IU Writing Contest – The Undiscovered Country

Photo by K.S. Brooks

The entry period for this contest is now closed. Voting for favorite entry is open from now until 5 pm mountain time on Thursday January 5, 2012. The recipient with the most votes wins a feature post and publication at year end.

The coming new year is like an unexplored alien landscape. We stand now looking at this vision of a new place that promises adventure. This wonderful landscape photo by K.S. Brooks depicts a beautiful but forbidding world.

Is this scene from long ago, from a distant future, from here, from a distant planet? In 250 words or less, tell me a story about the exploration or quest you and/or your party must undertake across this frozen plain.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your voyage into the undiscovered country – both that depicted above and toward the wonders of a new year.

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Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

For a more detailed explanation of the contest & its workings, please see the post called Writing Exercises Return with a Twist” from 12/24/11.

By participating in this exercise the contestants agree to the rules of the contest and waive any and all further considerations or permissions otherwise required for any winning entries to be published by Indies Unlimited as an e-book, showcasing all the photos and with the winning expositions credited appropriately and accordingly.


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18 thoughts on “IU Writing Contest – The Undiscovered Country”

  1. Elthanael drew a deep breath through his mask, staring at the distant horizon. "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" the elf asked.

    The half-dragon huddled against his side, arms wrapped around her chest. "I've seen plenty of moonrises, and most of them weren't this bloody cold." Morrigana growled softly as another shiver passed through her. The assassin had hours ago shape-shifted so her wings and tail were absent, conserving as much body heat as she could.

    Her friend threw an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "I can manage this kill on my own if you want to head home." His breath plumed out through the wool mask, and his golden eyes sparkled with joy. After centuries of deserts and lava fields, the frozen plain was a welcome change. Verdant gardens would have been better, but the elf had no complaints about the tundra.

    Except that his commander was suffering. Dragons weren't reptiles, but they were still sensitive to cold. Morrigana shivered against him, and Elthanael knew she wasn't generating enough body heat on her own.

    She shook her head, though didn't move out of his embrace. "We'll get this done."

    He sighed, imbuing her thick jacket with magic. Any enjoyment he got from the frozen scenery was dashed by her hardship. Elthanael kissed the top of her hood, and stepped forward. "And we'll do it fast."

  2. Dar trudged through the snow. He couldn't remember being so cold. His faithful engineer, Schmuff, tromped along next to him; his wide, flat, leathery feet keeping him from sinking in the deep snow of his home planet: Nouis. His heavy fur helped insulate him from the cold.

    "How much farther?" Dar asked.

    "Nakt furkk," Schmuff said in Nouian.

    "Not far?"


    "I hope we can find your mother."

    "Mekka tek."

    "I know, you too." Dar looked up, and in the distance he thought he saw something moving toward them. "Schmuff? What's that?"

    The little Nouian strained to see. "Garrignig."

    "And what is that?"

    "Sek ekt je."

    "It'll eat me?! Oh, not good, we gotta get out of here!" He grabbed Schmuff by the arm and they took off running.

  3. Death by Design

    Well, my death wasn’t by MY design. If I’d had any say in it, I would have opted to die right after my husband did. That will be 10 f*ckin’ years ago this year, 2012. But no one consulted me. I had no choice. And time has no boundaries therefore it seems like forevah!

    So, dear heart, whenever it happens that I die, I see myself as this formless spirit, flowing instantly on mere thought to say ‘good-bye’ to each of my loved ones & then shooting off over this cold, barren, even snow-covered tundra to another dimension, while at the same moment my temporal body is shivering with the inevitability of oncoming death. It would hurt me more to say adieu to my grown children, but I know instinctively that I will be able to watch over them & sprinkle ‘help’ & ‘love’ to them while they live on in this outrageously challenging earth. I know that I will always be there for them, whether they realize it or not; whether they talk to me or not.

