Contest #86 shortlist ⭐️

82 comments

Fantasy Contemporary Bedtime

She took her first breath in a grove of towering aspen trees, under the shadow of a hummingbird’s wing. Her mother was the melody of the mountain stream and her father was the glitter of sunlight through the coin-shaped leaves. 


The forest cared for her, swaddled her in wildflowers and sustained her with birdsong. When she cried, the butterflies kissed her cheeks and dried her tears. She grew strong and fast, and in only a few years she was taller than the saplings that sprouted on the day of her birth.


When the nights were cold, she slept beside the fawns, curled up against their spotted backs while their mothers sang lullabies and told stories. On warm spring evenings, she lay on beds of moss and sweet-smelling fallen leaves. 


She played with the bluebirds, who taught her to sing. She raced the coyote pups along dry stream beds. On rainy days when the earth smelled of sky, she wandered down to the mountain lake and swam with the river otters.


She lived a contented life for many years in the little grove. The woods and the mountainside loved her dearly, knew the sound of her footsteps and the touch of her fingers. Even the most fearsome creatures were tame in her presence. The bears told her where to find the sweetest honey. The chorus of wolves sang her dirges in hollow harmony, hoping to see her smile. Even the mountain lion tipped his regal head in her direction as he stalked by in search of prey. 


She was the forest’s very heart. 


One day, she awoke to strange sounds in the woods. Voices, clumsy and ill-defined, not lofty like birdsong or steady like a doe’s murmur. She climbed to the top of an old pine tree, who straightened with joy at her touch. 


A man and his son rambled through the woods, snapping limbs from sapling trees and trampling larkspur underfoot. The man was tall and thin, and the boy stood about the girl’s height, with a smile cool as a riverbed stone. 


She watched all day from a distance as they cleared a space in the aspen grove to make camp, gathered wood, made a fire, pulled fish from the lake with a stick and a string and roasted them over the flames. 


When night fell, the forest held a hushed conference about the strangers. The nervous squirrels chittered, the bucks stamped their hooves, and the owls quieted everyone down to warn them: no one was to go near these trespassers, especially not the girl.


The next morning, the girl licked dewdrops from the wild mint leaves and wandered the woods, avoiding the spot where the man and his son lay sleeping. She hummed to herself as she walked, and did not notice the boy, who had risen at the sound of her song and followed it. 


“What’s your name?” he asked as he approached, and the forest grew deathly still. 


The girl did not have a name. She did not know what names were. There was no use for such things in the forest, for the creatures knew one another too intimately for names.


“Your name?” he asked again, slowly. 


She shrugged. 


He frowned. “I’m Liam.”


“Liam,” she replied, letting the word fall from her tongue like overripe berries from a vine. 


He nodded and stepped towards her, hand outstretched. In his palm rested a hand-carved wooden rabbit, one of the most beautiful and strange things she’d ever seen. Hesitantly, knowing that the disapproving trees were watching, she snatched the rabbit from him and dashed away, vanishing into the woods.


The man and his son stayed in the grove one more day. Neither caught a glimpse of the girl in that time, and the man was quite convinced that his son had dreamed her. 


But Liam knew the truth, and so did the forest.


After the trespassers left, the girl clung tightly to the wooden rabbit and whispered her wishes in its ears. The creatures in the forest told her to forget the boy, begged her to join their games. For weeks, she could not bring herself to do either.


A year passed, and somewhere in that time the girl nearly forgot Liam. She left the wooden rabbit under the old pine tree. She played once more with the otters and sang with the sparrows. The forest was whole again, whole and happy.


Then, Liam and his father returned. 


This time, the girl was bolder and met Liam in the grove while his father fished down at the lake. He didn’t look up from the fire when she appeared, he only smiled into the gentle flames.


“I knew you were real,” he whispered.


She smiled back.


Liam and his father returned to the woods once every spring. Each year, much to the forest’s chagrin, Liam and the girl stole a moment together beneath the shade of the pine branches, nestled in the scent of fallen needles that clung to their skin.


They talked and they laughed. The girl came to love speaking in Liam’s clumsy language, just as he came to love how well she knew the forest, how deeply she belonged to it. 


The third year they met, Liam stole a kiss from the girl under the pine tree.


The fourth year, the girl stole two kisses and Liam stole a caress of the girl’s wildflower skin.


