It doesn’t seem possible we’ve come this far, but here we are announcing the winner of the Speculative Fiction category of this year’s Launch Pad Contest. The last category of the year!
Though a couple of the entries were good enough that the judges had to discuss which should be the winner, they did decide on one that satisfied everyone.
We’re happy to announce that the last category winner of our contest this year is My Soul to Keep by Melissa Solis of Spring, Texas. She, along with the year’s previous category winners, will move into the final round. A separate panel of judges will choose our Grand Prize winner from among those entries. That prize will include a custom made blown glass rocket trophy similar to the one shown above (the one in the picture was 2012’s trophy), as well as a custom made match-up with an agent or acquisitions editor.
We’ll announce the Grand Prize winner in December. Meanwhile, please enjoy the winning Speculative Fiction entry…
Hot tears streaming down my cool face awakens me. I sweep them away with my fingers and slowly make my way out of bed. It’s early morning, and the birds are already serenading the dawn. Still half-asleep, I trudge to my bathroom and wash my tear-stained face. Every night for seven years, I’ve had the same nightmare. If only it were a dream. If only I could forget that it ever happened. I close my
eyes, and try to force the memory of the stranger’s face, but nothing comes. He is only a mist, a shadow here, a blur there.
I turn on the shower and allow the warm steam to envelop me and melt my headache away. Most of my mornings start on this somber note. What I wouldn’t give just once to wake up all sunshine and butterflies. Heck, I’d even settle for misty and moths.
My dream always begins with the same crystal clarity. It’s the first day of my summer vacation. I am ten years old and leaving my home in San Diego for Dallas to spend the summer with my mother, as I always did after their divorce. I often dreaded the trip for weeks leading up to it, and that year was no different. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mother but I had grown accustomed to our estranged relationship. The dream always starts with my leaving my bedroom that morning.
~ I cling to my crystal doorknob for a moment before pulling it shut. I listen as the waves outside break methodically along the shoreline. I inhale the scent of maple syrup, bacon mixed with the salty sea air, for the last time. This dulcet scent is the smell of home, and I want to savor it for just one second longer.
“Brennen,” my dad yells from the car while honking out the obnoxious melody of “Shave and a Haircut.” The man lives to embarrass me. What can I say?
Coming, Dad—keep your panties on!” I sling my leather bag over my shoulder and pull my long
blond mane out from under the strap. I stomp out of the front door, slamming it good and hard to announce my frustration to the neighborhood, namely my dad. I’ll miss this house and the beach so much this summer. My dad stands by the car smirking at me. As I glare at him, I think to myself how much I will miss him more than anything. He is a large, well-built machine of a man. At over six feet tall, he towers next to the small V.W. bug. His surfer’s tan and his balding head give him a distinguished yet approachable look.
“What?” he yells playfully while grinning, helpless against my temper. I pause at the open car door and take a mental snapshot of my beach — our beach — before I slump down in the car.
“This sucks you know.” I cross my arms and throw on a serious scowl.
“Aw, you want some cheese with that whine?” he quips yet another one of his outdated, overused clichés. I retaliate with an eye roll. Good-byes weren’t something either of us did well. I would think I’d be used to it by now, but in ten years, it hasn’t gotten any easier.
We arrive at the gate, and my dad kneels down beside me as I kiss the top of his bare head.
“Bye, old man!”
He wraps his gigantic arms around me into a bear hug that could crush a hippo. He is leaving next week for a classified three-month Navy Special Forces operation. As always, I am worried about him. I know his job is dangerous—deadly even—but he always makes light of it for my sake.
“I’m gonna miss you, baby girl.”
“Can’t breathe, need air,” I squeak out. He sighs and kisses my cheek.
“Fine, later daughter-o-mine,” he says with a dubious Irish accent.
“Love you.” I squirm out of his tactical hold.
“Love you too.”
I board the plane as if walking the plank, one desultory step at a time. I’m guided to my seat by one cheerful young blond-haired, blue-eyed attendant, the epitome of a Cali girl if I’ve ever met one.
“Can I get you anything, Ms. Hale?” Her voice is sincere and syrupy, just shy of nauseating.
“No, I’m fine. Thank you,” I reply in my own sweet tone. I plop into my window seat and pass the time by people watching. A woman with a young baby boy sits in front of me. I can tell she is worried about how he’ll do. Trust me: we’re all worried about how he’ll do. Two elderly ladies are sit in my row; they introduce themselves as May and Evelyn. They chat about visiting their great-grandchildren. I get the impression they’re sisters. Both wear the same teased football helmet coif my grandmother does. Lots of men in slacks and ties, each looking as if he did this all too frequently.
A group of high school boys come down the aisle. They could fill up the whole rear section—a soccer team perhaps? They’re rowdy and obnoxiously brazen, whistling catcalls to the attendants like middle-aged construction workers. Their chaperone is a rail-thin speck of a woman, who looks like she would blow over if the wind rose above stagnant. Her feeble attempt to quiet the brats has loosened her already frazzled bun. An equally chubby couple takes a seat in my row. I gather from their conversation that she’s afraid to fly and her husband points me out.
“See, even that little girl isn’t afraid. There is nothing to worry about, honey.” He gives me a wink. I feel obliged to help in some way. She did look like she was sweating bullets after all.
“Yes, ma’am—I fly this way every summer and that old pilot keeps getting better at it every time,” I manage to say with a straight face. She titters and flags down the first attendant she sees and orders a rum and coke. I get cozy in my seat and pull out the book my dad gave me to read, The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. It captures my attention right away.
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