Contest #213 shortlist ⭐️

36 comments

Fantasy East Asian

Anand knew the snake wanted to eat him, even if his mother said it only ate the cats and dogs scurrying over the trash pile. Anand held up one open hand, and then a single finger on the other, examining the years of his life in nicked and dirty scars. 


His family was Dalit, the untouchables, only suited to garbage collection, or cleaning toilets, as anything they touched turned to trash. He wanted to get to two full hands, and then he could join the men picking up the trash in town and not battle against the snake for its treasures


 Slithering scales moved just under the surface, the trash shifted beneath his bare feet. Eyes wide, his body froze. A movement against his leg caused a lightning bolt of fear to erupt into a scream.


“Anand , you fool!” The slap on the back of his head knocked him down into the trash pile.


“Maa-” Anand cried, “I saw the snake-”


“-You spend too much time in dreams.” His mother’s bright eyes glared at him under her green hijab. “Show me what you found.” 


Lost in his battle against the snake, he hadn’t even looked for treasures. One hand, buried in the pile, pressed on something hard. He offered it up. The sun glinted off the tarnished metal cup, big in his tiny hand, with a flat, thin handle.

“I found this.” He hoped it would be enough to make her happy.


His mother snatched it, brought it to her eyes to squint at it. “Is it for a candle, like a lamp?” 


Anand ’s eyes went wide, a lamp- maybe it is magic! He remembered the story his father told him of a magic lamp that gave out three wishes. He imagined himself a prince, in shoes, and a glittering gold suit, riding an elephant. He wished to be off this pile and safe from the snake.

His mothers fingers, with better vision than her eyes, turned it around, found scratched letters on the thin handle.


“Oh no, it’s a measuring cup. At least it is metal, go sell it to Bhediya.” She threw it at his feet and left, off on her own search.


Anand shivered at the name of the man who bought the treasures his family found. He had only ever gone with his brother to see him, never by himself, but that was before.


The possibilities of a magic lamp vibrated in his head, erasing any fears. He could never let Bhediya have this wonder. Anand kneeled down to stare at it, scared to touch it. What should he wish for?


Always hungry, his stomach clenched. Naan! Just the idea of the soft bread made his mouth water. He remembered the naan and samosas they had from the cart vendor, a few weeks ago. He didn’t believe his brother, Sona when he told him his plan.


Careful of police, they found a street vendor who preferred to sip from his bottle of Feni then attend to his cart.  Sona showed him how to touch the samosas, fingering each one, then to breath on the naan, with big huffs. Anand had to get on his tiptoes to get over the side of the cart, just up for a minute until the shouts began.   


Then they ran! Anand flew, almost keeping up with Sona, diving between legs, and carts. The dogs joined them for the game, running alongside with joyful barks. The police cursed and threw rocks, but Sona knew a hiding place through an alley that stunk worse than the trash pile. 


They waited until dark and the vendor carts left. Sona knew just where to look too, finding it in a garbage pile. Real food, just thrown away! Kicking away the rats, they ate until their stomachs burst, deep fried samosas, and pillowy, fresh naan, so much of it they brought more home for Maa. He wanted to eat like that again.   


He closed his eyes and wished for naan, and samosas but nothing happened.


Anand tried to remember fathers’ story. He had to rub it, yes, that was what made the genie come out. The story reminded him of his father’s warm hands, and leaning against his thin body. 


His father was the strongest person Anand knew, until the day he started coughing, struggling to even breathe with the sickness. Then his body became still, only the rumbling breath proving he was alive. Finally the light left his eyes, gone to be reborn in a better life.

Anand held his magic lamp in one hand while he wiped his damp face. He should not be so selfish, he should make a wish for someone else. Sona, his older brother, and best friend, now had the same disease as their father, slowly wasting away. All night he coughed, making Maa cry, and forget she had another son. If Sona was better-


Anand rubbed the metal lamp with his hand, his thoughts on his brother, wishing he was healthy.


