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Time Heals Most Wounds · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Six Candles
Maddie was up before the rosy fingers of dawn first tickled the cabin curtains. As the sunlight began to illuminate her kitchen, the scents of lemon and molasses permeated the air. It would've threatened to wake little Billiam, if he weren't already outside in the backyard.

Sam wouldn't wake up, though, as he'd lost his sense of smell and taste years ago. She suspected his gracious approval of her home-cooking was a kind fiction, but the love was true. Besides, today wasn't a planting day, so he could sleep in.

Billy's favorite cake was complicated. The mixing and baking was the easy part, even though Maddie made it from scratch. While the cake cooled, she boiled up four cups of lime gelatin, then carefully injected the hot fluid with a turkey baster: holes poked two inches apart to fill the yellow flesh with marbled streaks of bright green, not unlike planting a garden. It would take a while to refrigerate, so Maddie began hand-whipping lemon frosting into a thick, mousse-like pudding. Then she cleaned the kitchen and waited for the cake to chill.

Birdsong broke the quiet as the sun cleared the horizon. It was one of those rare Spring mornings so warm that a child could play outside without his overprotective mother worrying about dressing him properly. Maddie watched Billy carefully from the window, and fell deeply into her thoughts. Despite the day-to-day trials and tribulations, it was at least nice to have Billiam home for his birthday.

No child should have to spend an entire year in a hospital, but God wasn't just. The doctors had no idea what was wrong with her boy, or why his body had so much difficulty healing from simple injuries. He'd finally improved in time to come home just before his sixth birthday, and while Maddie felt relieved, she refused to call it a miracle. Her son deserved to be healthy all the time, like normal boys and girls. He deserved the best in life, and she was his mother.

And so, she made his favorite cake every year on his birthday. His fifth birthday had been the biggest chore. Transporting the cake to the hospital without damaging the frosting was difficult, and the doctors were picky about what they'd let him eat, so he'd hardly had himself half a slice before the cake had been discarded—the cake she always poured her soul into, mixed and intermingled between the batter and the bone.

Maddie took a deep breath and pulled open a drawer, removing six thin wax candles. There was no sense in throwing candles away, since they'd only be lit for a few seconds at a time, so she'd reuse the same ones next year. She took the chilled cake from the fridge and set it out in the dining room, layered two generous inches of frosting across the top, then carefully arranged the six candles into a perfect hexagon.

Sam's door opened at the first knock. Her husband stood before her, already dressed in his overalls, mustache and hair well-combed.

"Madeline," he said, his face worn by weather and time. "You spoil the boy. It ain't natural how much time you put into a thing like this."

The muscles at the corners of Maddie's lips tensed momentarily. "You don't mean that," she said. "It's only once a year, for goodness' sake. And we have him here with us now. It's not like we have to drive forty miles."

Sam lowered his head and followed his wife into the dining room. Maddie struck a match, lit the six candles, and picked up the cold, metal pan. The two of them walked onto the back porch, and down to the small mound of earth Maddie kept perfectly trimmed and free of weeds.

"Happy birthday, Billiam," said Maddie as she knelt and set the pan on her son's grave. The candles had already blown out, so one-by-one, she took each into her chubby fist upon sucking the frosting off its base.

Sam rested his hand on his wife's shoulder, and spoke softly. "It's been eleven years, Maddie."

Maddie sniffled, and turned to look up at her husband. "Don't you think I know that? It wouldn't make sense to use seventeen," she said.

"That... ain't what I meant, darlin'," he said, but his wife paid no attention.

"There are six candles because Billy's six now, and that's all he'll ever—" she said, then choked on her words as Sam pulled her into his arms.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
It would've threatened to wake little Billiam, if he weren't already outside in the backyard.

