Rhapsody Micro Fiction Contest Winners
Our Summer 2019 Micro-Fiction Contest, Rhapsody, had us all rhapsodizing about the extraordinary creativity of your stories! We read them, and re-read them, and read them again, and still we were hard-pressed to choose a winner. In the end, we didn’t. We chose two, tied for first place. And four more as Honorable Mentions! Even with these six selections, we were still sorry to leave others Unmentioned. So our heart-felt thanks to you all for making our Dandelion Micro-Fiction Contest such a gratifying joy to produce.
Tied for first place are two thirteen-year old writers: Eliana Whing, U.S.A., and Madeline Page of New Albany, OH. If Madeline’s name seems familiar, that’s because she also tied for first place in our Spring contest, Infinite Grace! Once again, her exquisite use of language, sound, imagery and feeling carried the essence of Lori’s artwork flawlessly. Eliana is also a previous winner, for her Before Dawn story last fall. Both of these young writers have a natural talent for expressing the ineffable in their solidly accessible literary styles. May they continue to practice their gift and share it with us all!
Our four Honorable Mentions include two more young writers, both from Virginia. Fifteen year-old Sahar Choudhury and thirteen year-old Turhan both submitted beautifully crafted tales, well-told. And two of our favorite adult writers, Lisa-Marguerite Mora of Los Angeles and Susan Ferrari of Gilford, NH each sent us tantalizing stories, each in their own inimitable style.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading these stories as much as we did. And again, our thanks to these winning writers and to all of you who have helped to make our ongoing Micro-Fiction Contest such a joy to present.
Inspiration flows in all directions when we join together in Creativity!
Winning Story (tie)
Madeline Page, Age 13 - New Albany, OH
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
My calloused hands caress the slender strings of my violin. The bow, an oak extension of my flesh, slides like melted butter as I gently coax a song from the once-dead wood. I give it new life as it joyously sings, harmonizing with the rustling of leaves, crooning a melody;
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
I am dressed in the finest cloth garments, crafted from the daintily spun silk of the Chinese silkworms, and dyed with the paint of crushed petals. My cocoa-brown hat sits jauntily on my curls. I wear no shoes; why bother when I sit and strum atop a bear’s backside, as he lumbers through the forest? The pebbles hidden in the velvety green moss underneath me will not bruise my feet.
My violin sings to me;
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
The bells draped around my bear’s neck tinkle softly as we move. My bear rumbles gently, adding a baritone to the composition I am making. He plods in time to the rhythm of my heart-the rhythm of the song.
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
The greenery around us hums as I crescendo. I close my eyes, and I play.
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
The forest comes alive with melody and harmony, singing. This world is mine, all mine! The notes twirl around us, like autumn leaves in a breeze, brushing my cheeks, as I play, and play, and play, and. . .
Home Solis home Solis home Solis home Solis . . .
The final note tentatively emerges from beneath my bow, and quivers in the air, while the forest sighs, and silents.
I sing the last note with my violin.
I lower my bow as the verdant trees blur into each other, like a watercolor painting. They dissolve, as do my colorful clothes, and my loyal bear. He gazes mournfully at me as he fades away.
The forest is replaced by a drab attic bedroom, my silks to scratchy stitching. All that remains is my violin.
My dead mother’s violin.
I tenderly place it into a wooden box, alongside my father’s cocoa brown hat, and my sister’s tattered stuffed bear. I let my fingers trail along the trees carved into the lid of the box, let them rest in the meticulous scratches engraved there.
Solis. My name.
I close the box, leaving the world where I have everything behind, and turn to face the world where I have nothing. Nothing but remnants of a once-family, and a nearly forgotten dream.
I imagine that I can hear the strings of a violin, calling to me, playing a melody I know by heart.
Home Solis home Solis home. . .
Winning Story (tie)
Eliana Whing, Age 13 - USA
Every spring I come, though it is duty, not want, that brings me back. The forest needs me. Its very breath relies upon my music. Every year, the forest dies. Every year, my violin wakes it up once more.
