Short-Short Story Contest Winner(s)

A month ago, I asked readers to write a short-short story inspired by this pulp magazine cover from the ’50s.

I received quite a few great entries that spanned all genres, styles and viewpoints. Two stories ultimately stood out for me, not just for their interpretation of the magazine cover but for the way they captured a distinct mood and tone in just a few short sentences. Yet their styles were so completely different that it was impossible for me to choose just one winner.

So I didn’t.

That’s right. I copped out and picked two winning stories. The first winner is Lesann Berry, who took the point of view of the anguished octopus. The second winner is Brian Ferguson-Avery, who approached the theme with surreal humor. Both Brian and Lesann will have an octopus adopted in their names via The World Wildlife Fund. You can learn more about the WWF by going here. For taking part, the other particpants will have $25 donated to the fund in their name.

And now, without further ado, the winning stories:

Rousing the Kraken
by Lesann Berry

The octopus propelled his massive slick body forward in surges, a jet of propulsion emitting a cloud of bubbles in a feathery wake. Primordial and deadly he gnashed the sharp curved edges of his beak, a true leviathan from the deep, called forth by the mortal cries of his brethren.

Kraken’s progress was silent.

Crawling across the seabed, thick curls of muscle undulating, he strategized. To evoke fear he would cloud the water with an inky burst and snake ebony arms around his victim. The puny creature might strike his chromatophoric hide with a sharp blade. It would not save him. Contracted tentacles would clamp hard-edged cups across the man and squeeze, stopping only when the final bubble of oxygen burst from the wretched body. He would disarticulate the remains, tearing the human into sloppy shreds.


Wakened from his dormant repose, cradled deep in the stygian darkness, centuries of animosity would be recompensed. The moment of consequence arrived. Today was atonement time. The world changed during his absence, modern ships were sleek and fast, more powerful than the creaking vessels of old.

No matter.

He would take the men one at a time until they came below no more. Like the sailors of yore spinning wild stories of outlandish beasts, each man would learn respect for Kraken’s might. The human trail of destruction must cease, no longer befoul the clean clear water.

Shadows at the mouth of the cavern shielded his bulk. Tenebrous fingers of gloom provided cover. His target would learn too late to elude his dark embrace. Kraken readied. The indistinct shape of the miniscule boat bobbed far above on the surface.

The overhang of shell encrusted rock dredged up antique memories of aching songs filled with praise that honored his vengeful watchful gaze. Ancient men called him the protector of the seas, but no longer.

The harrowing recall of a more recent day filled his senses.

Ripples of sound carried to the trench depths where he slumbered in cold sightless dark. The pitiful cries wakened him. He smelled blood filtering through the water long before his three hearts sluggishly worked his heavy mass upward. Dim sunlight, blocked by the floating clouds, stained his world maroon. Searching the dimness, he’d collected their remnants gently rubbing over salt grass stems only inches above the pebbled floor of the surf-washed cove. They were descendants of his line, butchered into hunks of severed flesh. Tiny arms with delicate blue-tinged tentacle disks still adhered to the rocks as though clinging for protection.

His anguished scream made the ocean go silent. A glance told the story. The greed of men was unchanged. Senseless violence wreaked on the innocent for the handful of glittering stones plucked from the base of the cliff. Treasure from the wrecked galleon spilled around the reef, three centuries of water movement dispersing the shiny mass into a thin veil.

A human figure plunged into the water, began to descend.

Sentient and patient, Kraken waited.

What I Did on Spring Break, By Dirk Blade
by Brian Ferguson-Avery

I wish I’d have pledged Beta Chi.  There, they just suspend you from a tree and coat you in syrup and Coco Puffs and send the pictures to your girlfriend.  Here, I have to work kitchen shifts in the faculty dining room. My first year at Bayside University has turned out to be no day at the beach.

I’m waiting on Professor Ritter. He’s our fraternity advisor as well as my composition instructor. And what a hard-ass! He threatened to fail my essay that I’d plagiarized from an adventure magazine. “Write my order down, Blade. And spelling counts.”

I tell him we’re out of the sushi.  He folds his hands over his menu and smiles. “We both know where you can get more. Otherwise,” and he holds up an imaginary red pen, “see you next semester.”

So I don the wetsuit (magenta and red — university colors) and dive for free-range seafood. The mako sharks are too swift; my knife is too dull for fugu; and every other fish reminds me of Finding Nemo.  I’m about ready to gig a sorry-looking sea cucumber when I feel the tentacles wrap my ankle. 

I’ve felt these suction cups before. Ever since I beat him out for Homecoming King and class president, he’s dogged me.  It’s like this each time we meet.  The beast pulls me into his clutches.  I gasp, “Curse you, Seth O’LaPod!”  Through the bubbles at the top of my aquamask, my words emerge as “Blug blubble gub!”

He clicks his beak at me. “Sklorjuk!  X!ux!  Cracken-clack!” 

It probably means, “Curse you, Dirk Blade, for blackballing my place on the varsity football squad!” but it could also be Octopish for, “Yummy!”

I stab with my knife, but it can’t penetrate the creature’s rangy flesh. His eight tentacles outnumber my two arms, and I was never good at math. One encircles my torso, almost tender in its thick embrace.  Through the inky gloom — either he’s released his defense mechanism, or I’m blacking out — I see bloodshot eyes. 

“You’ve pulled your last all-nighter, Seth!” 

I strike at the iris closest to me.

Freed, I drift to the surface.  I reach the wharf and fresh, sweet air just as the aquamask breathes its last. 

“Get yourself back to the kitchen, Blade!” Professor Ritter tosses a glass of ice water in my face.  

“I nearly died, and all for your appetizers!”

“Quit whining.  I hired a new guy to help you.  He’ll join you in a minute.”

I stumble into the galley. I stand weakly at the sink and scrub out chowder bowls and ramekins.  As my shift drags on, I actually look forward to thinking about starting my essay.

I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn. There, in a pool of rank bilge, stands Seth O’LaPod. 

“You!” I exclaim.                                               

“Your help arrives, Dirk Blade.”  He laughs in aquatic English. 

I reach for a crab fork.  It’s going to be a long evening.

Posted on by Todd Posted in Just For Fun, Wonderful Web

3 Responses to Short-Short Story Contest Winner(s)

  1. Brian Ferguson-Avery

    To Lesann Berry,

    Nice story! I’m glad to share this prize with you. You did a great job of catching the point of view of the octopus (and I’m in admiration of anyone who can toss around words like “chromatophoric” and “disarticulate”!). Good job, and best of luck to you in your future writing.

    –Brian Ferguson-Avery
    (aka, the Other Octopus Writer)

  2. Lesann

    Hi Brian –

    I loved your entry. If I’d been on the selection committee I’d have chucked mine under the bus in favor of yours. Such a great setting – and I think I’ve worked with that professor. I was crying over Seth O’Lapod and Aquatic English, just beautiful! Congratulations on your new adoption.

    I guess congratulations are in order for Godfather Ritter too.

    Happy writing!

    Lesann Berry

  3. Todd

    Now you know see how I couldn’t pick just one. Both of your stories are great, but so, so different. I definitely think I made the right decision in declaring both of you the winners.