    So, I will reach for the moon or the sun, whichever that is that I see in the distance over the frigid snow, because I know that there is not only life where I am but that I can still be vigilant for my children after I die. I choose to believe that they will understand that I will at last be back with my beautiful husband who has made known to me his continued presence and adoration all these too many years in this physical world.



    “I’ll never make it across.” Holly stood on the edge of the icy plateau that seemed to stretch on for miles. But she had to try. Her attacker wasn’t far behind, and if he caught her she’d be a dead woman.

    It was hard to believe that only a couple of hours ago she’d been walking home as usual, after working late at the café.

    Then all of a sudden she’d been grabbed from behind by a burly man, who tossed her into the back of a van. Holly was in shock. It had all happened so fast. She’d tried to struggle and scream, but it had been useless.

    When the van finally lurched to a stop at a railway crossing, she wasted no time in grabbing for the door handle and tumbling out.

    On numb legs frigid from cold and fright she ran and ran and ran through dense woods that blocked out the moon. She could hear her abductor's shouts of anger as he followed in hot pursuit.

    Now she moved as quickly as she could over the eerie landscape that unlike the woods offered no cover.

    “Gotcha, bitch.” She jumped, her heart pounding as her pursuer lunged up behind her. She whirled around her heart pounding, just in time to see him fall through a gaping hole in the ice. So this was actually a frozen river, she thought in wonder, and it had saved her life.

  5. “A City!” Sansalone yelled.

    We all looked at the nut, “Drink some more water! You’re saying things again.”

    “No look!” he said.

    Frowning at each other, we knew he would never make it. But, we all took a look just to appease him in his last moments. It wouldn’t be long before yet another one of us fell out and had to be left behind.

    To my surprise, I saw it. It was wonderful! I could see a majestic city with buildings as tall as the sky. I gasped. But then I thought, “Am I losing my mind too?”

    The rumble made its way through those of us who were left. Comforted, I could see that I was not alone.

    Sansalone smiled. His glassy eyes were locked in a thousand mile stare. Then, he started walking. Ever encouraged that he was going to make it, he walked with new energy.

    I took a drink of some water. It tasted so sweet, much sweeter than it had before. But when I looked again, the city was gone. Sansalone was gone! I looked around. Everyone was gone.

    I closed my eyes as a tear rolled down my face. Was I alone? Did I imagine all this? Or did everyone else beat me there?

    I pulled my leather satchel up to my chest, my worn manuscript safely inside. Our minds play tricks while we are on this journey. We often feel alone. But, that’s when we have the best company.

  6. Charles stared at the photograph. Where had it come from? How could it possibly be here?

    His stomach knotted as his unease grew. Even the warmth from the fireplace did nothing to stop the coldness that gripped him as panic wove itself into every fiber of his being.

    “I took no pictures!” he declared to the empty room. The log walls of the tiny space where he sat offered him no solace. “Hell, I didn’t even bring a camera!”

    Someone had taken this photo, but who?

    Charles looked around. He was still very much alone. He knew there was not a soul for hundreds of miles in any direction. He had made sure of it.

    He let his breath go and peered closer at the picture. Yes, there were the markings he’d left only yesterday. Only he knew what they meant, what they hid.

    “She deserved it!” he hissed. He recalled the deep satisfaction he had felt as the ice pick had sliced into her flesh, nearly severing her head. In that few seconds of ecstasy, he had the power over her for once.

    A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, but only for a brief moment.

    Outside, the wind began to howl. Charles felt it before he saw it. A deathly chill wrapped icy fingers around his throat. He tried to scream, but no sound came forth. He watched in horror as another icy hand came up out of the photograph and pulled him into the picture.