It was probably three years back that Piaco started joining me. I don’t like to rely on anything, but I’ll admit that when he growls at the foxes in hopes of protecting me, or when his cocoa colored fur stands on end at every twig snap, his love of me is a comfort.
Yes, my journey is no easy one. No one ever sees me, gives me credit for my good deeds. Each year I appear from the mist alone on Piaco. Nameless, with no identity to speak of. I know tis better for all people this way, though still it pains me to feel invisible. If one should see us they might think their eyes had betrayed them. We would be a strange sight, Piaco and I. Him, with his ribbons of blue and pink draped ‘round his neck like scarves, and the tinkling bells that join my violin’s sweet notes. And me! With my fine brown felt hat, and fine silks, why they look to be something that came from the royal dress-up chest! That would be the strangest part of it all to any plain and practical villager.
The fog that had been covering us settled. I could see that this year was no different from ones past. The trees were sagging where they stood, and the usual mossy earth was once more afraid of its own beauty, and had hidden itself amongst the brown. I began to play. I know how it sounds. It is a language of its own, my music. Whenever I play, I receive the most beautiful, rich, and deep feeling I’ve ever known.
I closed my eyes and peace washed over me. Every bone in me relaxed, and I stayed in that way for a time, making no motion but swift pulls of my bow. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the magic had already begun its course. The trees were standing upright and alert, and the forest floor looked to have grown courage, for it once more had become its own, soft universe, and my bare feet suddenly yearned to feel the soft earth beneath them, resting on it as though it was their pillow. The birds called to neighbors as they looked down from the curved branches above, and bunnies peeped out of burrows. They were all enthralled with my music. Piaco had closed his eyes, and I knew he was simply breathing it in.
I did not stop. I knew when to, and the time had not yet appeared. Through the trees my own one-instrument symphony echoed back to me. All sound seemed to have stopped. The entire forest was holding its breath, not wanting to miss a single note of my sweet tune.
And then the fog appeared. I stopped abruptly. The birds scattered. Piaco’s eyes popped open, and the bunnies cowered afraid. The fog began to cover us, swooping gracefully around our bodies as gently as a mother reaching for her child. I patted Piaco comfortingly. “It’s okay, old friend. We are going now.” The fog thickened like a blanket; it swarmed us, and filled us. When it cleared, I knew we would be gone. The forest was restored, and my duty was complete. Farewell forest. We shall return soon..
Lisa-Marguerite Mora - Los Angeles
“We are lost,” said Antonia, as she gripped Rorius's thickly furred back. Despite their predicament, she noticed she felt more safe now astride his broad body.
“Not so much lost, now that we're together,” Rorius sniffed the wind as he tracked scents of the trees and their roots, the rich dark soil that sometimes sifted underneath his feet.
Antonia had escaped the circus troupe she'd been a part of these last several months. It had to be done at night in the wee hours after the manager had fallen asleep. He would not have taken kindly to her leaving and may have sought to stop her. One always thought of escaping to the circus, but Antonia was solitary, a bit of a nomad. She carried along to her own tune, which she often evoked on her fiddle. First a few notes and much like Rorius, she'd halt, sniff the wind, as the bow lingered on the strings, its call vibrating out onto the open air. She rarely played with a roof over her head. Trapping these sounds of her heart between four walls was not something she could abide for long. It was partially why she ran away. Even in the tent where she was required to perform, she felt stifled. The night before her escape she realized it would be her last. The forest had called to her through the wind that played across her face and across the taut strings of her bow. She itched to pick it up, drag it across the fiddle, answer the whoooo whoooo! that crept into her heart. But she would risk waking the rest of the company. And in that moment as the soft wind from the forest with all its fine scents tantalized, she knew she had to leave. She was not meant for people as much as for the life of wild things. It had always been so.
Nimbly catching up her instrument, she also grabbed a brown hat of one of the troupe members. She stopped to tuck her hair far up into it and pulled the brim down over her eyebrows. Best not be recognized as a girl even though she wore a dress. Her short pantaloons might help to give a different impression at least in the predawn shadows so that she could get to the forest safely. As an afterthought she snatched a blue silk shawl, draped it across her shoulders. She couldn’t completely ignore the cold nor the fact winter was coming.
