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Another contest I didn’t win……….

Obscura Journal hosts a short-story contest where they provide two pictures and you bridge the gap between those photos.

I entered once before and did not win.

Well, I am nothing if not consistent. I didn’t win again. 😎

But I don’t want my short little story to go to waste. So, I will share it with you.

Click here first to see the pictures (oh and I guess you can read the actual winner’s story if you must) …. then read on for my  interpretation of how those pictures make sense together.

Help Me

Thomas stumbled toward Ryan’s bed, leaned down, and shook his brother to wake him in the wee hours of a misty September morning. He raised his pointer finger toward his mouth and slowly uncurled it. Ryan started to speak but Thomas stopped him with his other hand, which reeked of marijuana smoke and cough medicine.

Ryan stretched his arms above his head and looked toward the retired milk crate next to his bed.  The hands on his grandfather’s watch revealed it was only 3:00 am. Ryan tilted his head, listening for the familiar sounds of sirens that often filled the night air. But this night was absent the common warning screech and Thomas’ urgency lost its logic. Ryan rubbed his eyes as Thomas searched for his brother’s shoes.  On the way out the front door, Thomas grabbed their sweatshirts and a crumpled brown grocery bag. Ryan grabbed his Rubik’s cube.

They marched through the hazy mist with Ryan leaning back into Thomas’ left-handed push. The older brother was agitated and frantic. As keys jangled in his free hand, he mumbled to himself something about “money, a lot of money” and “how was he going to get it”. He stopped twice under streetlights to look more closely at the keys on the large brass ring, refusing to answer questions or even look at Ryan.

Thomas only let go of his brother’s shoulder when they reached the doors to the library. After a quick scan of the area, Thomas unlocked the glass doors. He returned his grip on Ryan and ushered him over to the olive green couch in the empty reading room. Then he motioned for Ryan to sit down and threw the brown bag onto Ryan’s lap. Thomas immediately started pacing and Ryan nervously worked to solve the puzzle in his hands and in his thoughts.

He knew too well that nothing good ever came from Thomas’ pacing.

Behind them, a man in a striped suit with his jacket tightly buttoned flung the doors open and rushed toward Thomas. But Thomas stopped him just inside the threshold and whispered, “Not yet. Let me leave first.”

“Hey Ryan, I’ll be right back,” Thomas yelled over his left shoulder, as the man escorted him out with the same pushing motion that landed Ryan in the library’s lobby.

Ryan set aside his cube and squinted at the books on the wall. They were all so thick with lots of letters in their titles. Without his glasses he couldn’t be sure but he imagined there wouldn’t be a single picture among their dense pages. He wished he had brought his comic book. Curious, he turned his focus to the bag’s contents – a piece of charcoal, a sketch pad, and a soft green apple.

Thomas knew Ryan loved to draw. He even complimented his work when he wasn’t too busy pacing. Just as Ryan opened the pad and positioned the charcoal, an older man came in through the doors. He walked slowly over and joined Ryan on the couch. As the man started talking about the big wall of books, his dusty scent distracted Ryan and tickled his nose.

Just after Ryan sneezed, the old man pulled out a handkerchief. He covered Ryan’s face with it and Ryan fell asleep gripping the piece of charcoal. His sketchpad dropped easily to the floor.

When Ryan woke up, he found himself on at least the second floor of an abandoned building. He noticed the charcoal was beginning to stain his sweaty palms. In his imagination, the air smelled like home and he hoped it was close by. He scanned the opening to the room below hoping for Thomas but heard only mumbling from beneath the rickety staircase. Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw a rat scatter away with his apple. He dropped the charcoal as he screeched.

Instantly, heavy footsteps pounded on the staircase until a shadow appeared over Ryan. His shoulders curled as he scooted into the corner.

The man in the striped suit fanned a stack of money at Ryan’s face.

“Your brother’s a real hero. He owes us cash and he gives us you instead. Turns out you might be worth more anyhow.”

Ryan could barely breathe as the man crushed the charcoal with the toe of his black shoe. Then, chuckling, the man lowered his pudgy finger into the dust and mockingly wrote “Help Me” on the wall and turned to go back downstairs.

Laughter erupted when he returned to the older man below. Smoke rose through the holes in the stairs and Ryan grew increasingly nauseous. The morning sun shone through the slits in the dilapidated walls and shed light on the true horror of his situation.

The rusty hinges on the front door groaned and Ryan heard Thomas’ shaky voice declare, “I have the money. Give me back my brother.”

“Oh thank God,” Ryan thought, grateful that the worst possible truth might not be real and that his older brother could still be his hero.

And then he heard a crack, as the man in the striped suit bent Thomas’ arm backwards to prevent him from reaching the stairs, “No, actually the boy is better. We’re keeping him. Someone’s coming over in a few to check him out.”

Thomas stammered, “No. A deal’s a deal. I have the money.”

“That’s right,” the man agreed, “but you have a lot to learn about the rules. When you’re late, there’s hell to pay.”

The jovial tone of the men shifted when Thomas clicked the hammer on his freshly polished 45.

“Whoa, there. We outnumber you. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“This will fix the stupid that’s already been done.”

Ryan fainted when the third gunshot echoed up the stairs. He collapsed just a second too soon to hear his brother’s footsteps on the stairs and the man in the striped suit pleading, “Don’t just leave me here, man. Help me.”

