congratulations on getting shortlisted! Well deserved!

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Claire Lewis
15:55 Apr 17, 2021

Thank you Michael!!

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A.Dot Ram
16:21 Apr 16, 2021

Your first line had me hooked. This was all just gorgeous, and I could see it. Congratulations.

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Frances Reine
14:27 Apr 18, 2021

I'm so late but another shortlist! Wow, it's so well deserved. Congrats, Claire :)

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Claire Lewis
22:48 Apr 18, 2021

Thank you Frances!! :)

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Scout Tahoe
20:21 Apr 17, 2021

Congratulations, Claire! So well deserved.

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Claire Lewis
22:49 Apr 18, 2021

Thank you Scout! :)

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K. Antonio
14:42 Apr 16, 2021

Claire eating up shortlists like a five star meal! Congrats on your stride!!

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Claire Lewis
17:44 Apr 16, 2021

Im cracking up at this comment, thank you! 😂😂😂

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Erick Carmona
01:28 Apr 16, 2021

Wowee!! The words you use are so enchanting! Everything sounds beautifully natural, like the taste of wildflower honey. I felt very warm reading this, and I usually go for angsty dramas haha. I found your story positively delightful! My only concern is the very first line, as "There once was xyz" can often read as super cliched and overplayed, much like "once upon a time." Many readers stop and don't bother continuing when the beginning is so textbook, which would be a huge shame in this story's case! You're very skilled, so I say make sur...

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Claire Lewis
12:48 Apr 16, 2021

Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful critique! I’m looking forwards to checking out your page :)

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Rachel Loughran
15:08 Apr 08, 2021

Claire this was gorgeous! You have such a knack with fairytales, this is such a lovely take on this prompt. I have been reading the comments below and agree your work is extremely cosy and whimsical and comforting (and it's also good to know I'm not the only one who struggles hard with naming stories!). Off to read more of your work!

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Claire Lewis
15:37 Apr 08, 2021

Ha, titles are my nemesis! Thanks for the lovely comment :)

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Ellie Yu
14:27 Apr 05, 2021

So gorgeous! You have a way of writing that makes this feel cozy, like I'm wrapped up in a blanket with my eyes closed and listening to this being told. I especially love the description at the end of the first paragraph, the one about the dragon. And similar to what Christina said, I'm so curious about Cyrus, but leaving his past vague was probably a good way to go. I don't really have any all-encompassing critiques for this, but there are some small notes I'd like to point out. Near the middle of the story, when the quill-maker has the mu...

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Claire Lewis
15:58 Apr 05, 2021

Ellie, you’re a lifesaver! I knew something looked wrong in that monologue bit, but I couldn’t figure out what it was... it’s been a while since I’ve dealt with that type of punctuation. And thanks for the other notes as well- all excellent suggestions! Making those tweaks now :) Also, I’m toying with writing another story for these prompts that’s just about Cyrus—not sure if I’ll have time but we’ll see

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Ellie Yu
15:20 Apr 16, 2021

Shortlisted again! I'm not surprised. Congrats! :)

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Claire Lewis
00:54 Apr 05, 2021

EDIT: shoutout to Heather for the title suggestion :) Critique away!

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Frances Reine
13:26 Apr 05, 2021

No, please, I love the title. But if you end up changing it it's alright too but honestly, I think it's perfect. I thought this was sweet. Gosh, you're lovely when it comes to fairytales. If you asked me I'd say it's your thing :) In particularly, I love: "singing and shaping the earth as he goes". Such a pretty picture. And Cyrus is the perfect name: so incredibly fitting--"imagined the boy stepping out from the sun itself". (I'll have to watch out for any of your character names from now on. They're picked so purposefully it's so satisf...

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Claire Lewis
14:04 Apr 05, 2021

Thanks Frances, I’m really enjoying the fairy tale prompts this week! And yay- I love purposeful names, it feels like a secret code almost ;)

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Frances Reine
14:06 Apr 05, 2021

Exactly!!

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Anna Mosqueda
17:43 Apr 16, 2021

I've certainly found my favorite story on this website. This was amazing and enchanting, seriously! I enjoyed the description and setting of it so much that I want more! Keep Writing! Anna

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R. K.
14:44 Apr 16, 2021

I LITERALLY KNEW IT — I was even chanting as I clicked the contest. Congrats Claire, I'm over the 🌙. So, so, so happy and so very proud!