  7. The moon rose before him as it had two hundred years before. On this very spot his ancestors had struggled to live in a world filled with greed, lies, hostility and decay. He breathed a sigh and wished they could have experienced the peace he now enjoyed. He pulled the object from his pocket, the one he always carried, and ran his thumb across the smooth, worn surface. He wondered once again what it must have been used for. Its dark surface reflected a cloudy image of his face. Half the length of his hand, narrow, there was a small indentation at one end that seemed to have been made to cradle the tip of his thumb. Turning it over, he examined the eroded emblem, silver in color. It reminded him of a type a food, fruit, crisp, luscious, tart. He had seen pictures of it in the ancient archives along with it's description. He squinted against the growing darkness to see the characters at the opposite end, i P h o n e. Useless, yet he would continue to search for its relevance for his own satisfaction. Who knows? Maybe he would discover its value, maybe not. He slipped the object back into his pocket and adjusted the results of the day's hunt across his back. The skin of his drum echoed the message he pounded out with callused hands. 'I'm on my way home. We will feast tonight.'

  8. Hello, my name is Martha, and I’m an alcoholic.

    One year-ago today I stood in this very spot with a photo of my life. The picture I held that day was empty. It was nothing but a black negative.

    I was not only an alcoholic, but a liar, a cheat, a drug user, and I would steal from you, if ever given a chance. I hated my life, and I hated what I had become.

    I had lost my family. My friends had deserted me. I had no money left, and no where to go. I came here to AA looking for a quick fix, instead I found a slow journey back to my family, friends, and a fresh start.

    Today, I stand before you with this beautiful photo that my family gave me to celebrate my one year of sobriety. My life is no longer bleak and BLACK. Every day, I look at this picture with the renewed hope of a clean slate, and the glow of a bright new day arriving. It is the gift I would like to share with you.

    I am, and always will be an alcoholic, but like my photo, I now have hope of a glowing future.

  9. The memories come flooding back like it was yesterday. I was so young, then. Trudging through the frozen tundra bundled up with layers upon layers of clothes; so much, I could hardly move. My family was ahead of me, walking like it was nothing. The snow was up to their thighs. For me, it was above my waist. When I fell, I couldn’t see them anymore. Someone laughed, ran back, stood me up and were gone again. I forced myself not to cry. “If you cry, your tears will freeze to your face,” they told me. I fell again and the mitten that my mother had knitted for me fell off in the snow. I found it and put it back on but now there was snow inside of it. I had visions of frostbite and my fingers falling off. I didn’t think I was going to make it. It was more than I could bear. I crawled through the next snow drift to find that I had finally made my way home. I was in the driveway right in front of the door. Hot chocolate and a warm fire waited for me inside.

    Now, when I stand in the driveway of my parents’ house and see the hundred yard trek we made to the huge puddle/turned skating rink in the fairgrounds parking lot behind the house, it makes me laugh. It is amazing how being three feet shorter makes the world so much bigger.

  10. It's the dawn of a new day and with that comes the start of my new life. I keep my eyes focused on the glowing moon, counting its craters to keep my mind off the frigid cold that ravages my body.

    It's hard to believe that only yesterday I was forced to decide. I was given the choice to remain in the desolate land that I was born into, or to take life's pilgrim journey to find my own destiny in a new land.

    This icy cold wasteland is all I've ever known. I look around and wonder if I will succeed in finding this land of dreams. They say that somewhere out there is a place where a burning star shines brightly throughout the waking day. This star not only gives off light as our moon does but it is said to provide heat too. Unlike the burning lamps we use in my old country, this star provides natural warmth that kisses the skin and warms the soul. The thought of it alone ignites the desire within me to press onward, though the rigid cold hinders my every step.

    I have no proof that it exists. I made a choice to believe without any tangible evidence. I will not allow doubt to seep into my heart for as long as it is today I will hope. I quietly hum the hymn of the wanderers as I continue my journey to find this star that they call the sun.

  11. The landscape that lay before us was beautiful, yet deadly. The moon, Arcturus, hung like a dim, golden globe in the forbidding sky. Arcturus didn’t put out enough light to overshadow the blue and gray of the sky which cast a blue glow over the snowfield that lay between us and the landing base that we’d left only one planetary cycle earlier.