When she got to the wood and then further into the blue-green density of the forest, she could finally breathe. Now she could play and no one would hear her. Antonia touched the bow to the strings of her fiddle and waited for the vibration of song that always travelled from deep within her before it surfaced. She closed her eyes. Opened them. But what was that? A chunky kind of jingling. Bells. Different music. She stood still and listened, the fiddle still perched on her shoulder, under her chin.
Rorius emerged from behind a towering evergreen. He was strewn with a large harness of sleigh bells. He shook himself, surrounded now by a cascade of silver jingles. “Damned annoyance!” he admitted matter-of-factly.
Antonia put down her bow, “Don’t tell me,” she said. “Did you escape too?”
“Couldn’t take another minute,” he affirmed. “Saw you sneaking off and thought it wasn’t a bad idea.” He shook his neck again, setting off the heavy jangle of bells once again.
“Don’t do that,” said Antonia. She glanced behind her nervously. “Maybe we should go further into the forest. Maybe they’ll hear you.”
“Right,” he looked pointedly at her instrument. “Don’t play that fiddle either,” he moved off behind the tree he emerged from. “We should be careful.”
“Rorius,” Antonia suddenly felt cold and small in her bare feet and thin dress. She caught up the silk shawl that had slid to the ground. “Can I ride on your back?”
Rorius turned, “Yes, I suppose so. This isn’t really your kind of terrain, is it?”
Antonia wanted to protest, “No, that’s not true! I love the forest!” But a rustling in the distance made her move quick toward the bear and climb up onto his sturdy back. “Thank you,” she said.
They lumbered along as dawn crept up the sky, trees awash now in a smoky blue light. Mist filtered through the branches and through the tough greenery and feathery branches that stretched in all directions. Pine scent, damp, and the softest fragrance of tiny low growing flowers clung to their fur and skin. After a time, Antonia picked up her bow and drew it across the strings of the fiddle. She played a few notes and a bird answered high and sweet. “You play very well,” Rorius paused. “Am not sure where we are,” he added.
“We are lost,” Antonia agreed. She continued to play, her fingers deft, the bow moving slow and quick. It was a new song. Not a solitary song. It came from far inside her, but with a new color.
“Not so much lost now that we’re together,” What Rorius said was true. Antonia heard him sigh. “I hear a stream,” he veered course in direction of the gentle lapping that Antonia could only just detect. It almost sounded like laughter. Rorius’s gait smoothed and lengthened.
“Good,” said Antonia. She leaned forward over the bear’s shoulders, managing a tighter grip with her knees, while she held to her bow and fiddle. “I’ll get that harness off you when we stop.” She hummed another little tune lulled by the sure steps of the bear. It was good to have found her friend, a friend she didn’t even know she had. “Rorius?”
“I think we’re going to be fine.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I think so.” He paused. “If you would, please, play another song?”
Music in the Mist
Susan Ferrari - Gilford, NH
I’m sure you’ve had a day when you just had to get away. That was how it was for me, the day I got lost in the redwood forest. I needed to shake off the crush of words weighing me down. All those words of comfort that sounded more like fingernails being dragged across a blackboard. More than anything, I just needed to be alone. So that’s how I ended up hopelessly lost among the ancient trees.
I was pretty hopeless anyway, before I got lost. When I entered the forest I had no plan, no direction, and definitely no trail map. After wandering for, I don’t know, a couple of hours, I guess, I noticed that I was repeatedly coming upon the same big boulder and the same burl in the same giant redwood. So I gave up. Just stopped walking and dropped down onto a bed of moss and ferns.
Lying on my back I looked up at the canopy of redwood branches that seemed more alive than I. Their branches intertwined and encircled me like a warm embrace. Feeling safe, I closed my eyes and let the fresh woodsy scent of the trees melt into me. I surrendered. My body sagged and my mind went limp, silent. On my cheeks tears mingled with the moisture in the mist.