 A small plastic bottle appeared in the magic lamp, yellow with a white cap. Anand’s mouth dropped open. He picked it up, to feel it's physical existence. Examining it closely, he saw writing on the side, a magical code holding secrets he wished he understood. He tried to open the top but it just spun. He prodded, twisted and pushed until finally the bottle opened. Many white little balls rolled inside. How does this help? He put his nose in and found a sugary smell. He tried one, frowning at the gritty, sour taste. He swallowed it quickly, but his stomach only growled. The magic bottle must be a sign that Sona was better!

Anand leapt up to run to his home in the multi-colored cloths stretched between the bent poles. 


“Sona, are you cured?” Anand needed only a glance to see he was no better, on the ground pale and gaunt. Anand stood and stared at his still form, the heavy rumbling breath. He pushed on Sona's shoulder until he saw his wet eyes, showed him the magic bottle, and then left the tent. What else? He should wish for money, to make his mother happy.


He closed his eyes and wished for rupees, for the air to be as thick and full of the yellow, blue and green paper as a monsoon pouring down on him, and the trash pile turned to a hill of gold and silver coins.


Anand rubbed hard, using his full palm. This time a small plastic card appeared in the small metal lamp, with raised numbers and words. 


Anand picked it up and turned it around. Not rupees, not gold, just a piece of plastic, a black strip on the back.

He gritted his teeth. The trash pile was full of plastic. He couldn't even sell this to Bhediya. He might as well sell the lamp, it obviously didn’t work.


Maa had more things to sell to Bhediya, and Anand walked slow through the narrow street, dragging his fear along with the weight of the bag.   


Bhediya had black narrow eyes, and a huge nose. His tongue licked his teeth as Anand approached, keeping a safe distance.

“Is this all you have, boy?” Bhediya picked through the Anand's bag of treasures, each dark finger ending in a sharp claw.


 “I have one more thing of metal, a small lamp.” Anand ’s eyes were glued to the talons.


 “Show me.” Bhediya growled.


 “I thought it was a magic lamp, but it doesn’t work-” Anand stepped closer to show the man.

 Bhediya sneered, his black eyes glancing at the small object before going Anand, moving up and down. “It is only a cup for measuring, rice or flour.” 

Bhediya snatched Anand ’s arm in a vice grip and held him tight. “ I do have need of a boy though, one with a pretty face.” A single claw caressed Anand’s cheek. “I have a very important buyer who would like you very much.” Bhediya bared his teeth.


 Anand knew of boys who went with Bhediya, like his cousin PK, who left and never came back.


Anand closed his eyes and rubbed the magic lamp, his fingers desperate. He had one last wish.


Anand felt the power course through his body, changing him. He leapt toward Bhediya, to touch him, his fangs tasting Bhediya’s neck. He twisted and coiled around him, squeezing the light from him, before he released to slither down onto the side of the road. In a wide grin, his tongue flicked in and out, tasting the air and freedom.


August 31, 2023 21:48

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36 comments

Michał Przywara
20:51 Sep 05, 2023

That's gotta be some kind of new, modern day classic fairy tale! Really like this one. It's funny, it's sad, it's endearing, it's dangerous - it seems to have it all. Anand's heart is in the right place, but the poor kid doesn't recognize that the lamp gave him exactly what he wanted - just in a more practical, modern fashion. But that third wish - a great, fitting ending. The story starts with fear of the snake, fear of being eaten by it, and in the end he becomes the snake himself. There's something in that - quite a lot actually. I don'...

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Marty B
00:08 Sep 06, 2023

Anand became what he was most scared of, and in doing so found freedom. Thanks for the good words!

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Michał Przywara
22:30 Sep 08, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist! Glad this one was seen :)

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Marty B
22:40 Sep 08, 2023

Thank you!! And congrats to you right back, well deserved.

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Graham Kinross
00:30 Dec 05, 2023

The magic and the tension are brilliant. It’s well paced to keeep the reader hooked. Congratulations on being shortlisted Marty. Well deserved. The creepy man at the end really deserved it. I like that the wish made a credit card instead of cash, funny.

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Marty B
18:24 Dec 05, 2023

Thank you - I appreciate your good words!

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Graham Kinross
22:22 Dec 05, 2023

You’re welcome.

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Martin Ross
18:10 Oct 20, 2023

A great modern fable with a serpentine twist and genuinely sinister contemporary connotations. As always, fantastic concept and execution!