    Scans from orbit had indicated the palladium deposits some two hundred kilometers from the only useful landing site, making it necessary for John Kilton and I to take the skimmer and make the trek to assess it. The round trip should have been five hours with the skimmer, but we’d not reckoned on the effect the subzero temperatures would have on the batteries. The skimmers made it to the deposit site in good time; we did a quick ten minute assessment, satisfied that the deposit was all that we’d been told when we left earth. Halfway back to the landing site, though, the motor of the skimmer sputtered and died. No amount of coaxing would bring it back to life.

    We had no choice but to abandon the useless vehicle and go on foot. Radiation in the atmosphere made our radios useless, so we couldn’t let base know. The first five hours were okay, but still out of sight of the base, the cold was creeping into our suits.

    Just over the horizon. As we sank into the snow, I thought, so close, yet so far away.

  12. “Liar, liar, pants on fire!!!!

    Silence. Heads swivel in unison in our direction.

    The utterer of this indignation was a 21/2 year old moppet. Were it not for the glare in her wide grey eyes she would have seemed angelic. Can cherubs be indignant?

    My stunned mind observed.

    The occupants of the other tables in the museum’s cafeteria showed a kaleidoscope of reactions; amusement, disapproval, annoyance, pretending not to notice, grandmotherly knowing, hand over mouth hiding a smile, whispers behind bent heads, shoulders shaking with ill contained mirth.

    At moppet’s table big brother smirked. The attention was off him and baby sister was in for it. Good!

    The seat next to moppet showed Auntie trying to keep her face straight. Across, Daddy looked embarrassed, even shocked.

    That left me, Mom, cause of the outburst. This required action from me. Eyes were on me. It was me that brought her into this world, me that had spoken the words that led to this accusation, me that was supposed to be in control of my errant offspring.

    All this hung in the limbo of silence. A moment frozen in time and etched into memory.

    I take moppet by the hand and lead her into the washroom. We have ‘the talk’. We return to the table.

    As moppet resumes her seat big brother gloats with expectant glee, “Did you get a spanking?”

    Moppet lifts chin, triumphant. “No, we just talked.”

    Chuckles audible from adjacent table. Eating sounds resume.

  13. The temperature was dropping. Morgan would have to find shelter for the night. The tracks he followed were fading, but his determination did not waiver.

    He must stay positive, not lose focus. The task at hand was to survive the night so he could continue his mission in the morning. His life depended on the former, his honor and sanity on the latter.

    “I’m getting too old for this shit,” he grumbled as he made his way toward the ridge, the only form of shelter from the wind in this inhospitable landscape. A deep depression at the foot of the ridge provided enough windbreak for a small campfire to stave off the cold and brew some coffee. He dropped his heavy pack on the ground, removed his snow shoes, and began the long practiced routine of making a trail camp.

    “If that sonofabitch tries to go all night, he’ll freeze his feet for sure,” he muttered aloud. He’d taken to talking to himself. By the light of his small fire, Morgan studied his map and tried to triangulate his position. He’d left his dead dogs three days ago. His dogs. He had to focus on the mission. His chest tightened. Focus. That sonofabitch was going to pay for what he did. Guess he’d figured on getting away clean if Morgan’s team was dead. Only a fool would track him on foot. “You don’t know what kind of fool you’re dealing with!” Morgan shouted at that heavens.

  14. The cost of freedom is high when all you have to show for it is a corpse; but, nonetheless, it’s still better than the alternative. All of my dreams, broken promises, and life’s accomplishments will be buried here, covered by a sheet of freshly fallen snow. The air is so cold it burns my already aching lungs. Food is scarce, and my energy is failing. I trip over a rock buried beneath the snow and fall to the ground. My hands instantly sting as they hit the cold hard earth. It’s too late to turn back now; what’s done is done. I could have lived out my life that had been set forth for me since birth. I could have married, had two children and lived to be seventy-three. Structure was all I ever knew, all anyone ever knew. It was that one simple word I learned that was whispered to me from a stranger: choice. Since that moment, life for me has changed. I am no longer shackled by our society’s expectations, but with my freedom comes a price. I chose to leave in the night, not questioning my decision in the least. I left everything behind I ever had to come to a land I knew offered more. Even if ‘the more’ is simply death, at least I get to choose. I roll to my back on the cold wet snow and watch as the moon rises higher into the sky; I watch until I am no more.