One day after many years of stealing kisses, they stole much more from one another, and lingered in the shade of the pine tree in a breathless reverie. 


Shortly after that day, Liam and his father departed the woods again. The girl fell ill. The forest did not scold, only sighed at the inevitability of it all and nursed her as best as it could. In time, she grew better and stronger. She grew fuller, too, and felt the terrifying exhilaration of life within her.


She bore a child under the shade of the aspen trees, a daughter with wildflower skin and eyes full of wishes. The girl gave her daughter the little wooden rabbit to play with and when spring came, the two of them waited under the pine tree for Liam’s return. 


When he did return, this time without his father, his cool smile did not last long. His countenance grew dark at the sight of his daughter, sleeping in a bed of pine needles. He knew that this child, like her mother, was not human, not quite. And that knowledge made him tremble.


Liam could not hear the girl’s voice over the sound of fear, rushing in white rapids within his ears. He raged, more at himself than at the girl, but the forest heard and bristled at his fury. The girl did not weep, did not plead as he turned and started back down the mountainside. She simply picked up her daughter and left the shade of the pine tree for the last time with a soft goodbye. 


The girl could forgive and forget, but the forest could not.


Liam did not make it down the mountain. 


When the girl discovered what the forest had done, she went out in search of Liam’s body, thinking she might bury the man she loved under the pine tree where she loved him. She left her daughter beside the fawns in the tender care of the aspen grove where she was raised, promising to return.


She searched for days. The forest would not tell her where he lay, so she wandered in aimless grief. With gentle chirps, the birds cautioned her to go back to her daughter. The wolves invited her to add her loss to their somber song and allow herself to heal. The mountain lion said nothing, merely nuzzled her hand and pointed her home. 


Still, she did not stop searching for Liam. The forest wept for her, with her, bitter tears of regret and love.


When she found him, lying in a field of larkspur and thistles with his eyes open to the sun, she stood over him with tears in her eyes. 


The very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved did not rise. 


Year after year and even to this day, all the creatures of the forest gather at the edge of that field in early spring. They bring with them the girl’s daughter, to show her the wildflowers which bloom over the place where her parents lie.

March 20, 2021 07:35

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82 comments

Leilani Lane
02:45 Mar 30, 2021

I felt like the opening just wrapped me up in a warm hug. (Also, aspens are my favorite trees and hummingbirds are my favorite birds, so I was destined to love this from the first sentence.) This was so inviting and rhythmic; the descriptions were poignant and beautifully written. I was wondering if the forest would die (due to the "heart of the forest" dying), but then I realized that the daughter might be the new heart of the forest... I thought that ending was beautiful. :) My only critique is that I wish there was a bit more about Liam;...

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Claire Lewis
13:21 Mar 30, 2021

Mine too! My grandparent’s house growing up was next to an aspen grove with literally hundreds of hummingbirds in it. Watching the hummingbird feeder was a favorite childhood pastime. Thanks for the critique! I kind of wanted Liam to come across as the “prince charming” trope with not too much depth but it’s a tricky line to toe, I’m still working on that skill And yes, it should be “and did not rise.” Wish I had caught that before this was approved haha! Thanks for the careful read as always! I’m woefully behind on your stories; looking ...

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I.B. Dunn
20:12 Apr 05, 2021

I feel as if I'm cheating on our agreement by reading this while I don't have one for you to read. I don't care, I enjoy reading you to much to stand on ceremony. K took the words out of my mouth, I wish I could write like this. I've told you I think your stories are songs and this is a perfect example. This deserves to be sung. It's melodic and sweet. It's hopeful and sad. It's simple and yet amazingly complex. It deserved to be shortlisted and maybe should have won. I wrote a story using the prompt about flowers but was late to po...

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Claire Lewis
21:59 Apr 05, 2021

No need to stand on ceremony haha! I’ll never be upset to see your comments, though I do miss reading your stories 😊 I’ll keep an eye out for a new story from you if you do get a chance to post one!

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Scout Tahoe
18:17 Apr 02, 2021

Breathtaking. Congrats on the shortlist, Claire!

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Claire Lewis
18:33 Apr 02, 2021

Thank you, Scout!

