The NYC Midnight short story competition is a long running, international short story challenge in which entrants have one week to write a story of 2,500 words or less. Divided into heats of approximately 30 writers, each heat group is assigned a genre, character and plot device. After deadline, the judges chose the best stories from each heat, the writers of which go through to the second round of of the competition where they have three days to write a 2000 word story. The finalists chosen from that round must write a 1,500 word story in 24 hours!
This year I was assigned the genre of fantasy and my story needed to include an arranged marriage and a competitive-eater. Obvs I was pretty pleased with the fantasy genre! I had heaps of fun writing this and ended receiving an honourable mention!
The great thing about the competition is it lights a fire under your ass. It makes you work hard and fast to write the best story you can. It also makes you think hard about how to do your best with what you’ve been assigned. And the great thing is every entrant receives feedback on their story – good and bad!
Here’s my story…
CHANCE MAGIC – By Lisette Prendé
When a prudish young faery attends her cousin’s arranged magical wedding she does her best to avoid attention (and the buffet table). But a chance meeting may bring her much more than a serve of gillyflower pudding…
At least 10,000 enchanted candles hovered in mid air, illuminating the ceiling of the great hall and shining light on the matrimonial festivities below. The Great Goblin Band had just begun their fifth set and the guests were well and truly making their way through the 77 cases of Elder Mead.
Alyssa cringed as she saw her mother send a glassy-eyed smile towards the banjo player. He winked in response and tipped his fedora. The double-bass player saw the exchange and gave his band mate an encouraging nudge in the ribs. She wished she could tell him he was dreaming, that her mother would never in a million years bed a goblin, but she knew it wasn’t true.
“Goblins are fabulous Darling!” Her mother had told her. “They’re hung like Centaurs and nimble as pixies. Just don’t try to have a decent conversation with one of them!”
It was faeries like her mother that gave them all a bad name. Sure, faery women did tend to be somewhat… amorous, but that didn’t mean they all were. Alyssa was sick of being labeled an ‘easy faery’ just because all her friends, sisters, cousins, aunts and grandmothers followed the free love faery manifesto. She vowed she would never be like them. She wasn’t interested in lust, it was true love she craved.
Taking a sip of her Elder Mead — which had grown warm and slightly flat over the hours that she’d been nursing it — Alyssa looked over to the newly weds. Her cousin Amrynthia sat across from her new Elvin Husband, Thious. She smiled coyly, twirling a lock of dark hair through her fingers. Thious looked like he was about to jump out of his seat and ravish her on the table in front of everyone. The truth was that if it were midnight already he probably would have. Alyssa looked down at her quartz timepiece; forty-five clicks past eighth hour. I wonder if they’ll make it?
Growing up everyone had heard the stories of the couple who did not wait till midnight. Though the scariest one of all was possibly the tale of the eternally ancient lovers: The newly weds who’d nipped off into the woods for an early consummation (at twenty clicks to midnight no less!) and aged fifty years in an instant. Legend tells they were forced to spend the rest of their lives together as octogenarians.
Her mother had told her it was an unfortunate reaction that occurred when an arranged magical marriage prediction was disobeyed. What the Great Love Oracles saw must come to pass. So if the Great Love Oracles saw the two lovers connected on the twelfth day of July, the twelfth day of July it must be. Both lovers were to remain celibate for the hours following the magical pairing ceremony, until the official consummation at midnight. Alyssa often wondered why they didn’t just hold the wedding on the day of prediction to avoid disaster but tradition was tradition.
Alyssa let out a long sigh. She longed to be looked at the way Thious was looking at her cousin. Sure, they had only just met each other and yes, both had just spent the week at ritual freedom orgies, but still, Alyssa couldn’t help but feel a tug of jealousy. She wanted a person to love. Someone kind and funny who enjoyed reading. Someone she could be herself around; who could watch her eat like a horse and not be put off (it was taking all her willpower to stay away from the buffet table). Someone she could choose herself.
It did happen; Goblins, trolls, gnomes and pixies generally married out of love and chance meeting but it was very rare in elvish and faery families. Arranged magical marriage was seen as upper class – it wasn’t cheap to request a magical marriage prediction and this made it somewhat elite.
But Alyssa didn’t care for elite. She wanted chance magic. The magic she’d read about in human books: the magic of love at first sight. Oh how she longed to live in the human world and roam the busy smoggy streets. She’d drink coffee and go to second hand bookstores then meet her true love as they both reached for the same book. But her mother would never allow it. She was too old fashioned. She believed in rampant promiscuity and arranged magical marriage.
