First Runner Up
Benjamin Langley's In Sickness and In Health
The hope and optimism the last paragraph gives was a breath of fresh air here. This piece leaves us with a few unanswered questions, though that's okay (if not frustrating, haha) because the comprehensive, self-contained plot is still there. Some things that would be cool to address: What ails Poppy? What is the Black Wood? (Could they build a lovely summer home there?)
The very last part of the last line kept drawing me back to this piece ("[He] placed his crown at his father's feet"). I can respect the King's position on doing what's right for the kingdom, but a king should be bold in what he believes is right and good; Amin's peaceful refusal to obey and determination and hope for the future are aspects that anyone can admire.
This reminds me of (I think it was) a Twilight Zone episode (where the dude writes people into existence and burns paper to get rid of 'em. I can't remember if he was a character or not, though). I'm not sure why stories like this resonate with me--maybe it's because we can go our entire lives believing we're one thing, and then we're violently proved to be another. Part of this also reminds me somewhat of my little sister (good job with the character dynamics!); when we were younger, I always felt like she was trying to steal everything I was good at! So, I can empathize rather deeply with the main character. I'm curious to know more about this witch that made and gave this skull--it took me a few read-overs to understand what the second paragraph meant in relation to the rest of the story (since I couldn't figure out for the life of me why crushing this skull would do anything). I would have liked to see a little more after the last line (though I choose to interpret this as the main character fading out of existence and perceiving no more) for firm confirmation on what happened. The plot and conflict was intriguing and the character dynamics were real. Good job with this!
“You will have nothing!” My sister flinched under my words.
I held up the tiny skull the witch gave me. She'd stuffed it with ground herbs from dirty jars, the shed of a snake, and a burnt scrap with Claire’s name on it.
All I had to do was crush it, the way Claire had crushed me.
Her music struck more hearts than mine. Claire’s art took risks I would never dare, her hand was steady. These were my passions she took, because she could not think of any on her own.
The latest thing was ballet. Claire would spend the next year dancing under a scholarship that should have been mine.
“You’ve taken everything from me,” I said. I shook the skull at her. “This will take everything you love.”
Claire cowered behind raised palms. “Please Eleanor, calm down.”
“No. It’s my turn to talk.”
I dashed the skull against the ground. Bits of bone spiraled across the hardwood floor. A pale smoke bloomed from the top like a mushroom cloud, lingering when it should have dispersed. Claire began to cry. “No, no…” she murmured, and sank to her knees.
My body tingled with the magic.
My arms were hazy. It was hard to focus on any one of my fingers, even when I tried to flex them. If I succeeded, I didn’t feel it.
“What’s happening?” I asked, desperate.
Claire wasn’t listening. She was trying to sweep stems and powders back into the base of the remaining skull.
I could see her frantic motions through my fading limbs. “It’s not working.”
She sobbed. “I just wanted you to like me.”
Claire raised her delicate fists, and brought them down through the smoke with a force that would crush the skull completely.