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K. Antonio
04:53 Mar 22, 2021

I believe this is one of those stories where I kind of wish I could write in the same style. The prose is lovely, lyrical and reminiscent of Narnia, but also streams like Virginia Woolf. If I was to make any sort of critique, it would probably be that I either wish that the story contained more dialogue, more than that little snippet in the middle, or that it had no dialogue and relied solely on your showing. The sentences are super well constructed and the descriptions are poetic. I could easily see this being in the "Bed Time" tag, it f...

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Claire Lewis
12:41 Mar 22, 2021

Thanks for the kind words and critique! I didn’t notice that there was a bedtime tag, I just added it 😊

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K. Antonio
15:03 Apr 02, 2021

YAY. CONGRATS ON THIS SHORTLIST CLAIRE!!!

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Claire Lewis
15:20 Apr 02, 2021

Thank you!! Also, sorry I’m so behind on your stories, these past couple weeks have been wild lol... looking forward to catching up!

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Anna Romano
16:30 Apr 02, 2021

Agreed!

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Shreshta Writer
20:14 Apr 05, 2021

I love this story! It's so nice!

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Frances Reine
15:08 Apr 02, 2021

Oh my gosh--I can't believe I haven't read this one. First of all though... CONGRATS, Claire!! Sweet, pretty but it hurt. In love with the pacing, the plot, the everything. So lucid but equally soft too. It could be a painting in watercolour. Once again: CONGRATS ;)

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Claire Lewis
15:43 Apr 02, 2021

Frances!! I swear your compliments are just as poetic as your writing. I love them. And thank you!! I’m excited to finally have more than one shortlist in my bio lol

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Frances Reine
22:10 Apr 02, 2021

Oh yes, 2 now! Well earned of course :) A win next time maybe? ;)

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Ellie Yu
17:34 Mar 24, 2021

(I originally read this the day it was posted but didn't leave a comment - after you wrote so thoughtfully about mine, I came back to this :) ) I'm basically head over heels for your writing style. Like someone else said, this fits so perfectly into the "Bedtime" tag - I can totally imagine this being in some kind of fairytale anthology, or being read to kids. There are so many gorgeous lines in this, metaphors and comparisons that are heartbreakingly lovely. The end is sad but it feels true to its source material. Following you was one of ...

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Claire Lewis
21:13 Mar 24, 2021

Thanks Ellie! I’m truly flattered :)

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Ellie Yu
15:11 Apr 02, 2021

Shortlisted! So, so deserved!

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Claire Lewis
15:34 Apr 02, 2021

Thank you Ellie!!

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A.G. Scott
08:56 Mar 21, 2021

Bad prose is a wall between the reader and the subject, good prose is a window, pretty prose is stained glass. Yours is definitely stained glass, as usual--I would just say to be cognizant of whether there's something truly substantial and coherent on the other side for us to look in on. Bit of a blessing and curse situation: it'll be especially hard for you to develop plot and character that meets the epic demand of your prose. I read the bookkeeper one before it got deleted. I understand why it got deleted.

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Claire Lewis
13:22 Mar 21, 2021

Thanks for the critique, I’ll certainly keep it in mind moving forward! I should probably start trying to plan out my stories a bit (oh joy). I like to see where they go as I write but sometimes that leads away from character and plot. I’ve been toying with alternate endings for this one but haven’t come up with anything I like better And yeah... the bookkeeper one was a classic force-myself-through-writers-block situation that rarely ends well for me. It’s joined my extensive scrap heap of stories lol

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H Bolton
20:18 Apr 06, 2021

Ohhh, if it isn't impolite, what other endings have you thought of? The current ending is very star-crossed lovers but I could see with your beginning that this could go a very different direction!

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Claire Lewis
23:01 Apr 06, 2021

Not impolite at all! I’m trying to remember haha... I think one of my ideas for another direction was to have her leave the forest with Liam early on. Another was to introduce conflict by having the father find her, or by having Liam bring someone else to the forest to meet her. I’m sure I had several more but I’ve forgotten them by now!

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H Bolton
01:49 Apr 07, 2021

Ohhh, the introducing someone else would be heartbreaking! At least they are Ovid-style together forever

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Amany Sayed
20:45 Mar 20, 2021

What a way to write for this prompt. It's told in such bedtime story style and I'm in love. Your writing style is so pretty. I honestly think the title fits really well, though I don't like titles that start with 'the'. I'll think about other suggestions. Keep writing.

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Claire Lewis
22:36 Mar 20, 2021

Thank you for the kind comment Amany!