“Lyssie!” Amrynthia sang, now at her side. “Come dance with meee!”
Alyssa could smell the sweet sickly tang of Elder Mead on her cousin’s breath and wondered if she’d managed to drink all 77 cases herself. “Oh, no Am! You know I’m not much of a dancer.”
“Oh that’s pixie rot and you know it!” She jutted out her bottom lip. “Pleeeease. If I don’t dance soon I’ll think I’ll consummate this marriage on the floor!”
Alyssa sighed. She hated crowds and despised being watched. She felt much more comfortable lurking in the shadows.
“You don’t want me to get cursed now do you, Lyssie?”
“Fine!” Alyssa said, rising to her feet and placing her glass on the table. “I will dance with you! But don’t you dare try and set me up with anyone!”
Amrynthia rolled her eyes. “For Freya’s sake Lyssie! At this rate you’ll die unflowered!”
They passed a vampire couple in an intimate feeding session at the nearby buffet and dodged a circle of Satyrs involved in a bawdy dance off. One turned as they passed, flashing Alyssa a dribbly smile and offering her his eager phallus.
“Oh! Put it away Charlie!” Amrynthia snapped. “What are you trying to do, get me cursed? It’s not midnight yet!”
“Oh, sorry, Am,” the Satyr replied, a heavy grin across his face.
“Who on earth invited the Satyrs?” Alyssa hissed as they moved by.
“Argh. My mother had a thing with Marsyas, like forever ago, but whatever!”
If her mother’s past lovers were to be invited to her future wedding, Alyssa feared the entire realm would be in attendance, probably most of the human world too. She shuddered at the thought. Dear Goddess, I hope I don’t have to have a faery wedding.
The band roared into a rock version of If You Believe in Magic and Alyssa felt her body begin to move to the music. She cursed her faery impulses as she simultaneously revelled in the movement, closing her eyes, allowing her hips to roll and her arms to sway.
Alyssa was jolted out of her reverie as a large creature crashed into her and something wet and sticky splattered across her face. She wiped the muck from her eyes to find a tall dark Satyr standing in front of her holding an empty plate that had been piled with what tasted like gillyflower pudding.
“I’m so sorry!” he said. “Here, let me help.” He put his plate down and pulled a silk napkin from his jacket pocket.”
“I think you’ve done enough Satyr!” Alyssa snapped. “Did you leave any gillyflower pudding for anyone else or was it all on your plate? For Freya’s sake! Look at my dress!” Alyssa grabbed the silk napkin and started wiping the muck from her dress.
“I’m not a Satyr,” he said, hurt evident in his tone.
Alyssa looked up. He was quite right. He was not a Satyr. He was a fawn. Unlike a Satyr he had the handsome face of a man, with the large floppy ears of a goat. Though like a Satyr he did have hooves.
“Oh, sorry,” Alyssa said. “I just, I thought you were with that lot.” She pointed towards the group of Satyrs now having a twerk off, none of whom wearing pants.
The fawn shrugged, feigning indifference. “It’s fine. And I mean, there’s nothing wrong with those guys. They can be a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for it. But you know, there’s more to life than…”
“Lucifer’s lemons!” Amrynthia gasped. “What happened to you Lyssie?” She looked down at Alyssa’s dress. “Oh no! I’ll get someone to fix this. There’s got to be a witch around here somewhere!”
“Oh, don’t worry Am, it’s your wedding night. I’ll deal with it.”
“Don’t be silly! I made you dance. Besides, it looks like your mother is keeping Thious company.”
Alyssa turned to see her mother now sitting across from the groom, tipping herself forward, offering her ample bosom. She thought perhaps Am should intervene, but her cousin had already disappeared into the crowd.
“I really am sorry,” the fawn said. “I wish there was something I could do.”
Alyssa was still curious to what he was about to say before Am had cut him off. ‘There’s more to life than’…What?
“It’s okay. Though I think I’ve still got gillyflower pudding in my eyes,” she laughed, wiping her eyes again with the napkin.
“Here, let me.” He took the napkin from her, and placing one hand on her cheek, he gently wiped the sticky goo from her eyes. She blinked and looked up at him, finally able to see clearly. She stared into his dark eyes and her body began to tingle.
“I’m sorry I assumed you were a Satyr,” she managed.
“It’s okay. It happens a lot. You know, most people don’t know the difference. So they see me and just think, oh here’s another sex crazed party boy. They assume I have rocks for brains.” He laughed. “They get pretty confused when they find out I’m studying at NYU.”
Alyssa blinked. “You’re…living in the human world?”
He nodded. “My parents have a Demi-god to protect so that means I do too I guess.”
