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A Word of Warning · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Guard
I stood in the shadows and stared at the endless line of ghosts, as I had always done.

Some wore fancy suits and ties, some wore muddy clothes or rags, and a few even came naked. Whether they shuffled along morosely, or cried, or thrashed and even tried to run, it did not matter. They all made their way to the afterlife.

It was my duty to ensure that, and it always will be.

The door I guarded seemed as inconspicuous as any other; a wood door with a dusty yellow knob, concealed by the dark corner I stood in. Yet, it was the door that lead to life.

I broke my stare and glanced at it. I brushed the knob, wiping years of dust off of it. Had it ever been used, I wondered?

Something tugged at my leg. I jumped.

"Hello, mister," said a little girl with a bright red backpack.

"Get back in line." I said it without even thinking. How did she get past the other guards?

"But I want to go home," she said. "I miss my mom and dad."

"I..." I didn't know how to respond. The girl couldn't have been more than ten. Did she know what she was asking?

"Miss. Tolan will be angry at me. I didn't turn in my homework," she said seriously, putting her hands on her hips.

I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn't muster any words. When was the last time I spoke to a human being, living or dead? Years ago? Decades, centuries?

"I can't help you." I finally managed. "I'm sorry."

The little girl frowned and stared at me. I had nothing else to say. I tried to ignore her, focusing on the line.

"Why?" She spoke again.

"Why... what?"

"Why are you here if you can't help me?" She didn't say it accusingly.

"I am guarding this door." I replied, shifting my attention back to the line.

"Who are you guarding it from?"


I looked at the answer. A little girl with a red backpack and yellow coat.

"It's what I have to do," I explained, more to myself than to her.

"Are there monsters behind the door?"

"I don't know." I grumbled.

She sat on the floor and was silent for a while. There must be, though, if you're here, I thought.

"Have you ever checked what's behind it?"

"No," I said monotonously.

"Why? Is it scary?"

"No. I'm not supposed to."

"What happens if you do?"

I didn't have an answer for her. What happens if I do?

I'd stood here for an eternity, staring at a line of dead, and now, for the first time, one of them dared to talk to me. What happens if I do? Her words ran about my head, over and over. In an eternity, had I never asked that question? Had I once known the answer?

"If you're scared, I can open it." The little girl stood up, looking bold.

I smiled. "You know what? I guess we can find out."

I put my hand on the ancient doorknob and twisted. It opened.

A ray of light and a harsh, whistling draft hit my face. After I uncovered my eyes, I saw a staircase in front of me, leading the way up to life.

I glanced back at the line to hell one last time. "Come on," I said, taking the girl's hand. "Let's go find your mom and dad."
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#1 ·
This one's a bit odd to me.

It's written as if this guard guy is the MC and if he's doing a favor for the girl.

However, if you consider what's going on, it kinda seems more like the girl does a favor for the guard? The guard doesn't really have a challenge to overcome. He sorta is the challenge. To that end, telling this from his POV is a bit odd, maybe?

I also feel the girl's attitude/character was fairly inconsistent. Sure, children are unpredictable. Maybe there's more going on here, too. I just felt that I never got much of a read on her, except that she's wearing a red backpack.

Or maybe I'm misreading it, I dunno.
#2 ·
I really want to like this story. I really do. I’m a sucker for afterlife stories, as I think the idea of what happens after death is one that can really be used for great artistic exploration.

However, the tale feels somewhat sloppy in terms of story. For starters, the reveal that the two of them are escaping Hell feels like a bit of a swerve. The opening makes it seem like this is just a broad sort of afterlife, not the binary of Heaven and Hell. And honestly, that would’ve been a real gut-punch. The idea that everybody that dies just goes to some bland afterlife instead of a paradise would’ve been heartbreaking. Morality would be irrelevant; life after death is simply that, and nothing more. Making it be an escape to Hell just feels like a bit of a cheat, especially when that opening hinted it at being an overall afterlife instead of the usual Heaven-Hell dichotomy.

The guard’s character change in the final third also feels a bit too rushed. I’m all for him becoming curious about what’s behind the door, but I feel like that’s something that should’ve brooded in him for a while instead of becoming a spur of the moment action. If he’s been guarding that door for an eternity, it seems unlikely he’d deviate from the routine that quickly.

Also, these lines bugged me.

"Are there monsters behind the door?"

"I don't know." I grumbled.

She sat on the floor and was silent for a while. There must be, though, if you're here, I thought.

Is the implication that she was murdered by someone? The story never really gives that implication outside of this line, so it feels very odd. How do we know she didn’t just die in an accident or something? Or is it supposed to be condemning God for sending a little girl to Hell? If so, it’s still not really clear, so it’s just as confusing.

In the end, I feel this story is a wasted opportunity. Instead of asking serious questions, it just goes for a feel-good “good girl goes to Heaven” storyline. I wouldn’t even have minded it being like it is now, if not for the fact that the story feels very misleading with its opening and the main character is inconsistent. There’s a good story in here somewhere, but it’ll need some narrative polishing to really bring it out.
#3 ·
I'm just going to say this right up: This guard is not very good at his job.

While I respect the themes and traditional imagery present here, in a certain sense, the story really does boil down to that basic fact. The guy is guarding a door that he's never opened, from people he's never spoken to, for unclear masters who have ordered him to do this for reasons they never explain. Of course his motivation is going to be a bit lukewarm.

There are interesting ideas here, but I don't think this story really brings them together in a compelling way.
#4 ·
The Great

Competent writing and a neat idea.

The Rough

Just not feeling this one, unfortunately. I think the minific format hurts it, as it makes the turn from LOYAL GUARD to EH WHATEVS too easy. There is a good story in here, but I feel it's a short rather than a mini.
#5 ·
The Guard — A — Another drags you right into the story and keeps it up until the end, and manages to do it all in well under the word limit. My mental questions were answered as they popped up, the characters unfolded as I expected. That would be about the only ding I’d have on it, as it really didn’t unwind in an unexpected fashion. Still, very neat.