Teetering…..

Soo….

Not so long ago, I told you about the Bridge the Gap writing contest over at Obscura. I submitted a story. Well, two, actually.

I didn’t win.

With either story.

Boo.

But it was a great experience because I have not written fiction in a v.e.r.y. long time. It was a fabulous way to try my pencil at it once again.

And, don’t tell, but I had a lot of fun with it.

Just in case you don’t remember, the contest organizers post two seemingly unrelated pictures and entrants must write a story (in a 1,000 words or fewer) to bridge the gap between them.

Before you read my story – you might want to check out the photos – I promise it will make a lot more sense if you do.

And if you want to read the story by the chick who won, you can do that too, I guess. 😉 Seriously, congratulations Elizabeth.

If you want to compete against join me in the next contest, click here. Just kidding, click here (pinky swear this time).

And now ……

Teetering
by me

Chuck rocked back and forth in his mother’s old wooden rocker in a perfect hypnotic rhythm. He slowed only once to pick up his rooster so it would stop pecking at the holes in his camel-colored work boots. The tip of one of the rocker’s runners tinked against the blue Ball mason jar that sat on the splintering porch and held his drink. He leaned slightly forward and squinted his eyes just enough to form a “v” with his burly eyebrows. The distant wrecking ball drew in his focus.

As the ice in his drink trembled, his wife stood up to walk away. She had asked him a thousand times not to use that jar – it had been her aunt’s salt container and the only tangible reminder she had of the woman who raised her. The melodic ice coldly reminded Mae that her aunt was gone. Chuck simply ignored her pleas until she finally gave up asking. Now she just mumbled when she saw him using it. He liked the way the tinted glass masked the liquid inside, making it impossible to tell if it was sweet iced tea or watered-down Jack Daniels sweating along the inside of the glass. And, dammit, he could drink out of whatever vessel he wanted. Surely he had earned that much.

In the front yard, their grandson Trevor aimed his bb gun at the imaginary planes overhead. His battlefield was the abandoned airport that sat just off in the horizon. Trevor was training independently to join the Army because of its promise of a chance to avenge his father’s death. Five more birthdays and he could sign up officially. He ran over to the porch to grab his grandfather’s tattered straw hat right off his head. It was Trevor’s favorite helmet because it smelled like cigars and simultaneously protected his pale skin from the blazing sun and him from the enemy shots being fired from the air.

Watching Trevor, Chuck remembered the fight in the town over whether or not that airport should even be built. The farmers worried that the pollution would ruin their crops and the pilots would steal away their children to faraway lands. The town’s up-and-comers touted job growth and increased tourism. Decades ago, Chuck’s mother and father sat on that very porch and tried to make up their own mind about where they stood, ultimately deciding it didn’t matter much what they thought.

They believed progress had its own momentum and it was better not to be in the way. So, they did what they knew best and prayed that their own hens eggs would have thick enough shells to protect them from the fumes and that visitors would find more interesting things to do on the other side of town.

They didn’t realize praying for Chuck’s son Scott would be important too. They were unaware of the need to hope that he wouldn’t be enticed by the Marine recruiter’s offer to see the world. For generations the family flew a flag just outside the front door and instilled the very virtues of God and Country that made a military career appealing. Even still, they couldn’t know that watching planes take off every day would make Scott wonder what was beyond the horizon that had kept Chuck and the family safely rooted on the farm.

But Scott did sign up for duty and successfully completed his first tour. Upon returning home, his plane landed on the runway closest to the house. He was disappointed that he had to walk off the plane and could not just parachute into the yard. The whole family sat on the porch to celebrate his return. They cheered when the wheels came down and thanked God that the prayer they didn’t even know to pray had been answered. Chuck raced to the airport while Mae set the table with all of her son’s favorite foods.

Scott got married, had Trevor, and eventually signed up for tour number two. Chuck begged him not to tempt fate, but to instead focus on the equally important role of being a father. But Scott believed his country needed him. So the plane on runway number 12 took him away again.

This time the family knew what to ask God for when the wheels lifted. They pleaded that Scott would walk off the plane safely once again.

And Scott did return home – but this time in a casket draped with an American flag. The family imagined he also held a Bible secure in his hands.

The town named a park after Scott and called him a hero. There were headlines and then talk of statues. Townsfolk praised Scott’s character and commended his parents for doing such a fine job in raising a true American champion. Little did they know Scott’s parents would have gladly changed histories with Tommy Hattaway’s family. That idiot sat behind bars for robbing banks and stealing cars, forever smirking as if he had actually gotten away with it all.

Chuck and Mae often wondered if it was better to be so proud of a son who was lost or to be able to visit a son who still had a chance to live. They turned their anger to the airport that kept taking Scott away but never really gave him back. Chuck could not let go of the guilt that smothered him – the guilt of his child dying before him. He’d led a hard life of working the farm, smoking, and drinking. Scott died valiantly but way too young, his only vice being patriotism.

The wrecking ball on the tarmac rocked as Chuck rocked. Slowly and methodically, working up to full strength. As the ball struck to demolish the first of the buildings, Chuck was startled out of his trance. His foot kicked the mason jar near the rocker, toppling it. His watered down drink trickled across the porch with shards of blue glass in it. The ice began to melt.