And the winner is…
Wow! What a lovely collection of stories. Congratulations to everyone who entered and thank you for your support. The competition was fierce and it made for awesome reading for the judges. We have chosen the winners.
First place: Ending by Adam Jeffrey
Second place: Scrabbling by Glen Benison
Third place: The Monsters by Jens Grabarkse
Fourth place: Paper Cuts by Georgiana Nelsen
And The Reader’s Choice Award goes to John Hollow by Linda Sansalone.
The following stories earn a special mention: Plain Old Norma by Nonie McElroy and Ciao, Bella by Nicole Jane.
- First place wins a voucher to the value of $599 to purchase an online course of their choice in the Writers Write Store. Plus, free entry for the 52 Scenes in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2021 valued at US$120.
- Second place wins a voucher to the value of $299 to purchase an online course of their choice in the Writers Write Store. Plus, free entry for the 52 Scenes in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2021 valued at US$120.
- Third place wins a voucher to the value of $199 to purchase an online course of their choice in the Writers Write Store. Plus, free entry for the 52 Scenes in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2021 valued at US$120.
- Fourth place wins a voucher to the value of $199 to purchase an online course of their choice in the Writers Write Store. Plus, free entry for the 52 Scenes in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2021 valued at US$120.
- Reader’s choice award wins a voucher to the value of $199 to purchase an online course of their choice in the Writers Write Store. Plus, free entry for the 52 Scenes in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2021 valued at US$120.
Well done, writers. We are very proud.
Read the winning stories below:
Ending by Adam Jeffrey
I sat in the front room. The sun was weak on my knees. The paperback felt heavy and my eyes avoided the ink on the page. Through in the next room, I could hear the tape screeching as Ness sealed another box. Coat hangers rattled, unburdened. My tea had long gone cold, a thin brown rim around the inside of the cup, just above the oily surface. I thought I’d finished it.
The removalist’s feet thudded on the carpet. My heart beating out of sync to their steps. The sun went behind a cloud.
I unfolded my legs. I wanted to offer to help. We’d done everything together. Always. But not today.
I crossed my legs again.
The night before, Ness pleaded with me to go out. Just for the day?
She made suggestions. You used to love the Museum?
I walked away towards the spare room; the room I’d been sleeping in since we decided.
I said I’d think about it, but didn’t want to give it another thought.
I didn’t want to think about it as wrestled my way off to sleep.
I didn’t want to think about it when I woke wondering if that dull sound was her removalist truck, arriving too early.
Or think about it as I cooked one egg, a single slice of toast and made myself a cup of tea instead of using the pot.
I didn’t want to picture her walking away from the front gate, or imagine myself coming home, pushing in the copper key, and entering an empty house.
So instead I sat right there. I looked down at the coffee stain on carpet we had laid only a year ago. You’re so clumsy.
Truth of it was, I didn’t want her to go. But since she was determined, I really just wanted to make sure I was around to say goodbye one last time.
Sitting there listening to the sound of ripping gaffer tape and scrunching paper wrapping wine glasses we’d toasted one another with, I drew up the memory of the first time I wanted to say goodbye to her. A few hours after the first time we’d met.
Funny thing was, I hadn’t even wanted to be there. My housemate – Rick – had made me go.He said it was time I got back on the pony. I was still burnt from a love gone wrong overseas. I’d thought Helena would come back home to Australia with me. Or later, that she’d change her mind after I‘d left. She didn’t. So, once I’d spent a few weeks in Asia staring at monuments I wanted to share with her, drinking large glasses of bland beer and exchanging humid laughs with backpackers that seemed years younger, I did an about-face and headed right back to her.
The sky was a close wool blanket. I walked into her local and Helena was there in the corner, thin Guinness moustache on her grinning lip. The fingers on her left hand were intertwined with his. My heart cracked like a windscreen. I yoyo’d straight back out without a word, only pausing to wonder if either of them had seen me at all. Heathrow seemed curiously empty.
I laughed to myself when the seat on the plane was still vacant when they closed the doors.
So, a few weeks later, Rick had dragged me, not so much kicking and screaming but more shoulders hunched and eyes down to his friends do. The party was down near the old wharves, that were beginning their transformation from part of working port to apartments and moorings for stockbrokers and lawyers. The smell of dried-up diesel and fish-heads from weekend anglers mixed with fresh paint and stale coffee. The party was in the top floor of a supposedly funky warehouse – code for cavernous and no chairs. My back began aching as soon as we walked in.
At the makeshift bar, I sunk my hand into already melted ice and grabbed a superior beer than the type I’d brought. As I rose and turned, Ness and I almost banged heads. I offered an apology that she instantly refused. My beer dripped like a leaking water tank.
“Can I get you something? My hand is already frost bitten?”
“Sure – see if you can fish out a cider?”