  15. Time had lost all its meaning. He couldn't even discern the sun from the moon. This… place, disguised day from night and introduced the cold to hell. He took a knee and used his teeth to remove a wet and useless glove. The pain in his fingers was immediate and unnerving. He didn't feel his teeth grit with pain so much as he heard it. The chattering had been replaced by the quiet sounds of wind and death. Like a starving Caribou, he pawed at the frozen crust of snow. The blood from the tips of his fingers helped to moisten the lichen he chewed in vain to stay alive. As his hand brushed past his cheek delivering the bitter morsel, hope left his eyes. He felt what had to be a terrible gash in his cheek. Too weary to panic, and void of the smallest chance of being found, he stayed down. He wet his hand with his mouth and applied pressure to the gash. It didn't hurt or feel at all. Upon inspection of the hand he found it to be clean of blood. It was several moments before he realized he had only felt a river of tears frozen upon his face. Squinting into the muddy sun/moon and contemplating his death, the cold became a comforting shroud of numbness. Fictional characters always crash on a tropical island. He landed on the only thing colder than his ex wife. When the earth spun and the snow melted they found him still seated. The smile of his last joke firmly planted on his face.

  16. An Inconvenient Journey

    A swollen moon floated above us as we trudged across the endless patchwork of Siberian snow and dirt. Surrounded by its glow, we looked more like actors poised for their moment on the stage than the nervous geologists we were. To the uninformed, we were on solid ground, but we knew the truth: beneath us roiled the methane gas that had been building for millennia, since the time of the woolly mammoths. Until now it had been securely locked in by permafrost, but global warming was slowly destroying its prison, releasing it in spurts and spews, ready to ignite with the tiniest spark. And, more deadly than starting simple fires, to increase the methane in the atmosphere more than any human-made method could, capturing the heat, causing more melting, and exacerbating the problem in a malicious merry-go-round of melt and warm.

    Our job was to find the areas where the permafrost was thinnest and map them for an international study project aimed at refreezing the ground and keeping the methane hidden forever. Earlier in the day we had been jolly as children, gleefully striking matches above any crack in the earth, whooping at the geyser-like flames that shot up before us, but as the day wore on and the magnitude of the problem, as well as the demands of our task, became undeniable, our spirits sagged beneath the spotlight of the moon, and we wondered which of us would give up first.

  17. Kara tightened the cord holding her parka hood close and retrieved the knives lying on the hardened snow. Cramps gnawed at her legs as she crouched, but she kept her vigil, carefully scanning the icy landscape, as still as stone. The sound of drumming feet reached her ears, growing louder as the elk ran over the rise, pursued by three silver furred wolves. Mist exploded from the elk’s mouth with each step, sides heaving with fatigue and eyes wide with terror. The elk tried to turn, but the lone female of the pack charged and snapped until the elk return to its original path.

    Heart hammering with nervous excitement, Kara remained frozen in place as the five hundred pound cow drew near. One strike from its massive feet could kill her or the wolves. It was risky for their small pack to hunt an animal this large, especially with an untried pup that had no fangs and only two legs. But they needed meat and this was the only game for miles.

    The two lead wolves struck the elk simultaneously, causing it to rear up almost on top of Kara. Flush with the fervor of the hunt, Kara sprang from her hiding place and sunk her blades into the elk’s neck, only barely missing the thrashing animal’s deadly feet. She leaped back in triumph as the elk sank to the ground. Finally, she had proved herself more than a mere puppy.

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