These entries from November's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "November Writing Challenge."
I don’t know how this happened.
Something isn’t right.
Across the table, a tall, defined man sits confidently, legs apart, a smug expression etched upon his chiseled face. He can’t be any older than thirty. He tosses a coin.
“Tails never fails,” he says smugly. “I do believe it is your turn, Annie.”
Suddenly more focused when my name is uttered, I shuffle the deck of cards, distributing them among the four of us. Whoever invented this game must have thought long and hard for several nights. There is to be only one woman, over 19, who plays the game, and three men. It is my job to shuffle the cards, as my fingers will ‘move more delicately, ensuring the best mix possible.’
There’s something different about him. George, I remember someone calling him. He doesn’t look at me with the hunger the other men look at me with. He thanks me every time I hand him a playing card. He treats me like a delicate rose, as if I might wilt if he handles me the wrong way. Nonsense, of course. I’m an independent girl, brought to work with radar, as part of my bit for the war effort. I’m not anything special, though living with my aunt has kept me well fed. Since I first arrived here, a few months ago, I’ve had many decent meals, allowing my hips and breasts to fill out to a fairly common size. My hair is no longer thin and dull, more auburn and thick. It’s heavy if I wear it in a knot. I have grey eyes, small lips, and a slight sprinkle of freckles. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary.
By the time the game has finished, the other men stand and leave, muttering a drunken thanks, leaving wet kisses on my cheek. George stays until they are gone.
He brings my hand up, brushing my knuckles with his lips. They are rough, probably from biting them. I clear my throat, ridding my head of my thoughts.
“Thank you,” we say at the same time, causing us both to smile. Slight colour rushes to my cheeks.
He nods, turning to leave.
When I hear the door close, I retreat to my bedroom, stopping and smiling when I see a single plum-coloured rose.
“Katerina, my queen.”
The young girl looked down to the man standing in front of her.
“I’m not queen yet, Mattieu.” Katerina smiled, standing and descending her throne to converse with her advisor.
Mattieu took her hand and guided her towards a table in the back of the grand hall. “Oh, but less than twenty-four hours and all of Avondale will be your kingdom.” He waved his hand out in front of him, as if gesturing to the country as a whole. “Which reminds me, tomorrow you must choose one of the three elements that will determine how you will rule your people.”
He stopped Katerina in front of three items spread across a velvet tablecloth—a rose, a coin with the family crest on it, and a playing card: the queen of hearts.
Katerina was confused. “But why do I have to choose one?”
Mattieu seemed to have heard Katerina’s question but hastily turned away, busying himself with scolding the florist on where to put the centerpieces for tomorrow.
Katerina sighed and turned back to the table. A card, a coin, and a rose, she thought, what do they mean?
“Excited for your coronation tomorrow?” A voice startled Katerina, causing her to jump. Charles laughed and placed his hands on Katerina’s shoulders, assuring her that it was just him.
Katerina rolled her eyes. “Charles, you scared me! You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.” Charles chuckled and turned towards the table.
“Ah, yes, you have to make The Choice tomorrow.” Realization dawned on him.
Katerina whipped her head around to face the apprentice. “You know about that?” she asked quizzically.
Charles nodded. “What? Surprised?” he teased. Katerina blushed and felt foolish for drawing attention to the fact that her friend was technically also her servant. “Word travels fast in the kitchen. We all know about The Choice.”
“Well do you know what these mean?” Katerina asked, picking the coin up and rubbing it between her fingers.
“Well, I know the legends of what they’re supposed to mean,” Charles answered, grabbing the playing card and the rose and gesturing for Katerina to walk along the corridor. “The coin,” he explained, “is supposed to symbolize wealth. It basically says you’re promising all of Avondale that you will put all of your energy into the riches of the country, letting nothing stand in the way of you and the treasures of the world. The card,” Charles held the card up, “represents power. Choose this and swear to Avondale that you will be the most powerful, frigid queen to ever exist.” Katerina’s face paled at the thought, but Charles continued. “The rose is the symbol for love.” He grinned. “Choose the rose, and you’re promising everyone that, above riches and power, we’ll be the most compassionate country. The people of Avondale will be free to choose who they love, despite the difference in social classes.” Charles looked down at his feet, a red tint appearing on his cheeks. He handed the rose to Katerina.
Katerina beamed and quickly thanked Charles for his help, placing a kiss on his cheek and running off to her room to change into her evening gown.
The next day, as Katerina reached for the single red rose, she locked eyes with the one person who had helped make her decision clear. Sending a wink Charles’ way, Katerina gripped the stem of the flower, raising it high over her head, the people cheering and applauding. From that day on, Katerina and Charles ruled their kingdom with an unconditional love for each other, as well as their country.
A hole in the sky
Blue secondhand smoke
We all breathe in
And go mad
A castle made of playing cards
The winner has their heads
A dragon keeps us all afraid
We’re not safe in the woods
A never ending tea party
Held by a mouse, a hare, and a man who is crazier than the rest
The flowers come alive
Led by a white rose
That hides under coats of red
No matter how hard you beg
No matter how much you plead
No coins given out of pity
Can help you here
Welcome to my wonderland
As the wonder fades away
You breathe it in
And lose your head
As the wonder fades away