Oh. Ohhhhh. :| Two entries in and I've already hit two twist endings. >.>

Great twist, great use of the prompt. But something's keeping me from being engaged, and I don't know why. It might possibly be the first few paragraphs, where it was a bit disorienting and four names were dropped (Maddie, Billiam, Sam, and Billy) and I had to reread the paragraphs to gather my bearings, trying to pick up on Maddie's relationship to those people. It might possibly be the lack of description of the environment and the characters, so I couldn't always quite visualize what was happening. But I don't know. This could be a great story, so please take my feedback with a grain of salt. But for me, personally, it was almost there, but just not quite there.
#2 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
And now I've found my first actually sad story. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

I'm not always a huge fan of sad stories, but I think that as far as they go, this one is pretty good. The twist was well-executed, and I didn't see it coming until just a few paragraphs before the reveal.

My only real complaint is the name "Billiam." I'm pretty sure that's not really much of a real name, and the internet seems to agree with me. The first page of Google results turns up only one person who is clearly actually named Billiam, and Wolfram Alpha treats it as a mispelling of "William," which was my first thought when I saw it too.
My second thought, when I saw that you continued to call him "Billiam" was that this was set in the future or some other place where naming standards are different. But there's no other evidence to support that theory, so I tossed it out. So I guess that Billiam's parents just wanted to give him a unique name. Okay, fair enough, but why? Are we supposed to imply that his parents wanted him to be a special snowflake when they named him? I guess I can see why you might think that would add to the story, but I think that the name is odd enough to confuse readers for a bit and thus pull them out of the story, which in my opinion at least, more than counteracts that small benefit of the odd name.
Basically, if you had just named him "William," I don't think the story would have lost anything, but it would have improved immersion.
But this is really a rather small point in the grand scheme of things. I think i'm mostly going on about it because I have nothing else to say about this story.

Good job!
#3 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
This story is fitted within it's word-count very well.

This metaphor:
between the batter and the bone.
was very odd to me, and left me wondering if there were bones in the cake or something. (My one friend calls pizza crust 'bones'.)

For some reason, I thought the cake was for Sam at first?

Sam's disapproval added an interesting dissonance at the end that worked quite well, I thought.

Mmm... well, although a mother's grief is always going to be touching, I feel like this could have hit harder, though I'm not exactly sure how. Limited by wordspace as you are, it's difficult to simply talk about Billum more. I'd probably have gone for some recursion, but... eh, I dunno.
#4 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
Six Candles - A+ — Smooth transitions, vivid descriptions, although the kid’s first name was a little jarring, and the use of ‘bone’ in a cake description likewise. Also, two inches of frosting? Hopefully, the kid wasn’t a diabetic. Excellent twist in the ending. Top tier +
#5 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
I've found a story I like enough to comment on, but I can only echo the previous reviews. I think this was very well done, and a great twist.
I agree with J in that you should have used William instead of Billiam. Other than that, I feel like this is a top contender.
#6 ·
This was similar to Sunny Side Up, which I ranked reasonably high in the prelims despite it being a bit unbelievable. This one I can believe, but I still think you overdo the emotion in the last line. I'd want to rewrite how she gets that message across so it ends slightly less forced-telly-maudlin-ish.

EDIT: "Billiam" didn't throw me like the other reviewers. I don't think I've known a Billiam, but it sounds like a fair variant of William to me.
#7 · 1
· · >>horizon >>Trick_Question
Very nice:

My only comment would be about Sam's line, "You spoil the boy." My take on Sam is that he does this every year because he loves his wife. To his way of thinking, there ain't no boy no more, something he'd never come right out and say, of course. But he doesn't strike me as the sort to pretend Billy's still alive, either.

To the top of the rankings with it, though.

#8 · 1
· · >>TitaniumDragon >>Trick_Question
I'm apparently in the minority here, but this story's got too many fridge-logic problems for me to get into it like everyone else did, sorry. My engagement issues started right in the first paragraph when it was described as before dawn and yet "little Billiam" was already outside. Points for foreshadowing, yes, but implying that a mother is allowing her child to play outside in the pre-dawn dark is such an exceptional statement that I kept looking for what the heck was happening and figured out the story well before the twist.