I have no idea how long I lay like that. Hours, most likely. Days, maybe. Surrendering released me from the tyranny of time. And honestly, I didn’t care about time anymore. Perhaps I’d still be there on my back if it hadn’t been for the most extraordinary sound I’d ever heard. I’ll try to tell you about it, but you may have trouble believing me. Be that as it may, I do hope you will hear it yourself some day.
I thought it was a sudden symphony of woodland birds, but then I realized that among the bird songs was a clear and solo voice. Think of the most illustrious violinist of all time performing on the most exquisite violin and then you will still have but a mere hint of the sacred sound I heard. Even the word, “sound,” is inadequate.
Naturally, I rose from my earthen bed and followed the pure tones that had awakened me. Try to put your disbelief aside as I tell you what happened next. I came to a small pond beside which stood a large brown bear and upon his back sat a boy or a girl, a seemingly genderless child. Upon the handsomely beautiful head sat a large fedora of sorts and on the strong looking body of this mysterious child was a mishmash of garments suggesting royalty. Or perhaps the circus. Both bear and child wore a countenance of concentration. So deeply focused on something or someone in the distance ahead of them they did not notice me at all.
The child, it turned out, was the magnificent violinist. Now and then the bear would add to the symphony with a bit of percussion made up mostly of the bells draped across his or her chest and back, with occasional low grunts interjected into the rhythm of the violin music. The birds, mind you, tweeted and trilled in absolute harmony and time with the concert master astride the bear.
You might imagine the state of my mind at seeing and hearing all this. But, you would be wrong if you think I was stunned or shocked in any way. No, no, not at all. Thinking back on it now, I am dumbfounded that I was so calm. For one thing, I felt my heartbeat join their rhythm and then my mouth opened, without asking my brain first, and out of it came a glorious sound straight from my soul, I’m sure. It was that perfect. A breeze wafted in and the redwood branches swished like brushes on a drum. The entire forest was alive with the music. We were all part of the Great Symphony.
On the very last note, the violinist and the bear moved slowly away. They just faded into the mist, really. I listened as the final note drifted into silence. In that exact moment came the realization that I, too, played a part in the Great Symphony, no matter how small or insignificant. It was then that my path was illuminated. I was no longer lost. Not in body, not in mind, and definitely not in spirit.
I was found.
Sahar Choudhury, age 15 - Virginia
He obediently pulls his bow back and forth over the strings, working up the scale. His mind drifts once more, and his fingers follow suit; the next note is unmistakably sharp, an unlovely screech. He winces.
“You haven’t been practicing, have you? Shame on you! You are not to go outside until you demonstrate improvement!”
With this grim sentence, his mother sweeps from the room, leaving him alone to his music and his thoughts. When the sound of her footsteps recedes down the corridor, he haltingly resumes his scales.
He cannot concentrate, however, and his daydreams wander back to the wonder of the bear.
He had seen it early that morning. After finishing breakfast, he had donned his exploring outfit- consisting chiefly of a resplendent blue cape and a jaunty hat- and delved into the woods behind his home. Dew was pooled in the grooves of fallen logs and the fissures of rocks he had clambered over, and a light mist hung among the towering trees as a remnant of rains from the previous night. Birdsong echoed throughout the forest, and a stream burbled musically underfoot. He had walked along its banks, collecting fallen acorns and picking bluebells for his mother. It was then he had encountered the bear.
He had uttered a soft “Oh!” without intending to, then clapped his hand over his mouth. It did not notice him; its great, shaggy snout was buried in the undergrowth near a yellow trumpetbush. His breath hitched as he observed the enormous animal grazing peacefully; to him, it was the size of imagination, a world of possibility. It was beautiful, with a delicate velvet nose waiting to be stroked. Its eyes were pools the color of the rosin he used on his bow, an amber so natural and dark it could be mistaken as black. He had longed to run a hand over its coat, over the droplets of dew that still clung to it. Against his better instinct, he yearned to reach out toward the grizzly, which on some scale seemed his beloved teddy come to life. Instead, he stood motionless and watched for an eternity. Then, silently, he had torn his gaze away from the magical sight to return home.