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Claire Lewis
17:43 Apr 16, 2021

Thank you! And thanks for encouraging/inspiring my headfirst dive into fairy tales 🥰

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Iona Coppin
11:57 Apr 16, 2021

Such beautiful descriptive language!

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R. K.
18:30 Apr 12, 2021

Fairytales will be the death of me, but I'm happy to oblige! This idea was so fresh, and magical realism always gives me butterflies inside. There isn't anything of value that I could offer, but I will say that this is eye-opening in a way that only rain can be: washing dirt from clouded eyes. Overall, I love this story so much and I know I will revisit many, many times.

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Claire Lewis
04:22 Apr 13, 2021

I hope you don’t mind if I screenshot these so I can bask in them when I’m missing your stories!! (Already done lol but I’ll delete if you’d like me to) Now I’m all inspired by your brilliance with no time to write. “Brushstrokes of night,” “i was a mere palpitation,” just incredible! Now I’m trying to figure out where these stories were headed and it’s quite a thrilling mystery. This comment is a much appreciated thicket of lyricism in the stressful woods of life :) Also— I finished Into the Heartless Wood last week, couldn’t put it down...

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Leilani Lane
22:34 Apr 07, 2021

This is SO well done and reminds me of The Forest's Heart; I'm betting on another shortlist or win. :) Your writing style here just begs for people to gather around a fire and read this aloud... I really think you have a knack for fables/fairytales, especially those that revolve around nature!!

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Emma Louise
19:16 Apr 05, 2021

I love your stories so much! How do you come up with these things? I feel I am always checking the "activity feed" page hoping you have a new one!

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Claire Lewis
22:03 Apr 05, 2021

Thank you Emma! I’ve had the quill-maker idea in my head for a bit (after reading another story on this site). The prompts worked out perfectly this week 😊

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Heather Mc Quaid
10:43 Apr 05, 2021

Wonderful storytelling and superb writing. Your descriptions of characters and settings is [chef's kiss]. I don't have any critiques, the writing is somehow lyrical yet crisp, which is a special talent, I think. As for titles, hmmm. maybe something with feather/flight/wing and stories/storytelling/fables? Feather stories, Flight of stories, Feather fables, feathered fables, fabled wings, flying fables...well you get the drift. :)

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Claire Lewis
14:05 Apr 05, 2021

Thank you Heather! I hope you enjoy helping me solve my title puzzles haha

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Heather Mc Quaid
15:31 Apr 16, 2021

congrats on the shortlist! I was hoping this story would be recognised. Yay!

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Heather Mc Quaid
14:13 Apr 05, 2021

I do, in a weird way, I do. fyi, I moved my story to another prompt and lost your comments on it--just so you know, I didn't delete them! And I tried to add "gold" to the title, as you suggested. So you're helping me with my titles. now, ha. :)

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Claire Lewis
15:50 Apr 05, 2021

Oh, no worries! Happy to return the favor :)

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Heather Mc Quaid
06:50 Apr 17, 2021

Congratulations on the shortlist! I was rooting for this story to be recognised. Yay!

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Claire Lewis
15:54 Apr 17, 2021

Yay thank you so much Heather!!

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Christina Marie
05:25 Apr 05, 2021

Enchanting, as always! Love the whimsical feel, and the uplifting ending. I am very curious about the boy, but perhaps it is best left as is to accentuate the maternal unconditional love she develops for him. The only very small piece I would suggest considering is the last line. I understand the intention, but it doesn't feel quite natural to me with the previous dialogue. Would suggest something like: "Where is your family?" "I have none." "You do now" (as opposed to 'you have a family now').

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Claire Lewis
14:06 Apr 05, 2021

Ooh good edit for the end, thank you! And thanks for the thoughtful comment, as always :)

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Christina Marie
14:54 Apr 16, 2021

Yay!! Congratulations on the shortlist! So well-deserved!

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Claire Lewis
15:55 Apr 17, 2021

Thank you Christina!

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Dhriti Nwaigbo
15:15 May 27, 2021

Ekwenyere m kpamkpam, nnukwu akụkọ, kwesịrị mmeri.

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Thom Brodkin
22:20 Apr 18, 2021

There are times I see the prompts and am disappointed because they seem bad to me. I think there are no good stories there. This was one of those prompts and you've shown me there are no bad prompts to skilled writers. As I read this I thought of the people who do art on grains of rice or build ships in bottles. I don't know who was the first to try that but I think truly creative people see art everywhere and don't have the ability to not let it out. Your main character was just such a woman and so are you. I loved this and I love rea...

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