I dove in but pulled out another beer.
“Throw it back.” We smiled. I tried again.
“That’ll do nicely,” and she twisted off the cap effortlessly and drunk straight from the bottle.
I couldn’t work out if it was the icy water on my hands that was making me short of breath.
She gestured to a large open window. “Lean with me over there?” I felt my back straighten and crack.
She shook my frozen paw, her hands warm and soft.
We talked as the lights across the harbour sparkled. I felt relieved not to be in a gloomy pub in north London.
“I’ll get the next round,” she spoke-shouted as the music funnelled past us.
She never made it back to the window. Later she told me her friend had suggested she play hard to get. Thankfully, I remembered the name of her law firm and called her. Four dates later we agreed to move in together.
Ness and I were always opposites, attracted. Like our first hot-cold handshake. She loved facts. I loved fiction. My passion for cooking and eating in was only matched by her love of eating out. If I yearned for solitude, she hungered company. Bush. Beach. Hot summers, cold winters. Books competed with the latest TV series. Red wine or white. Where I saw blue, she’d be adamant there was green. Or vice versa. You name it. No better it be left unsaid.
I knew I was really in love when we could sit or walk alongside one another without a word and still feel comfortable. I’d always felt a knot in my stomach or a need to urgently fill the hole when silence loomed up in any other relationship. Our rhythmical silences instead carried a deep satisfaction, loaded with potential, of the exciting possibilities when the silence was broken.
But almost imperceptibly, the silences changed. Like rings on the inside of a trunk, they thickened then darkened. They were no longer pauses to contemplate what came next, but became time to reflect on opportunities missed, decisions deferred, avoided. Of things lost.
Her two words brought me back into the room.
The house was silent again. I wondered if she’d left without another word, until her unmistakeable footsteps trotted up the steps, perhaps a little faster than usual, with a little more spring.
Ok that’s the last of it. She almost sang the words from the front door.
I stood up and turned and she was stopped halfway down the hall, face shaded so I couldn’t quite tell if it was a grin or grimace.
Don’t come out.
I never had seen her off when she left for court, or girl’s weekends or dinners out with work colleagues.
Sure. Take care.
I didn’t know what else to say.
Except, See you soon.
It just came out, uninvited, out of habit.
Scrabbling by Glen Benison
The scent of a different perfume turned all the men’s heads towards the door. Several of their hearts palpitated.
The woman who was new in town was not surprised by the reception. These were, after all, men in a bar, small-town mining men at that.
There was a vacant seat at the main table in the room, the seat the woman had reserved earlier in the week, and when she sat down the three men at the table went silent. One of them choked while drawing on his cigar. Coughing and sputtering, his face turned beet red.
The woman didn’t make eye contact with any of the men. She placed her purse on the table, sat down and pulled her chair in.
“We weren’t…cough, cough.. expecting…cough, cough… a broad to join us,” said the man holding his cigar.
“You’ll have to excuse him, Ma’am,” said one of the other men who was wearing a frayed and soiled ballcap titled back off his forehead. “Old Karl here doesn’t get out much.”
“No apologies necessary,” the woman replied. “I’m just here to play. I’ll earn my respect.” She reached her hand inside the velvet bag that lay on the table and pulled out seven wooden tiles. “Interesting,” she said.
She passed the bag to her left.
Karl, still choking, reached for the bag and plunged his hand inside. He withdrew his seven tiles and stared at them.
“What the frig!” he groaned.
“Come on Karl,” said the man in the ballcap. “Clean up your act. We’re not down in the mine shaft right now surrounded by all the grunts.” He turned to the woman, “My name is Jaxxon.”
“As in Michael?” asked the woman.
“Hell no,” snickered the third man. His voice was high-pitched voice. “This dude here spells his name with a double ‘X’. I don’t believe him for a second still waiting to see his birth certificate for proof.”
“It’s all true,” smiled Jaxxon leaning back in his chair. “All true. And your name Ma’am?”
“Queznel,” she replied while placing her tiles on her wooden rack.
“As in British Columbia?” asked Jaxxson.
“No,” was all she said.
“And I’ll bet she spells her name with a Z,” the third man squeaked. “There isn’t a down-to-earth truthful person left in this town when a damn scrabble tournament is going down.”
Jaxxon stared at him.
“Just sayin,” squeaked Petey. “Just sayin.’”
Jaxxon pulled a wallet from his jacket, took out twenty-five dollars and tossed the bills into the brass pot on the table.
“Ante up, Gents and Ma’am. Winner takes all.”
Queznel placed twenty-five dollars into the pot.
Petey peeled three bills from his hand as if the were glued to his palm. “Ah the wife would kill me if she knew.” He shook his head. “Grocery money.”
