At this year’s NMN literary competition, the jury has been choosing the best among several short stories in Slovene and English.
Below you will find the three best stories that we have also presented in the NMN 2018 publication.
1st place Barbara Quill Venecija - The Kicker
No one can kick better than a horse. Well, some creatures do, I suppose … The heavier the being, the bigger the force behind the kick. And I’m not heavy for a horse – light bones and all, so my wings can hold me up.
But while you’re fighting the Protector of the Balance, no one can kick you better than me; me being Her mount, I’m always around. I have to be. Shape-shifting seems like a tiring work, and She has to be smart at it, having only two shapes a day to choose from. So, someone has to carry Her far and wide – and that someone is me.
Pegasus they call me, or Peggy for short. But only She can call me that, anyone else makes it sound like a mock! A girl’s name they say, and I’m not a girl. A stallion is what I am! Well, a petite stallion, but what can one expect – I have to spend a big portion of my time in the sky.
So, Pegasus, alright? After the old myth, see. Except that Pegasus probably wasn’t real. I mean, point me a horse that doesn’t panic at the sight of a three headed beast. Ha, you can’t!
Now, me, I stick close to the five foot tall, teenage, seemingly-human girl – the Protector. The last gift of the gods. Which is horseshit, because they created us at the same time. But She fights while I run and sometimes kick in panic, so I suppose fair is fair. But this probably isn’t a good time for my chitter chatter. I’m loud – or so they say – but I know when to shut up and act.
I kicked the screaming fool in the side as he was facing Her, and reared up. My front hoof planted on some bastard’s face in the process. I let Her mount me, only spreading my glorious white wings when I was sure She had a tight hold on my mane. No reins for me, none needed as we communicated with more than words, almost telepathically connected with years of mutual cooperation.
“Let’s kick those wyvern-riders’ asses!”
“Wait, what?” I started as my body took to air. She meant some other wyvern-riders, right? Not the five that were actually riding wyverns above us right now. Wyverns that have a nasty tendency of having fifty foot to their wing-span, deadly claws both on their feet and on the tips of their wing-bones, and a habit of spitting poisonous acid in your face.
I couldn’t hesitate, though, because She screamed in the face of a very premature victory. And that usually draws attention. Thankfully, wyverns were of the cliff and not cave kind – bad at hearing, unfortunately great at seeing. But their riders were good at both. I could see some of them leaning from their saddles to look at what was happening in the camp below. And just like that, our cover was blown.
Time to go.
I flapped to create wind under my feathers and took off towards one of them, planning to dodge under, preventing others to chase me and risk collision, or spit and risk burning one of their flight. I would be up and away like a fly on a horse.My other half of the duo had some other ideas. She pulled on my mane – and yes, I followed the move on my own free will; I might have had my escape plans, but if She wants to go head-first into danger, I’m the one who makes sure She gets there safely. I rose up, coming close from underneath.
When we passed the rider, I made sure to deliver a hearty kick, knocking him out. He remained strapped to the saddle, but his limp body couldn’t do much damage, and the wyvern was left to its own less-intelligent devices. Its head turned towards us, but the reins attached to the saddle kept it on a short leash.
Escape was just up ahead and we had plenty of head-start, but of course the Protector had Her blood pumping with thrilling adrenaline, and safety was never Her top priority. She slid from me as my hoof made contact and fell past the unconscious rider, rolling on the leather skin, falling on towards Her death. I neighed in panic and made to turn. She caught herself on the back end of the wyvern just below. The first wyvern felt the touch and turned its head downward, opening its head-flaps and spat the stream of burning acid after Her. She was a bug on its comrade, though, and the second animal turned, getting its side full of mucus that hastily ate at it. Its rider screamed, and the animal screeched, but She remained quiet and ran towards the end of the tail. She dropped, grabbing it with something more than hands as
the beast buckled, its tail swishing.
She released on the upper arch and I made to catch her, only to be used as an additional spring as she jumped towards the next nearest enemy, changing.
I barely righted myself before the air flow of the two colliding wyverns could tackle me from the air. Two down, three to go. The Protector’s shenanigans weren’t new to me and I searched for Her in the empty air with no purchase, hoping She changed into a being that possessed something akin to wings.