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Marty B
18:24 Dec 05, 2023

Thanks!

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Amanda Lieser
16:52 Sep 20, 2023

Hi Marty! Always lovely to see a familiar face on the shortlist! This was an epic fantasy tale, and I love how it immediately brought us into the setting, with that very first line about the snake. I thought that you tied everything up beautifully with a perfect bow at the very end. Your characters were rich and detailed, despite the fact that you are working with only 3000 words or less. I am consistently impressed with the way that you can dive into a story and bring us along with because it it feels like being transported into each world ...

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Marty B
22:18 Sep 20, 2023

You have have great language in your stories, and appreciate that you feel 'transported'- the whole point of a story is to escape a little bit! Thanks!

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Karen Corr
11:17 Sep 14, 2023

Well told story! I enjoyed it! Congratulations on the shortlist, Marty!

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Marty B
18:29 Sep 14, 2023

Thanks! I appreciate it-

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Philip Ebuluofor
09:25 Sep 11, 2023

Congrats Marty. I should add once again.

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Marty B
03:50 Sep 13, 2023

Thank you!

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Philip Ebuluofor
16:27 Sep 13, 2023

Welcome.

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Mary Bendickson
20:20 Sep 10, 2023

Well deserved shortlist. 🎉 Congrats.

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Marty B
03:51 Sep 13, 2023

Thank you Mary- I appreciate it!

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AnneMarie Miles
14:36 Sep 09, 2023

Wow, Marty! This is so unique and intriguing. A fantastical tale of the underdog, and I really like how the snake, an object of fear in the beginning, becomes an object of power and justice in the end. That holds true the many myths and symbols of snakes. This is very creative. I'm learning a lot from you. Congratulations on the shortlist this week! This absolutely deserves it.

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Marty B
18:33 Sep 09, 2023

Snakes carry with them many symbols, both good and bad. Though I prefer to see them in stories ;) I love your writing! Thank you!

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Delbert Griffith
08:55 Sep 09, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist, my friend! Well deserved, IMO. Cheers!

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Marty B
18:33 Sep 09, 2023

Much appreciated!

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Delbert Griffith
15:58 Sep 07, 2023

Wonderful tale! Becoming what he feared, but even more, becoming an instrument of justice. I like how the snake metamorphizes from threat to deliverance. What a masterful story, my friend. Nicely done! Cheers!

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Marty B
17:43 Sep 07, 2023

I have found for me, that is how it works. What we are most scared of becomes a strength. Thank you!

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L J
17:21 Sep 04, 2023

loved this! Suddenly, I don't hate snakes so much....This was well done. Would like to read about the continuing adventures of Anand.... Thanks for taking time to read mine. Always appreciated!

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Marty B
17:31 Sep 04, 2023

Thanks! Depends on the snake ;)

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L J
17:51 Sep 04, 2023

LOL

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Lily Finch
04:09 Sep 03, 2023

I really enjoyed the story. The opening of your story was bang on as a gripper. The beginning and the end tie-up was masterfully done. Thanks for the great read. LF6

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Marty B
06:06 Sep 03, 2023

A 'gripper' is high praise! Thanks LF6!

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Kevin Logue
19:42 Sep 02, 2023

Well that was awesome. The setting, desperation, and hunger of Anand is so strong. You have a brilliant opener that really grabs and concludes so nicely. I was worried it was heading into tragedy when he didn't realise what the medicine or credit card were. Bravo good sir, an absolute smashing tale!

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Marty B
21:24 Sep 02, 2023

Good words from a great writer! Thanks! It was a tragedy for poor Bhediya, however he deserved it!

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Kevin Logue
17:24 Sep 08, 2023

Congrats on the well desevred short listing! 🎉🎉

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Marty B
22:41 Sep 08, 2023

Thank you!!

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Tom Skye
19:09 Sep 02, 2023

This was beautifully imaginative. I love how you tied the end to the beginning. The exotic characters and backdrop gave the whole thing a real charm as well. Great work. Loved it

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Marty B
21:24 Sep 02, 2023

It is like a snake eating its own tale, so to speak. Thanks!

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Tom Skye
22:29 Sep 02, 2023

haha brilliant!

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