“How do you…”
“There’s magic for that. The humans can’t even see I’m a fawn but other-realmers can. It’s quite cool actually. They come up and say hey and fill me in on the other realm gossip. But as I was saying, they make assumptions and think I’ll know where all the best bars and brothels are.” He laughed. “I’m like, I can tell you where the best bookstores are!”
Alyssa’s heart was fluttering like a hummingbird. She could feel their lives intertwining in front of her, stretching out long and lean like the branches of a tree. Did he feel it too? “I know exactly what you mean,” she said. “About people making assumptions.”
“You do?” He said, his soft eyes on hers.
“Well, I’m a faery.” She smiled. “Faery women tend to have a…reputation. You must have heard.”
He nodded and she was sure she could see him blushing.
“Well, not all of us vow to live by the manifesto. Some of us are interested in genuine connection. It’s quality not quantity, if you know what I mean?”
He stared at her, unblinking. “I do.”
“I know it’s very modern of me, but I believe there’s one person meant for us and if we trust the Divine Creator she will lead us to that person. But if we get distracted by lust we get all turned around and we might never find that person. Then we need to pay for magical arranged marriages!”
The fawn smiled at her, nodding gently. “I’m Colt by the way.”
He looked down at her dress, still smeared with red muck. “I am so sorry about your dress. I’ll definitely pay to have it cleaned. If I hadn’t piled my plate so high it wouldn’t be so bad. What can I say? I like to eat.”
He nodded. “I like to eat a lot. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“There’s nothing wrong with eating a lot. Is there?” she asked.
“You haven’t seen me eat!” He laughed. “It’s kind of a hobby of mine.”
“Eating is your hobby?”
“Well, It’s actually more of a sport. And please no ‘goats eat everything jokes’.”
“Promise.” Alyssa said with a smile.
“Have you heard of competitive eating?”
Alyssa shook her head.
“It’s a sport where you eat as many burgers or hotdogs as you can in a certain amount of time.”
“That sounds like my kind of sport!”
He laughed and Alyssa was sure she could see his shoulders relax at her approval.
“To be honest, I’m kind of a champion.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I’ve won the National University champs for two years running now.”
“How many hotdogs do you eat?”
“Well, my record is 76 in ten minutes. And it’s actually the world record.”
Alyssa stared at him awe struck. “I’d like to see that.”
Alyssa nodded. “I love food but…faeries are meant to nibble.” She sighed. “I haven’t been near the buffet all night for fear I’d eat the lot and embarrass my mother.”
“Seriously?” He took her hand in his. “Come to the buffet with me. There’s no gillyflower pudding left but there’s plenty of snell cake and flutter boffins.”
Alyssa knew then without a doubt that they were meant to spend their lives together for eternity. But how? Her mother would never let her marry for love and never in a million years let her marry a fawn.
A large BOOM rocked the hall, causing some of the enchanted candles to fall to the floor, extinguished. Purple sulphuric smelling smoke filled the room. There were screams and gasps and Alyssa felt Colt’s arms wrap around her.
“Thious! No!” she heard Amrynthia scream and a deep feeling of foreboding filled her stomach as the smoke began to clear.
Beside the wedding table lay two piles of clothing. She could just make out the Sapphire satin of her mother’s gown. Two trembling white rabbits sat wide-eyed on top of the wedding table.
“Your mother slept with my husband!” Amrynthia spat. “On the bloody table no less!” she wept. “Look at him! This could last months. Do you know what that means Alyssa? I have to remain celibate until he becomes Elvin again!”
“Just get out!” Amrynthia yelled. “Take your rabbit of a mother and go!”
“Well mother, you’ve really outdone yourself this time.” Alyssa sighed. Cradling her mother in her arms, she walked towards the door.
“Alyssa, wait” Colt called after her. “Would you…” he trailed off and tried again. “I get the feeling things might be hard for you and your mother around here for a while. Would you like to come and stay with me and my parents?”
“In New York?”
He nodded. “I just, tell me if I’m wrong but I get this feeling like you and me are-“
“Meant for each other?”
“So do I!” Alyssa beamed, as her mother struggled and squealed in her arms. “I’d like that very much,” she said, tightening her hold.
Colt placed a hand on her cheek and pressed his lips gently against hers. Alyssa kissed him back hungrily. He tasted just like gillyflower pudding.
I got heaps of awesome compliments on the humorous nature of the story and the well fleshed out characters but ultimately lost points for the ending – it was rushed and a little to conveniently resolved, which I totally agreed with. It’s super helpful to get feedback like this on your work even just to reinforce what you already suspected.