No such luck. Her body that of a small mountain lion – all lean muscle, strained to keep Her limbs open, presenting a wide frame to catch Herself on her target. All claws and teeth. At least Her trajectory was on point.
Her touchdown was on the back of the third creature, tackling its rider. The collision snapped the safety straps. I didn’t see what She caught herself on, but She didn’t fall with the rider, which was what mattered to me. The beast took no extra time rolling upside-down. She hung from it, clung to the empty saddle, looking irritated. Not afraid, never afraid at the large and savage. That part belonged to me.
I flew to Her, keeping enough distance to barely feel safe. Checking if I was faster than the acid-spitting son of a lizard before I flew closer.
“Need help ..-?” Getting out of here? She was already answering.
“Yeah, get it to fly towards the other two!”
Not what I meant! That was totally NOT what I meant!
“Can’t we just leave?” I asked desperately, but the creature next to me turned again, carrying Her away.
I saw it twist in the air, and had to dive to gain speed, lifting again once I was fast enough to escape it. Growls and hissing followed me as the beast searched for what was supposed to be there, ignorant of the large cat clutching at its saddle.I neighed rather loudly to – curse me – gain its attention. It worked. Perhaps not the sound, but definitely the flailing of the white spot not more than one bite away.
I could hear my own heart thumping as one eye zeroed in on me, the snake-pupil widening at the sight. I didn’t wait, but got my ass out of there. And it followed. I screamed then in truth, my eyesight blurry from panic, my legs pushing forward like they would if I ran. As soon as I saw the two approaching me from the other side, I screamed louder and dived to get away,
the sound trailing behind me. My throat ran dry, I felt my nose blister.
As I turned my head to the side to look up, I saw three titans colliding. A cat jumped from one to the other. A wild kind of laugher echoing after the roars paused. Acid dripped around, not just as saliva, but as red-green blood. I could smell the stench, and I rose above the commotion to get out of the way. She opened someone’s front with Her claws and the man hung there, dead while clutching his own intestines. Then, as a human girl, punched the last one in his face; Her small fist making contact with the eye. It knocked him back, but still he reached for the dagger at his side, ready to hurt.
I crashed into him full force. She had enough sense to grab at me as I passed Her and then we fell. It was a long fall. Full of feathers and limbs, and chaotic roaring chasing us. But this was not my first rodeo. With a bit of effort and straining of muscles, I sailed close to the ground, than soared not four feet above it.
The Protector safely on my back, clutching and hugging my neck. Needing protection from the
consequences of Her spontaneous decisions. And I was there to catch Her as she fell and take her home, like always. Because here’s the kicker: even The Protector needs a protector.
2nd place Aljoša Toplak - Bobova izbira
Zvezdni inženir Simon Super je na svojih potovanjih po galaksiji doživel že marsikaj, nikoli pa si ni predstavljal, da bo srečal samega sebe:
»Ustreli ga!« je ukazal starejši Simon.
Mlajši Simon se je namrgodil. »Ne bi to ubilo tudi tebe?«
Starejši Simon je odkimal. »Ne verjamem v takšne paradokse. V naravi se vse že nekako uredi.«
»Si pripravljen tvegati?«
»Seveda.« Starejši Simon se je obrnil k svojemu pomagaču. »Daj, ustreli ga!«
»Ne! Ne poslušaj ga, Bobo!« je zaklical mlajši Simon. »Nikomur ni treba umreti! Prosim, ni še prepozno!«
Bobo je gledal zdaj enega, zdaj drugega. Nezaupljivo je opletal s konico svoje pištole in histerično skakal na mestu. »Prekleto, ne morem se odločiti!«
Starejši Simon je užaljeno dvignil obrvi. »Ne moreš se odločiti?«
»Če ubijem njega, ubijem tudi vas, gospod!« je rekel Bobo.
