Sorry for the late post! The judge got me the results last night, but I was scheduled elsewhere. Then I woke up and have a sick kiddo... I just now remembered. Great job everyone! If you missed any of the stories, go here to read them. Here's what the judge had to say:
What an amazing set of stories you all wrote! It was quite a thrill to see how a woman in a red dress launched a dozen stories. As for what the prompt meant to me... well, there's a lovely red bow atop the Christmas tree that my wife and daughters just put up. But what does my opinion matter? I'm just the judge, so let's take a look at some of these great stories you wrote:
An interesting twist on a classic fairy tale. I love how this is framed as a haunted fantasy - yet the story is just as strong after a second read, with the ending already known.
A campfire ghost story of sorts: a man is haunted by ghosts from his past. There is definitely an interesting backstory for this unreliable narrator, and the story reveals just enough to be intriguing. Even though he is unreliable, he has clearly suffered an incredible emotional loss.
Rich with descriptions, and particularly in its visual appeal. Throughout the story, the red herrings kept me guessing about the nature of the story. Was this a murder mystery? Ghost story? Psychological horror? The true story is quite mundane, but also one easily relatable by any parent, and the special challenge words are integrated seamlessly throughout the story.
Though excised from the beginning of this synesthetic stream-of-consciousness, she appears toward the end. With an unusual premise and creative language, this story went in a completely unexpected direction. The main character remembers her phone number, but misses the point... and likely spends the rest of the day humming a half-remembered tune.
Hasn't everyone had a disturbing recurring dream? This story integrates a lot of common dream elements, and creates a lot of questions. Who is this woman in his dreams? Why does he pursue her so relentlessly? When the dream spills over into reality, what will happen next?
I love the language of this story: the varying shades of red that convey shame, sin, and the burden on her conscience, the refrain of "come" that builds a sense of urgency, and the way a single touch expresses relief and forgiveness.
The old tales of faerie changelings is turned on its head, with a human stealing a faerie child. This story makes me want to know more. What is the history between the man and his victim? What are his plans for the child? What penalty will he pay for this crime?
I don't know whether to call this a fable, a myth, a fairy tale, or something else, but the story is interesting nonetheless. In my mind, the story played out as an animated mystical fantasy movie; the story was that vivid.
Who are the Shapers? There's something fascinating about aliens who communicate through our fairy tale archetypes, and find it natural that the forest itself is a sympathetic character. I found myself reading and rereading this story, trying to tease more meaning out of it.
If only the main character had been more genre-savvy. He might have recognized the woman as a Siren of the forest, or perhaps left a trail of breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel-style.
A man pursues the red dress, apparently to the point of obsession. In an innocent twist, the red dress turns out to be the feathered markings spotted by a birdwatcher. Though he still sounds quite obsessed, the hints about his own mortality -- particularly in the last line -- suggest that he may be so determined to complete his bucket list for good reason.
Somehow, in spite of the cyberpunk detective style of this story, I never saw the big reveal coming until the end -- never imagined that the woman would turn out to be Carmen Sandiego herself.
Special Challenge Champion:
You came up with shades of red that I had never thought of, and all of them fit perfectly within this story of parental despair.
You told a compelling story that flowed beautifully from beginning to end, and ran the gamut of emotions: shame, despair, relief, joy. Shades of red carry multiple meanings, and multiple readings of the story do not lessen its impact.