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Amany Sayed
15:07 Apr 02, 2021

Yay! Shortlist! :D Congrats!

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Claire Lewis
15:33 Apr 02, 2021

Ahh thank you!! :D

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Rachel Smith
19:39 Mar 20, 2021

Wow, so beautiful and sad! Your writing style is so wonderful and enjoyable to read. I was transported into your world of fairytales. Well done.

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Claire Lewis
22:11 Mar 20, 2021

Thank you Rachel!

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H L Mc Quaid
18:08 Mar 20, 2021

ah, I'm nearly wordless. This was so magical and lyrical and wonderful. I'd point out the bits I love best, but that would 100% of it. Only one, teeny tiny thing. You could probably get away with saying 'moss' here, unless you really want to imply different kinds of mosses: "On warm spring evenings, she lay on beds of mosses.." The title is good. A few other ideas to play with... "The heart of the forest". Or use some of the other imagery: "Wildflower skin" or "Wildflower heart" , "eyes full of wishes" I really wish I could write like ...

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Claire Lewis
18:21 Mar 20, 2021

Your comments are always instant validation, Heather! This one was beyond fun to write, and I’m thrilled to hear it’s an enjoyable read, too. I’ll make that edit now, you’re the best!!

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H L Mc Quaid
17:42 Apr 02, 2021

Congratulations on the shortlist. Well deserved and well done! 🎉🎊😊

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Claire Lewis
17:52 Apr 02, 2021

Thank you!! 😁

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Walter Suskind
14:52 Jul 06, 2021

Claire, this story is fantastic! I'm interested in narrating it for a bedtime story for a new wellness startup. Would love to talk more. wksuskind@gmail.com Thanks, Walter

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:02 May 31, 2021

Claire, what the hell? I was curious about this story because it got shortlisted but I didn’t expect to get blown away like that. Gave me chills, everything is just so serene and beautiful. I just wish you fixed that little sentence hiccup towards the end but otherwise this is stellar.

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Claire Lewis
19:27 May 31, 2021

Ha, that sentence is going to haunt me forever. I’m truly flattered, Rayhan, thank you 😊

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:32 May 31, 2021

I have plenty of typos and formatting errors to haunt me too, don’t worry 😫

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06:54 May 30, 2021

WOW! Very amazing story indeed. I stumbled upon this story because my girlfriend asked me to read her to sleep, the calming scenery did just that, at an amazing speed too. Even though she has already fallen asleep, I could not stop myself from finishing this gorgeous story. I think when she wakes up, I'll read her this story again so she can immerse herself in this experience as well. BTW fellas, have calm and soothing music as background music for extra sleep-inducing affect!

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Cristian Barajas
19:00 May 17, 2021

Great Story! I really liked how descriptive and detailed your story was. I just wished that you built a more of a backstory to Liam, I like how you also connect the forest to her love for Liam as well

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Jordan Beeston
11:07 May 08, 2021

I'm in a long distance relationship and just read this story to my girlfriend as she went to sleep, she loved it. Thank you for a beautiful story 😊

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Claire Lewis
04:11 May 09, 2021

How sweet! Hope you and your girlfriend are doing well 😊 Thank you for the lovely comment!

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Kedian Ibarra
17:29 May 04, 2021

This story was so intresting and wonderful! It was so inviting along with all the pretty imagery. If i could change one thing it would be that we get to know about Liam a bit more than just knowing he visited every spring.

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19:01 Apr 29, 2021

I loved this story, it was so nice. The only thing is that I would have loved if there was more Liam.

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Claire Lewis
22:02 Apr 29, 2021

Thanks for the comment and critique Jasmine! I was going for a prince charming trope so I left him as a bit of a blank slate, but I certainly could have added a few little details to develop his character a bit more

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14:28 Apr 09, 2021

a beautiful, lyrical, breathtaking story. your writing treads the line between poetry and prose. a wonderful plot. only one critique- when it says, 'the very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved did not rise,' should it be, instead, 'the very heart of the forest lay down beside the man she loved {and} did not rise?' or am i misinterpreting this? all in all, amazing story, and deserved shortlist. great job.

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Kyler Mattoon
15:43 Apr 08, 2021

Oh my goodness....this is so beautiful and melancholy. It is reminiscent of old faerie tales - such an old, mysterious feel! Love it.

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