March 25, 2013 in On Writing
In the past year, since I’ve decided to spend more of my time writing, I have dabbled in the occasional writing contest. Some are great fun, with open prompts of 750 words or less: nothing too time consuming, just a great opportunity to practice writing.
Some are more challenging, with very specific prompts/genres/longer word counts. Sometimes, I can be inspired; other times I can just tank it. Like the last writing contest I did that called for me to write a short story about a bank teller and a time machine in the genre of comedy. Seriously? My dad just died. I didn’t have a comedy in me. I still practiced writing, and I still sent it in, but I’m going to be honest: my short story sucked.
Maybe all my short stories suck, for I’ve never won any of the contests I’ve entered…until now!
For the first time ever, I cracked the upper echelon of the winners bracket. Sure, it was in the form of an Honorable Mention in the company of 20 others, but still… I won a free ebook! I’m taking it as a sign to keep practicing, to keep flexing that writing muscle, and maybe someday I might even win a cash prize!
In case you’re interested, here is my Honorable Mention-winning short story written for the following prompt in only 24 hours:
Hearing a light thump outside, she walked to the front door and opened it slowly. Wind and snow swirled and the cold lashed her cheeks. By her feet she discovered a small pot with tiny white flowers. She recognized it as a Galanthus nivalis. Footprints in the snow led to and from the porch and a note tied to the slender stalk fluttered in the icy air…
God, do I need a break. Things are getting out of hand. She is getting out of hand.
I stomp my boots on the grate outside the front door, knocking off as much snow as I can. It’s frigidly cold: every breath brings icy air directly into my lungs in a way that is almost painful. I have to take one glove off to manipulate the key into the lock. The wind chill factor alone freezes my exposed fingers in an instant. I get the door open and take off my boots, leaving them on the porch. The cabin is cold and dark; no respite from the weather outside.
I turn on a few lights and ratchet up the thermostat. It’s a nice cabin, as cabins go. Clean and furnished with wooden chairs, a comfortable looking sofa, and–would you believe it?–a flat screen TV. I can feel myself relax for the first time in months.
It takes several trips to the car to haul all my gear in, including the grocery bags from the little market two miles down the road. I get a fire going and sit down on the couch with a beer. Stretching out my legs, I rest my feet on the coffee table, letting the heat from the fire warm them.
This is nice. Peaceful. I like that no one knows where I am. I borrowed this cabin from a friend of a friend of a friend; I’d be hard to trace. Which is exactly what I want. I need some time alone. I need to think about the predicament I’m in.
I can’t hide forever. I need a solution that is more…permanent.
Exhausted from the treacherous drive through snow-slickened, curvy roads, I am content to simply watch the flames flicker and jump in the fireplace and listen to the howl of the wind barely kept at bay by the windowpanes.
I might have dozed off. If so, I have no idea for how long, or what it was that woke me. I thought I heard something… A log shift on the fire? A particularly strong blast of wind?
I hear it again. It’s a light thump coming from outside the front door. Like a drift of snow blown down from the roof. Or a step on the front porch…
No. She can’t have found me again. Not here. I didn’t leave a trace.
I sit up, straining my ears, but the only sound I register is that of my own heart beating. I rise up from the couch and walk quietly to the hearth to select a wicked looking fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook arching away from its shaft, like a barbed hook you’d bait a fish with. Then I head to the door. There is no peephole or window to peek through, so I gather my courage and as quietly as I can, I unlock the door and open it a crack.
There’s nothing there. Half expecting to be ambushed, I open the door wider and scan the front yard. It’s hard to see with the wind blowing the snow into swirls that could hide anything. I squint, seeing if I can detect any movement out there in the darkness, but the cold wind is doing a number on my exposed face and fingers gripping the poker. I’m about to turn back in when something catches my eye.
There. On the porch by my feet: a clay pot with small white flowers on spring green stems. My heart sinks and it suddenly becomes hard to swallow. The snowdrop. Her favorite flower. The flower she carried as a bouquet at our wedding.
I didn’t see it at first because I was looking head-high, not down. But now I see it, and the note that is tied the stem—the note that is always tied to the stem—and the footprints in the snow leading to and from the porch. Footprints, not bootprints.
She’s barefoot on this frigid night. If I had to guess, she is also wearing a thin, white nightgown with spaghetti straps that used to flow around her ankles when she moved.
Gripping the poker more firmly, I search from side to side, not daring to venture out, not bothering to lock myself back in the cabin.
I should have known: I can’t hide from her. She will always find me.
I don’t bother to read the note: it’s always the same. A copy of her death certificate, with the cause of death listed as accidental.
But it wasn’t an accident. We both know that. And she won’t let it rest.
I’m starting to shiver, but I’ve come to the end of my rope. I can’t run from her anymore. This has got to end.
Even if it means killing her again.
Holding onto the poker, I step into the snow, following the direction of her footprints. I sink down to my knees in stocking feet, jacket-less, glove-less, taking step after step into the darkness, until I can no longer see the lights from the cabin and the footprints behind me have been swept away by blowing snow.
A person could die out here, lost in this cold.
Too late, I realize that’s exactly her plan.