I do like the care and detail that goes into the prose about the cake (and the reuse of the candles, which is significant for an entirely different reason than the one that makes surface sense, and which is a nice touch).

It was one of those rare Spring mornings so warm that a child could play outside without his overprotective mother worrying about dressing him properly. Maddie watched Billy carefully from the window, and fell deeply into her thoughts.

No she didn't. D: That's physically impossible, unless she has X-ray vision. Concealing the twist with clever implication like that first sentence is one thing, but the second half just feels like lying to the readers.

… it was at least nice to have Billiam home for his birthday.

This is part of a larger problem where the characters' thoughts don't actually make sense once you know the twist and reread the story (or on first read, if you got alerted by that first paragraph and are trying to piece things together). >>Baal Bunny points out another.

Sam rested his hand on his wife's shoulder, and spoke softly. "It's been eleven years, Maddie."

This is where my stretching suspension of disbelief finally snapped. I simply can't simultaneously accept that: A) she is still ten years later in such denial that she's watching him play like he's still alive, B) yet she only pampers Billy once a year on his birthday, C) she knows he's been dead for eleven years, D) she'd nevertheless make a point of the forty miles to the hospital; E) Sam is the voice of reason here who knows Billy's dead, F) Sam talks about Billy in present tense.

Clearly you've been effective at tugging heartstrings, and based on the responses above you're probably gonna medal, but I can't give a high rating to a story that's flat-out lying to me to set up its twist, and which leaves me struggling to figure out exactly what Maddie knows and doesn't know, robbing her final outburst of its impact.

There are some nice prose touches, like the cake and the consistently strong descriptions, keeping this from the bottom of my rankings, though. And I do think this could be saved with relatively light editing — a lot of the specific clues and wordings above can be addressed without touching the surrounding text, and even the story's major red flag (the pre-dawn opening) could be fixed by just changing the time of day to, say, right after school.

Tier: Almost There

Bonus nitpick:
two generous inches of frosting

Oh dear sweet lord of all things, that's like an icing black hole. c_c;
#9 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
As a graves fic I felt like I’d already read this story before. There are only so many ways to write these stories, and I feel like I’ve seen entirely too many of them for them to touch me. I also lacked the context necessary to actually feel sad at the end.

There were some good details here – the reuse of the candles, and some of the hints, such as him coming home from the hospital, worked well. But some of it also didn't work as well, and as >>horizon pointed out, some of them felt like lies. Him being home for his birthday and it being his first birthday after he came home might have made more sense (though it would have destroyed the candles thing) in the context of him coming home for his birthday, but I'm not sure that both can really live together in the same story.
#10 · 3
Thanks to all the reviewers, except myself:

>>FrontSevens >>The_Letter_J >>Not_A_Hat >>georg >>Oblomov >>Baal Bunny >>horizon >>TitaniumDragon

I almost didn't submit this story because I wasn't feelin' it, but I don't think it was awful. It's fortunate that some talented writers were able to take me down a notch at the end (horizon, TD, CiG) because I don't think this was quite medal-worthy.

And a few ponies placed me: last, next-to-last, third-from-last, and fourth-from-last. So apparently there were readers who really did not like it. :raritydespair: But that's okay. :twilightsmile:

To answer some questions, very briefly:

batter and bone = wat

Gelatin is made from bones.

"everything is bad" –horizon

I agree with part of your concerns, especially "spoil the boy". With more time (and more importantly, more words) I would have smoothed the edges so that it wasn't so schizy between suggestion and reality. It was a difficult thing to put in the foreshadowing without being super-obvious.

I also didn't like the number seventeen because it's too large, and worried not following it with "candles" would cause a few readers to miss the point of the entire story. I think making it only a few years from his death would be more believable. I also didn't want to end it with a line that direct and maudlin, but I didn't have time to improve it any.

two inches of frosting = wat

The frosting is almost like a pudding, but it's probably more like one inch. This is actually my personal birthday cake, which I love. It's amazing. And I am spoiled but not dead so far. Except that time I killed myself but those things happen.