The second of THREE 4th PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Normal Things by Barbara Anne Helberg

img_2351-11It is my pleasure to present to you the second of three 4th place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Normal Things” by Barbara Anne Helberg.

This was a very good story, as you will see.

Another story that really fit the theme well and was outside of the writer’s usual style, but she really delivered.

Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner

downloadNormal Things

Barbara Anne Helberg


I could envision the locals surrounding the cabin in the Vermont woods. They used the usual perfunctory call-outs: “Police!” — “Open up!” — “Come out with your hands high!” — “No weapons!”


It made me chuckle. There was no one at the cabin.


I had come back to the old Ohio Penneynickel Canals instead, bringing Mother as my — shall I say, captive audience? She was tied to the bow seat of my ouboarded rowboat, immobilized, terrified, captively readied to pay for stealing Thomas away from me. Mothers shouldn’t steal from their daughters. I’d told her that.


I knew Stonebreaker and Thadberry, the FBI twins on my trail the last three days, were likely to show up to make things interesting at the end. Unlike the local authorities, Stonebreaker and Thadberry had considered a few different angles to my plan even if they hadn’t identified me. They had decided I wasn’t in Vermont, and the Ohio canals chase was on, which served to delight me.


But I really hadn’t expected them quite so soon.


Mother screamed again. “She’s going to kill me!”


Stonebreaker drew his Starfighter craft confidently close to my prepared rowboat.


I glanced at my watch, then at Mother, whose panic at this moment of crisis disappointed me. It lowered her level of dangerous significance. Lessened the triumph I deserved to feel in this final snuff-out.


By now, though, the FBI twins probably had figured out there had been some sort of family love triangle involving Mother, my sister Mira, and I with our beloved psychiatrist, Thomas Poppopolis, and that I was the one who had written of it in Mother’s journal. They might even have realized I had already eliminated the others, and Mother was to be the last to join them.


Gently, the disturbed water lapped rhythmically between our boats as Stonebreaker eyed my boat, from bow to stern. Had he guessed a bomb was ticking?


He asked with force, but calm: “Are you having some difficulty? Can we come aboard?” And he reached to pull the rowboat’s sideboards next to the Starfighter’s rail. At the same time, he gestured in the general direction of my Mother and back to Thadberry, giving his partner an eye roll.


Trouble, I thought. He’s got it. “I’ve a better idea,” I said, leveling a sharp smile at Mariano Stonebreaker. I got up, checked the time. Nearly gone. “I’ll come to you.”


The other agent grabbed the rowboat’s rim while Stonebreaker clasped my wrist to help me aboard the Starfighter. As I stretched across the boats, I showed as much distracting leg as possible — one of Mother’s old tricks I usefully remembered — to buy the last minute of time.


Mother screamed. “There’s a bomb under me!”


I slipped Stonebreaker’s releasing hand and bolted for the Starfighter’s wheel. Reaching it in a tumbling rush, I plunged the boat into breakaway speed. It lurched up and forward in one motion and skipped off, quickly putting distance between the boats.


Stonebreaker fell onto one and a half knees to the deck. Water sprayed over him. I saw only a portion of the other agent — flailing legs, one arm reaching for the sky — as he flipped in an awkward half-arc into the Muddy Penney off the stern of the Starfighter.


Mother’s scream began but fell incomplete, choked off like captured and strangled prey, as a watery whoosh leaped forward accompanied by ear-splitting cracks and a deafening earthquake boom. It deliciously astounded me.


The detonating bomb sent billows of wet lethal terror upward in the form of ripped and smashed plastic and aluminum, wood, metal, and human parts, then toppled them back down piece by piece in a disconnected circular waterfall. It made my heart shudder and shake with triumph.


The blast buffeted the Starfighter without damaging effect, and I kept it speeding forward in high gear.


“Tha-a-ad!” Stonebreaker shouted. Unhurt, apparently, the FBI agent clamored wet and slipping to his feet and shielded his face from raining, landing debris.


I glanced a look off the stern. The outboarded rowboat was gone.


Stonebreaker lowered his arms, and I saw him looking frantically across the swirling, muddy water, breathing heavily as he took in the disappearing scene of the explosion. “Thad!” he shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth. He swayed with the Starfighter’s swift, bouncing retreat. “Thad!” Water splashed and slapped loudly against the speeding Starfighter’s slick sides.


Replanting one foot, Stonebreaker rushed toward me and the wheel. He looked ahead further, through the shatterproof windbreak. I followed his look and saw two white boats approaching, skidding urgently and shallowly on the water’s surface, running toward us fast. Police boats.


Stonebreaker heaved himself at me.


I heard him, already had drawn out the pocket knife from my waist-band. His hand clutched my right shoulder as his body rammed mine in hard challenge, and I wrenched around bodily with the sharp pocket knife opened, deadly ready, in my left hand. It was an awkward thrust, across my own body, into his. My right hand left the wheel. The Starfighter twisted and slowed in the river, rudderless and bouncing wildly.


Stonebreaker seemed not to see the glistening blade before it was in him. It cut into his side, but was partially obstructed by his leather trouser belt. My position was too awkward to beat his bulk. And my weapon was too weak for a fatal body thrust against an active defender, especially one the size of Stonebreaker. He was well over six feet tall and two-hundred pounds of muscle. The cut under his rib cage was a minimal slit. Wrapping his arms tightly around me, he got his larger hand over my hand clamping the knife for an outward tug, bent my wrist and kept bending even as my screech of pain pierced the air. The knife came free. It dropped to the polished, wet deck between us, as unruddered as the wobbling, drifting Starfighter.


