Today we meet the winner of the sixth and final category of this year’s Novel Rocket LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile.
I’ll give you a moment to take a breath after reading that long contest name. Ready? Okay, let’s move on.
This category is my personal favorite: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror. The winning story falls with the Fantasy side of that range, and it was the judges’ unanimous choice. The characters are relatable and the writing was good enough to draw the reader fully into the story right off the bat. Not only that, but the synopsis shows it has a sweet, satisfying resolution.
This story, along with this year's previous category winners, is now entered in the running for the Grand Prize.
We'll announce that winner next month. For now, we hope you'll enjoy the first 4000 words of Her Other Life by Christine Coward of The Villages, Florida.
Her Other Life
My mother always said that daydreaming would get me in trouble.
My mother always said that daydreaming would get me in trouble.
That was nearly forty years ago.
“Kara, get your head out of the clouds,” she’d admonish.
I always fingered my necklace and said, “Yes, ma’am,” a little insincerely. After all, I wasn’t daydreaming. Mom just didn’t understand.
When did it start? I can’t say. For as far back as I can remember, I Longed to be happy. Longed to love. Longed to be loved. I dreamed of these things, constantly. Through my life, my Longing held me.
It held me through my days of dolls. It held me through my years on the honor roll. It held me as I began my career in Washington. It held me on that balmy, heady night when Josh proposed. It held me through the births of our daughters.
Much has happened since then (at least I think so) and my Longing had held me. Now, as I sit in this gray room, fingering the doily on the armrest, waiting for the door to open, waiting for my name to be called, my Longing hold me still.
Kara pulled two dresses from the closet and tossed them on the bed. Which should she pack? The practical pink knit? Or the ooh-la-la yellow?
From the corner of her eye, she regarded her husband, who surveyed her progress.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” he said from his perch on the spare dining room chair. He crossed his arms, and the chair creaked.
“Of course I do. This show’s important.”
“Important for whom?”
Whom. “For the company.” Then she added, “And me.”
He drummed his fingers on the chair’s arm. “Can’t you send an underling?”
It was a sore point. Kara had been the one-woman marketing team for Complete Countertops for three years, reporting to the vice president for sales and marketing. It was nothing like the exciting job she had so long ago when she started her career as a Congressional research assistant in Washington—before she’d met Josh, before they moved to Florida. Before she went on the Mommy Track. But this job had offered some hope. When her company’s vice president left a month ago, Kara had been named acting VP.
Turned out, acting was the operative word.
Before replying, Kara steadied herself. “Josh, I am the underling.”
“You’ll get the promotion.”
She hoisted her suitcase onto the bed. Plucking a tennis shoe from the floor, she slipped it into an old sock. “You know how political these things are. Who knows how long it’ll take them to decide? Meanwhile, I’m the VP and the marketing staff. Me. By myself.”
She turned away, her eyes sweeping the room. It was neat and calm, with white furniture, a wheat-colored bedspread, and pale blue walls.
Josh gestured to the pile on the bed. “That’s everything you own.”
Kara, too, surveyed the clothes. Who am I fooling? It doesn’t matter what I wear. I am plain. Sooner or later, Ed will see it.
She gave herself a little shake and returned her mind to business, to the promotion. She wanted it, brutal workload and all.
“So what do you think?” he asked.
Shit. He’d been talking. She strained to hear the echoes of his words. She’d learned to do that, snatch moments-old phrases from the air. Schedule … electric bill … microwave….”
“The microwave,” he prompted.
The microwave. It had gone dead, right in the middle of steaming tonight’s broccoli. Something was always breaking in this house. Repair or replace? Every week she and Josh spent hours discussing whether to repair or replace this or that. Almost inevitably, they decided to replace.
“… can’t get along without a microwave,” he was saying.
She zipped her suitcase and dropped it next to her leather carry-on, which was bursting with papers. The other materials had been shipped to Arizona days ago.
It would do no good to suggest that Josh buy a microwave while she was out of town. He’d insist they pick it out together, compare all the features, research the consumer ratings. “That’s what married people do,” he would say. “Make decisions together.” He’d use anything he could to claim chunks of her already overloaded schedule, and he would cling to his list of “rules,” one of which was that husbands and wives should never make decisions independently.
She shook off her resentment. “As soon as I get back, we’ll go shopping.”
She broke away, kissed her daughters goodnight, programmed the coffee maker, and climbed into bed. It was nearly one AM. She should have been exhausted, but as she plumped her pillows, Longing settled in.
She fingered her silver necklace. It was a gift from her namesake great-aunt Kara. Aunt Kara, a jewelry maker, had fashioned the pendant for her great-niece’s sixth birthday. It was a triangle that rotated in a circle. From the first day she’d spun the triangle, Kara sensed something special, something symbolic, in its three sides. As years passed, she never removed the pendant, not even when Josh bought her pearls for their wedding, and she wore the two necklaces together. Tonight, she touched one side of the triangle. “To be happy,” she whispered. She turned it and touched an adjacent side. “To love.” She touched the last. “To be loved.”
She tucked the necklace in her nightshirt and settled under the covers. “I miss you, Aunt Kara.”
In the background she heard Josh on his nightly rounds, rattling doors and windows; fingering plugs and light switches; sniffing for whiffs of smoke; and peering behind doors, under beds, behind shower curtains, and into cabinets. Tonight she welcomed his ritual. It would give her an hour to herself. Time for a little ritual of my own.
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Yvonne Anderson writes Fiction That Takes You Out of this World.
The Story in the Stars, first book in her "Gateway to Gannah" series, was released by Risen Books in June of this year.
Stop by and visit her blog.