»Bedarija!« je vzkliknil Starejši. »Vesolje ne deluje na tak način.«
»Ampak gospod …« je jecljal Bobo. »Ustrelil ga bom in potem se bova vrnila v prihodnost in potem bo vse drugače … Kaj, če se po spletu okoliščin tudi jaz ne bom rodil, ker boste vi umrli tako mladi in bo to na svetu povzročilo kup drugih stvari? Kaj, če to prekliče vso najino delo? Da ne govorimo o tem, da ga sploh nočem ubiti.«
Starejši je zavzdihnil. »Bobo, stori kot ti rečem. Nimava veliko časa.«
V daljavi se je približevalo sonce in lučke na armaturni plošči v pilotski kabini vesoljskega plovila so svarilno utripale. Velik rdečkast gumb je zahteval potrditev, da se preostanek goriva porabi za preboj zvezdine gravitacije in pobeg.
Mlajši se je ozrl po utripajočih lučkah. »Ah, prekleto. Kdo bo zdaj potisnil Sonce na pravo mesto?«
»Komu mar za Sonce?« Starejši je odmahnil. »Čez petnajst let ga bodo tako ali tako sesuli in tukaj postavili svetlobno cesto.«
»Kaj? Sesuli bodo sonce?« je vprašal Mlajši.
»Kako si nedolžen. Sploh se ti ne sanja o idiotizmu čez-zvezdne federacije. Opravljaš Sizifovo delo, bedak.«
»Kaj pa, če ga vzameva zraven?« je vprašal Bobo.
Starejši se je namrgodil. »Se hecaš?«
»Je ideja tako smešna?«
»Bojiš se, da bi porušil ravnovesje časa, zdaj pa bi ga vlačil v prihodnost? Sploh ne veva, kaj se zgodi, če bi to kdo poskusil. In še huje, ne mislim prenašati dvojnika, ko se vrneva domov.«
Bobo je povesil ramena.
»Torej,« je rekel Mlajši in se prijel za glavo. »Če pravilno razumem, vodi tista črvina,« Pokazal je na temno mesto zraven sonca. »Trideset let v prihodnost? In vidva potrebujeta moje plovilo, ker je vajinemu zmanjkalo goriva? In črvina se bo vsak čas zaprla?«
»Sem bil v preteklosti tako neumen?« je Starejši vprašal Bobota. »Kaj drugega pa bi bilo?«
»Kaj pa,« se je vmešal Bobo in poskočil od vznemirjenja. »Če ga vrževa v najino plovilo, preden mu odvzameva njegovo?«
»Obdan sem z bedaki.« Starejši si je pogladil obrvi. »In kaj točno bo storil, brez goriva? Najbolje, da ga kar ubijeva. Sprejmi, da gredo stvari včasih narobe in je treba takrat počistiti za sabo.«
»˝Počistiti za sabo˝?« Mlajši je vprašljivo pogledal Bobota. »Sem to res jaz?«
Na armaturni plošči se je prižgal alarm za nevarnost.
»Bobo,« je rekel Starejši. »Zmanjkuje nama časa. Ustreli ga.«
Obotavljal se je.
»Daj že! Ne preostane nama drugega. On ali midva.«
Roke Mlajšega so se začele tresti. »Mar res ni druge možnosti? Kaj pa, če vaju odpeljem do bližnje postaje in–»
»Pustimo, da se črvina zapre?« je vprašal Starejši. Ukazovalno je pogledal svojega pomagača. »Bobo.«
»Ali pa potujem z vama v–«
»Prav!« je zaklical Mlajši. »Pustita me na vajino ladjo! Bom se že znašel! Nekako … Prosim, dajta mi možnost.«
Starejši se je grenko nasmehnil. »Odneslo te bo v Sonce. Zgorel boš. Uslugo ti delava.«
»Ne, počakajta!« Mlajši se je spustil na kolena. »Znašel se bom. Bobo, prosim. Naj si nadenem vesoljsko obleko, pahnita me ven iz ladje, samo ubiti me ne! Znašel se bom.«
»Življenja se oklepaš kot klop.« Starejši se je namrgodil. »Lahko ti kar povem, da ti življenje ne bo prineslo drugega od razočaranja, dečko. Čemu potem vztrajati?«
»Prosim.« Mlajši je moledoval s solznimi očmi. »Prosim, ne ubijta me! Glejta me, še diham! Živim! Prosim … Prosim, to še lahko rešimo.« Tiho je zašepetal: »Ne vem, kaj naj še rečem, da bi vaju prepričal …«
Starejši je skomignil. »Marsikaj je dihalo, pa je imelo to nesrečo, da mi je stalo na poti. Kaj češ.« Še zadnjič je strogo pogledal pomagača. »Bobo, daj.«
Mlajši je gledal svojo ostarelo podobo odprtih ust. Bobo je opazoval, kako sta se strah in žalost na njegovemu obrazu prelevila v jezo, nato pa je zavladal zgolj še hladen izraz razočaranja. »Prekleto.« Mlajši je zmajal z glavo. »Prav. Če si ti to, kar postanem, niti nočem živeti.« Pogledal je Bobota. »Daj.«
»Daj že!« je zaklical Starejši.