These recollections give way to a fantasy: in his mind’s eye, he is perched atop the bear in his exploring outfit, violin and bow in his hands. The melody of the forest surrounds him. Acorns and bluebells adorning the bear provide a cheerful tinkle, the flowers of the yellow trumpetbush sound out bright and brassy, flutey birdsong and murmuring water weave through the score, and the rider and the ridden are the core of the piece. His bare toes curl into thick brown fur that complements the mahogany of his instrument. When the bear rumbles, he plays deep, legato, sonoro. The woods are alive with music, and his music is as alive as the woods that have created it.
He finishes with a grand flourish, just in time to realize that the tune created in his head is now coming from outside it, from his own fingers. The rich parting note lingers in the air, filling the room with a warm resonance that gradually fades into silence. The resulting calm is broken by a crescendo of footsteps. The door swings open. He waits to be reprimanded; after all, the scales were abandoned long ago. His mother regards him for a long moment.
“If you wish to, you may go outside again. You’ve played well today.”
His face registers surprise before splitting into a radiant smile. He puts away the violin, changes into his exploring outfit, and steps from the music in his home to the music outside it. At the edge of the forest, he holds his breath and listens. A symphony begins.
Turhan, Age 13 - Virginia
He is scared. The woods are darker than he thought they would be, and a layer of fog obscures everything so that when he sticks out the bow of his violin in front of his nose he can barely see it. Insects buzz and whir in the bushes, insects that might sting and bite and hurt him. He treads on.
He is determined. Teddy is his responsibility. They perform their act together: The Musical Boy and Bear! Teddy wears her jingly bells and he wears his fancy hat, silk cape, and a bright patchwork of garments. He rides Teddy as they perform, playing his violin, and the crowd roars louder than a bear! Now Teddy is missing; she has fled into the woods behind their latest campground and been loose for three days straight. The mission is clear: the Musical Boy must find the Musical Bear and bring her back to the circus where they both belong before it is time to leave for the next town. He treads on.
He is lonely. Teddy is his closest friend. All the other circus artists are adults, and they are kind and do their best to entertain him, but many of them come and go and sometimes it is necessary for a Boy to spend time with Not-Adults. He does not know or want to know life without a bear in it. He treads on.
Suddenly, he hears a low purring. He is ecstatic! This is the sound Teddy makes when he wraps his arms around as much of her as he can, or when the ringmaster booms “Spectacular performance!” and the cookhouse gives both Boy and Bear extra dinner that night. He walks around a big evergreen tree and there she is! When their eyes meet, warm brown to warm brown, her purring grows even louder and his smile grows even bigger.
He is shocked. In his mind he knows it is Teddy, but to his eyes the bear before him is a stranger in the guise of Circus Teddy. Her coat is thick in a way he has never seen, contrasting the now-rusty bells hanging from her frayed harness. Her paws seem larger, more powerful. The eyes returning his gaze are brighter and sharper. She looks stronger, and the realization hits him: she is healthy. This is what Teddy should have looked like all this time.
He approaches Teddy and swings a leg over her, with violin in one hand and bow in the other.
“One last performance, okay?”
She purrs in response.
So they perform, and it is magnificent- the best they have ever played. Their listeners are the chattering squirrels and the clicking beetles and the chirping birds. All in all, the woods make a much more musical audience than the clamoring crowd of the circus ring ever has. After a while, they finish, the last note of the violin perfectly matching the jingling of Teddy’s bells. He now knows what must be done.
She is free. He is sorrowful about leaving her, his best friend and partner, but he understands that Teddy belongs to nature on a much deeper level than she can ever belong to the circus. So he places his violin-calloused fingers on her soft fur and tugs off her harness of bells, the final barrier between Teddy and the way she should be. Their eyes meet for the last time and a complete understanding passes between them. As he begins the journey back through the woodland, he is overcome by a bittersweet tide of emotion.
He no longer has a circus act or a best friend, but he has the music and memory of this forest, and of Teddy.