“It’s over, Lira.” Stonebreaker shifted his weight off me. “Just relax. We’ll have you out of here in a minute, or two.”


I didn’t struggle. That was useless. He was as strong as a brick building surrounding me. I felt frail, the adrenaline gone, the destructive, homicidal rush spent, the killing done. I sagged against him. He held me from crumbling onto the deck.


The police cruisers churned alongside the Starfighter, spitting bubbles of water hull to hull, sputtering noisily. The thump of my loudly beating heart was drowned out. I was only disconnectedly aware of other hands, handcuffs, the transfer to the waiting police boat. Later, I thought. No point now in resisting.


I watched as Stonebreaker reversed and sprinted back to the wheel and rocketed the Starfighter toward the explosion site. A third police cruiser was circling the scattering bomb debris.


Thad, I observed, sat wrapped in a blanket among the cruiser’s stern cushions.


I heard Stonebreaker call out, “I always knew you were all wet, but it’s good to see you’re okay!”


“Oh, yeah,” Thad yelled back. “Just normal things of the day!”


My mind still throbbed with those ‘normal things of the day’. The FBI twins had known my name. They hadn’t been thrown off at all. Didn’t matter. It was all done. I smiled.



What did I like about this story?

What spoke to me?

img_2351-11DAN ALATORRE: I loved the action! I loved the twists! I loved starting out with the police getting ready to barge into the cabin, and the main character calmly laughing because she’s not there. This story would do well in our “relationships” anthology, I think, when I get around to that, but it would do well in some other ones, too. It’s a lot of fun to read.

Great opening, fast pace, lots of action that didn’t get muddied up, and a nice ending. Very good job!

ALLISON MARUSKA: The “bad guy” MC was great. Her delight in murdering her mother and evading the agents was perfectly creepy.

JOHN WINSTON: Grammar and Punctuation: Great! I didn’t find any problems = 10. Authentic Dialogue: The dialogue that was there was fine, it just wasn’t enough. Beginning, middle, and end: I did feel a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Resolution: Resolution was on point. The protagonist got away with blowing the ship up = 10. Clear goal: The goal wasn’t necessarily clear from the start and I don’t know if that was the writing or by design of the writer. But somewhere in here I got the goal of the main character and it was met: kill mother by way of blowing up the boat.


This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.

  • Join us tomorrow for the third of our three 4th place winners, Where The Power Hides by Anne Marie Hilse

  • and come back the rest of this week for more winning stories and profiles of the authors.

  • Also maybe a special announcement about our next writing contest.

Right now, please join me in congratulating our second of our three 4th place winners, Barbara Anne Helberg

See you tomorrow!

23 thoughts on “The second of THREE 4th PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Normal Things by Barbara Anne Helberg

    • I’ll have to opt out with an answer of ‘let me keep you in a state of suspense’ on that question, Dan!

      Allison: Thanks for your enthusiastic evaluation of my main character — That tells me I hit one of my goals!

      John: Thank you for your ’10’ votes on grammar, punctuation, and resolution! I hinted at the main character’s goal in paragraph 3, then stated it in paragraph 9 — she was the nutcase of the love entanglement who snapped and wanted to eliminate other family members and their offending psychiatrist. I went for pace and scene description, by-passing a lot of dialogue, after Dan’s critique to not slow down the pace I created at the start of the story. Any suggestions on how I might have improved on the ‘goal’ and ‘dialogue’ critiques you offered without losing the pace? Maybe a longer story that would have included earlier action to get to where this story started? I’m all ears!

      Thank you to every one who reads this story! And thank you all for the valuable writing lessons I keep gathering in my older years because I’ll always be writing something! (Excuse me, Mark Twain, for all those exclamation marks, and once again, I’m sorry, Dan — I know less is more; really, in my heart, I know it is!) 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Wow! Thanks for a spectacular ride. I loved your description of the explosion. BTW it’s ‘clamber’ not ‘clamor’. (I can’t help spotting such things, something genetic I think. All of the stories Dan has shared so far has at least one!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. High compliments, indeed, Anne! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. This story started out with multiple POVs, but when Dan critiqued it, he wasn’t feeling the flow. I then decided to go for the single, ‘perfectly creepy’ POV of the killer, personified. It worked! So your comment is very welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dan! You stirred the mix, and I came out better for it with this story! (Of course, I’ll still mess with multiple POVs in the future…but you know that because you’re beginning to see the maverickishness that is me! 🙂 )

        Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I know you aren’t against multiple POVs, Daniel. You said that, but I definitely made this story better when I went from multiple POVs, which was written in a bit of a confusing manner, to a single POV. Given the time-frame for the revision, going with single POV was the more expedient choice, that’s all. You’ll probably see these guys in multiples again — written with better understanding in mind. I learned, and I thank you, as always, for your mentoring. You never fail to be helpful and respectful at the same time! I’m complimenting your guidance, not juking it. Okay, now right here, more is more! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s true. The switches on POV were once very forbidden by old standards, before even chapter by chapter switches were accepted. Now, it’s done in scenes, as well. And I like it because I think, as a reader, I want to know what each character is thinking sometimes. But, as you said, keeping the switches clear to the reader is the most important thing.
    And thank you! I’m enjoying it!

    Liked by 1 person

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