»Prav.« Ko je Bobo ustrelil, je prostor preplavil zaslepljujoč blisk svetlobe. Simonovo truplo se je zvrnilo po tleh.
Bobo je pogledal mlajšo različico Simona Super. Zmeraj si predstavljal, da je bil Simon zmeraj takšen, kot je bil. Vzkipljiv egoist, prepričan da v širši sliki ni ničesar, kar bi imelo pravega smisla. Da nič ne šteje, razen njega in njegovih načrtov. Da je vse dovoljeno. Da je morala suženjstvo močnih, ki se pokorijo šibkim.
Zdaj pa je stala pred njim, mlada nedolžna podoba, ki je v Bobovih očeh obetala veliko več od tega zagrenjenega starca.
»Ubil si ga … Svojega … Gospodarja.« je rekel Simon.
»Zaženi motorje.« je rekel Bobo in zažugal s ustjem pištole.
»O,« Simon se je obotavljajoče približal krmilu. »Zapeljem naravnost v črvino, če prav razumem?«
Bobo je odkimal. »Ne želiva v tiste čase, verjemi mi. Ne takšne, kot so zdaj.« Odložil je pištolo in se postavil ob krmilo. Dotaknil se je Simonovega ramena. »Raje potisniva Sonce na pravo mesto, partner.«
3rd place Aleksandra Marković - Survival is more important than the truth
It all started with a need that demanded to be met.
Atlas stood in the middle of the room, looking at the scene before him. A book lay on the table, surrounded by LED lights of various colours, all pointing at it. The rest of the room was dark, and the only sound was the constant ticking of the clock, counting down the seconds. The curtains were drawn, the doors were closed, and everything was in order, just as it should be. Closing his eyes for a moment, Atlas took a deep breath.
“Alright,” he said out loud. “Time to face the truth.”
The truth was, Atlas needed Francis.
Francis wasn’t Francis’ real name. He said his name was too complicated to be pronounced by any Terran, because Terrans lacked a distinctive set of organs that Atlas somehow deduced were most similar to a mix between a trachea and a tongue, however that worked. Francis said he chose to name himself, because he stumbled upon a writer with that name that he really liked when he did his Terran Literature Studies. Atlas decided not to question him further on the matter.
The fact was, Atlas really needed Francis. You see, Atlas was a Warlock. Warlocks dealt in Magic. Magic was, by its definition, illogical. This was a problem for Atlas, because he was also a highly logical being. Structure was his preferred method of dealing with any and every thing that crossed his path. Magic, however, rarely had any structure, which made it quite a difficult concept for Atlas to grasp and even more difficult for him to control.
Francis, on the other hand, was Atlas’ complete opposite. He was imposing, and tall, loud and boisterous when he wanted to be, and he almost always did. He was openly affectionate, kind, nice and completely, illogically, intrinsically happy. He was, and Atlas finally forced himself to say it, at least in his own head, the embodiment of Magic. And being as he was, he was just what Atlas needed.
Atlas suddenly remembered a conversation he had with Francis once. Actually, more like a snippet of the conversation on a summer morning when he was very drunk and his brain-to-mouth filter was almost non-existent. Francis was, for all intents and purposes, unaffected, and was “providing moral support in Atlas’ endeavor to drink a whole bar by himself”.
“I’m a fraud, Francis,” Atlas remembered saying. “I’m a creature of Logic, and yet at the same time, I’m a bloody Warlock. I should not exist.”
