June saw the first of the monthly short fiction contests hosted on this blog. The challenge was to write a story of no more than 500 words inspired by the image above. The response was simply fantastic. I received over 60 entries, all of them interesting and fun reads.
Selecting the winners was difficult, made so by the quality of the stories everyone had written. It wasn't easy, but here are the winners:
- First prize of a £50 Amazon gift card goes to John Mulligan for 'The Young Kellar'
- Second prize of a £20 Amazon gift card goes to David Haynes for 'Pick a Cup'
- Third prize of a £10 Amazon gift card goes to Paul R Hardy for 'Harry Weiss Meets the Devil'
Once again thank you everyone for entering and helping to spread the word about this contest. If you want to take part in the latest short fiction contest then check the links at the top of the page.
And now, let's enjoy the winning story.
THE YOUNG KELLAR by John Mulligan
‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ young mister Kelly; that’s what he said to me, every morning. ‘Squarehead’ we called him, but not to his face of course; he’d clatter any boy that didn’t call him ‘sir’, or ‘Mister Murphy, Sir’.
‘Yes, Mister Murphy, sir’. I would try not to annoy him, so as to avoid the stinging smack of his big hand on the side of my head. He always hit from behind, when you least expected it.
‘What will become of you, Mister Kelly?’
‘I’ll never amount to anything, sir.’
That wasn’t really what I thought, of course. I knew in my heart that I would very much amount to something; I had a plan. I would be a famous magician, ‘the young Kellar’, and I would make millions and be on TV and be famous. I spent all my evenings in the shed, working on my act in front of an old mirror. The homework never really got done, but that didn’t matter; I wouldn’t need to know about algebra and the war of the roses, I’d just have to be able to count the money that would roll in.
It was the last Christmas before I left St Joseph’s, and the concert was the big thing for everybody. Of course he had to have a go at me about that too.
‘So, Mister Kelly, what will you do for the concert? Act the clown, maybe, or play the donkey?’ The class tittered nervously.
‘I’ll do some magic tricks, Mister Murphy, sir.’
‘Magic tricks? Sticking a pencil in one ear and out the other? There’s not a lot in between, is there, Mister Kelly?’
‘No, what? Mister Kelly’
‘No, not a lot in between, Mister Murphy, sir.’
So now I’m on the stage in my tuxedo and I have all my equipment set up. I ask the audience for a volunteer, looking straight at Squarehead in the front row.
‘Would you like to be sawed in half, sir? Not afraid, are we?’
Laughter from the audience. He climbs up on the stage, bows to the crowd.
‘Lie in the box, Sir.’ He lies down, awkwardly; I fasten clasps.
‘Two volunteers to haul the saw?’ I flex the shiny crosscut; it makes a twanging noise. Two young guys come up the steps.
‘I’ll just put some special tape on your mouth, to stop the screaming’ I wave the piece of duct-tape; the audience howls with laughter. I stretch it across his face; he looks nervous, all of a sudden. He’s not so cocky now.
I hand the saw to the two young men, slot it into the gap on the top of the box, cue the loud music.
They pale at the spurting red spray, then laugh nervously. ‘Special effects’, I reassure them quietly, and they keep sawing. The blade drips red as it moves over and back; the audience applauds, goes wild.
Old Squarehead hasn’t much to say now, has he? Not a lot; no, sir!
PICK A CUP by David Haynes
“Take a glass, monsieur Kellar and drink with me. One is laced with poison and one with my blood. One will bring you straight to me and the other will bring you riches and fame beyond your wildest dreams.”
Kellar looked down at the goblets. Each one was filled to the rim with deep scarlet liquid and each one the same as the other.
The demon placed a crooked black nail upon the rim of each glass, “Choose carefully monsieur for your odds are no better than even.”
“You may choose my fate, sir,” Kellar placed his hands upon the glasses, “but you too must choose carefully,” with the dextrous touch of a master he switched the goblets, first one way, them the other, and back again. Two cups became four with the speed of his hand and they danced a dismal quadrille. When all was still, not a drop had been spilled.
