First Page Challenge 2021—3rd place winner: "Trees, Monsters, and a Ship"

Trees, Monsters, and a Ship by Monica Halka

By M. Halka

Midnight regarded the boy trudging through the back streets. It didn’t smile, though it had constructed an amusing scenario for the waning gibbous moon. The wind rose. High overhead, the constellation Hydra reconfigured her stars, craning her neck for a better view. The breeze waxed tropical with aromas of sea daisy and mango. It floated through the alleyway, seeking its target in the person of young Arlie…


Chilled and hungry, he was captive from the instant the scent reached his nostrils, his skin, his hair. It whispered, “Warmth.” He listened. “Lemon chiffon,” it sighed. He followed.

At the base of a garbage bin behind a small theatre, a bumpy, circular object covered with aluminum foil reflected the night at various angles. Broken graffiti and starlight. Arlie lifted the tray to his face and sniffed. Cake. He pulled back the foil covering to find twelve elaborately decorated cupcakes, each with a month of the year inscribed in green icing.

His mouth watered and he swallowed hard, then fingered a dollop of pinkish-orange frosting off the foil and licked. The tangy sweetness landed on his tongue with romantic fervor. Nothing had ever tasted so intensely of fresh raspberries, but in a moment it was gone, replaced by a sharp spiciness. That changed almost immediately to peppermint cream, which faded slowly and gently to a memory of oranges and a faint notion of coconut. Arlie’s eyes grew wide over that long moment.  They brimmed with tears.  An inadvertent moan emerged from his chest.

“Hey! Put that down!”


M. Halka is a Ph.D. physicist who escaped the bonds of academia in 2021 and now enjoys having more time to write, dance, act, and study the Tibetan language.  While she has co-authored over a dozen professional journal articles on atomic physics and six non-fiction books on the periodic table of the elements, fiction writing is her greatest love. Her interest in mindfulness practices and fascination with sensory illusions and electromagnetism have driven her current novel, “Trees, Monsters, and a Ship,” for which she is seeking representation.  

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