“Why?” Francis’ face was devoid of any decipherable expression, but his eyes tried to convey some sort of emotion that Atlas was, sadly, too drunk to understand.
“Because,” he said, talking a generous swig of his gin and maybe tonic, “Magic is the opposite of Logic. Magic and Logic shouldn’t mix. There isn’t any Logic in Magic Francis, in fact, Magic is what happens when all Logic fails.”
Francis didn’t say anything for a long time, and Atlas almost forgot they were having a conversation. Then Francis’ voice broke through the alcohol haze, and Atlas couldn’t say why, but something in his tone suggested what he was about to say was important, so he really tried to concentrate on Francis’ words.
“You know, I think your basic premise is wrong. You see Magic as something illogical, as if it is a peculiarity in your world. And perhaps it is, but the fact is, it exists. You should adjust your premise – everything that is is logical in itself, because of the very fact it exists. So Magic, by the favor of its existence, is logical. What would be illogical is to discard it because it is an anomaly – what you are doing is equating Logic with Commonness – is that a word? It feels like a word, but anyways,” and here he turned towards Atlas, and his violet eyes were almost glowing in their intensity, “you believe only things that are common are logical, because their patterns emerge in higher quantities, and are therefore easier to prove. Anomalies are illogical. But they aren’t.”
“What do you mean, they aren’t?” Atlas asked, through his foggy brain. “Of course they are. That is why they are called anomalies, because they differ from the norm.”
“Ah,” and here Atlas remembered feeling more stupid than he ever did in his life, just by the power of that one word, that was really more of a sound than an actual word. “But isn’t it logical, my dear Atlas, that every pattern should have a deviation, to show us multiple perspectives of looking at the same thing? Shouldn’t there always be an exception, so that we may prove the rule? There isn’t any excitement in the constant repetition – even the most beautiful, uniform pattern gets boring after some time.”
“But,” he found himself defending his way of thinking passionately, even though he was unsure whether or not he was right. “But… that’s the way world works. You find something that works, and you do it like that. There’s no need to change things if they already work! There is no need to try a different thing, if the status quo works and everyone’s happy. Deviation from the pattern only causes loss of control and chaos and unhappiness!”
Francis’ eyes closed for a moment, his double lids trembling. Atlas always associated any trembling of any appendages with anger, but Francis never reacted the way others did. He found himself feeling inadequate all of a sudden, like this was a defining moment of some sorts. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really adept at reading normal social cues, and he was even less adept in reading Francis. So he kept quiet and tried to will away the phantom pressure building up inside him. Gastric reflux, he told himself. It was just the alcohol.
Then, Francis opened his eyes. His expression was completely blank and Atlas, instead of feeling relieved, suddenly felt as if he’d made a cardinal mistake.
“I believe you have imbibed quite enough of the ethanol supplement this morning. You should… you should probably go to sleep.”
The words were said neutrally, but Atlas knew that something he said made Francis shut down and he knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out what it was. So he just nodded and went to get up from his chair. And here his memory got fuzzy. He may have fainted, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was Francis.
The memory of the conversation left him feeling even worse than he did before. He could brush it off, but he knew the way his mind worked. If his brain chose that memory to revisit, then Atlas better listen to it and think of it, because there was something there that was important, or he wouldn’t have remembered it.
The truth was, Francis was gone.
He wasn’t dead. No, Atlas was sure of that. He wasn’t dead, because there was no form appearing from thin air that declared his demise, there was no paperwork for Atlas to sign, there was no wailing on the streets nor a visit from vaguely menacing shadow-figures from Francis’ home planet. And wasn’t that a relief. When they visited the first time, because Francis neglected to inform them of a change in his permanent residency, Atlas had a panic attack that lasted for a better part of an hour.
Francis wasn’t dead. He wasn’t. But he was gone, and Atlas thought he could do this on his own, and by this, he meant living, but the fact was, he couldn’t. He needed Francis to be able to function properly, and wasn’t that a strange thing? He lived his first seventy years without Francis and he was fine, but now, now the thought of living another day without him, much less another ninety, was unbearable.
Therefore, he needed to get Francis back.
Atlas opened his eyes. His mind was finally clear. He took another, shallow breath, and steeled himself.
Slowly, he opened the book.