“Ha! My eyes are faster than yours, monsieur," the demon cried. "I know which glass to select for I placed them here myself. Your head will look good on my pyre!”
“Then my fate is with you,” Kellar stepped back and bowed. “I shall drink long of my wine and wait for darkness to fall forever upon my miserable life.”
They linked arms as lovers about to be wed and tipped back the poisonous draft.
“It is a good vintage, is it not, monsieur?” his forked tongue flicked greedily at the side of his glass.
Kellar raised his hands to his throat and gasped for breath, “You have bested me, sir!”
“I always get my man!” the demon threw his head back and laughed.
A moment passed in silence as they waited for Kellar’s demise.
Then Kellar, from the depths of despair, rose from his knees and roared in glorious laughter, “There must be a mistake for I feel quite well!”
“Impossible!” the demon rubbed his blood red eyes. “There must be something wrong with my eyes.”
“Your eyes are fast, but not as swift as my blade,” Kellar turned over his arm, revealing a bloody wound on his wrist. He flicked a finger and a stiletto slid from beneath his starched white cuff. “Misdirection, sir, is my game,” he walked towards the demon and laid his hand upon the hot flesh of his cheek, “you now belong to me, for my blood is within you demon. It binds you to my will and counteracts your vile poison!”
“No! It cannot be. I never lose! I will not be bested by a mortal man!”
“It is not so bad. There is still fun to be had but we may have to come up with a name. Come we have a glorious show to prepare and all the ladies adore a magician,” he winked at his new assistant who licked his demon lips with a flick of his blackened tongue.
HARRY WEISS MEETS THE DEVIL by Paul R Hardy
Appleton, Wisconsin 1880
Rabbi Weiss realises his son is not with him.
He turns, exasperation mixing with worry: the boy is six years old and curious about the world around him, far too curious for an immigrant child who should mind his own business in a strange country.
But he has not gone far. The Rabbi finds young Harry Weiss staring up at a poster on the side of the town’s little courthouse, oblivious to the carts rattling along the dirt street behind him.
“Harry!” he calls. The boy glances at his father, but the poster holds his attention in spite of his father’s hollering. “Harry, we must be at temple!”
Does the boy not know it is Saturday?
Rabbi Weiss goes to his son. “Harry!” he snaps at him. “What will it look like if the Rabbi is late to temple? Eh? The people will think I have run away. Is that what you want?”
Harry ignores his father’s remonstrations. He’s heard them far too often. So his father grabs him by his collar.
Pa, he calls him. Pa, like an American boy.
“What? What should make the Rabbi late for temple?”
Rabbi Weiss looks up. Apparently there are shows coming to Green Bay, and there is advertising to draw in those who are gullible enough to waste their time on thirty miles’ travel. Why should this draw his son’s eye?
But then he sees it: among all the acrobats and lions and exotic horsemen, there is a man in a tuxedo, looking like he is at some New York party.
A party for the Devil.
The man in the tuxedo links arms and sips champagne with a crimson-robed fiend whose face is dark in shadow, but whose wickedness is apparent to all. And below this hideous image, there is a name: KELLAR.
“Oh,” says the Rabbi. He looks back down at his son, and sees that he is not only fascinated. He is scared, too.
“It is just a magician,” he says to his son.
“But pa… that’s the Devil…”
“The Devil? What nonsense! There is only a man. He is called Harry Kellar. He does magic tricks on a stage in Green Bay.”
“Magic tricks?” says the boy, eyes going wide.
“Yes, he does tricks. He puts a devil on the poster so people think he is in league with darkness. But he is not. He is only a man. They are only tricks.”
The boy looks back up at the wall, weighing his father’s words against the poster.
“He is a charlatan, Harry. The poster is only for the gullible ones. Are you gullible?”
The boy shakes his head.
“Good. Then we will go to temple. Come along.”
Rabbi Weiss pulls his son away before any more ideas find their way into his head.
Harry Weiss grew up to be Harry Houdini. He exposed fraudulent magicians whenever he could, inspired by the guidance of his friend and idol, Harry Kellar.