Karl balanced his cigar on the side of the brass pot to dig his ante out of his pocket. “Damn wives,” he muttered. “My money here was all pegged for alimony. I’ll be damned if I lose it all today.”
Jaxxon had earned the right to start the game. He placed three tiles on the game board.
“CAT,” he said, leaning back smiling like a Cheshire feline. “Five points. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers.
It was Karl’s turn next. He reached across the board with two tiles in his hand. His shirt sleeve caught the corner of the board sending the cat scrambling.
“You do that all the time,” squeaky Petey snorted.
Jaxxon reached and resettled his cat and Karl placed only two tiles, ‘I’ and ‘T’ on the board cozying up with Jaxxson’s CAT.
“TIT,” Karl said. A big grin spread across his face exposing browned teeth.
Queznel shook her head.
“No need to question it, Ma’am,” Jaxxon said. “He does it every game. We’ve checked Scrabble Dictionary. The word works. Give the man three points.”
This was going to be a breeze, thought Queznel. These bumpkins don’t know what they are in for. She chose to start easy and used four tiles to spell out TIGHT, using one of Karl’s ‘T’s.
Jaxxon took a moment to tally Queznel’s score on his fingers. “Um, seven,” he called out and wrote the number on the score pad.
It was actually a score of nine but Queznel chose to let it go. She reached into the bag to replace her four tiles. The men had forgotten to do the same after their turns. Of the four tiles, she pulled out a blank and a ‘J’.
Petey picked up just one tile from his stash, moved it across the board and placed an ‘O’ tile up against Queznel’s TIGHT.
“Read it and weep folks. GO,” he cackled. “Score me three big ones. This is great fun.”
It took awhile for the board to fill up and as it did, Queznel could sense Jaxxon was starting to flirt with her.
Jaxxon beamed with pride when he found a spot to place LOVER on the board. “There,” he said, “That covers a double word score space and gives me, um,” he hesitated, “um, fourteen points.” He slapped his hand on the table.
“Actually,” Queznel said, “I think that totals sixteen points. See? One and one is two, plus four is six, plus two more is eight, times your double word score is sixteen.”
Jaxxon blushed while scratching his chin.
His face was still flushed when Queznel placed two tiles, one of them a blank, on the board and quickly shattered Jaxxon’s hope at love. She joined her tiles up against Jaxxon’s ‘E’.
“I don’t get it,” said Karl. “What the hell letter does your blank tile stand for?”
“X”, replied Queznel. “I struck this LOVER with an AXE. See?”
“Ouch,” squeaked Petey.
The game continued round and round the table. Karl had to pass twice. He could not create another TIT or even a PISS out of his seven tiles.
Jaxxon smiled confidently when taking his next turn. He reached across with his tiles and laid out his H-E-A-R-T on the board. He looked at Queznel and winked.
“How many points do you suppose that is Ma’am?” he asked.
“Good one,” said Queznel. “You’ve got eight points there.” Without hesitating, she reached over and drove a high-definition JPEG right through Jaxxson’s heart. Not only did it pierce his hopes but her word also ran through a triple word score.
“J-P-E-G, ain’t no word,” Petey shrilled
Queznel shrugged her shoulders and nodded.
“Actually I don’t believe there is an ‘E’ in JPG,” said Jaxxon.
“Check it out,” said Queznel.
“That sucks,” muttered Karl. “You got at least fifty points with that one. Who’s got enough fingers to total that up?” He tossed his remaining tiles across the board. “I quit.”
And with that action, all of the men conceded the game. Queznel’s score was insurmountable.
Queznel pushed her chair back and stood up. She left the one-hundred-dollar jackpot on the table. She was aware these guys were far more in need than her.
“Nice meeting you Gentlemen.” She smiled and reached for her purse. “I imagine I’ll be seeing you again.” She turned and headed towards the exit. The aroma of her essential oil body wash followed her.
Jaxxon scrambled to look out the window and watched Queznel climb into the mine company’s chauffeured limousine and drive away.
The Monsters by Jens Grabarske
Don’t go there.
They will stare at you and question you and you have to pretend that you don’t want to scream and beg for the meeting, for the day to be finally over.
You will have to smile and nod and do the dance and they will act as if it’s all alright, they will act as if there’s nothing else going on. But there is. And you know it. You know it. You know! Turn around!
Bernard and Clifton, good, turn left here and you can be back in bed in about ten minutes, thirteen if there’s heavy traffic.
You could crawl back into bed and pull your blanket over your head and pretend that the monsters don’t see you, that the monsters and your boss don’t see you.
The monsters can’t get through blankets, it’s common knowledge. So keep everything underneath it, your head, your fingers, your toes, and your soul. Monsters can’t touch things that are covered by the blanket. But everything that isn’t covered by a blanket can and will be touched.
What are you doing?
You turned right, why did you turn right, that’s the wrong direction, that road leads to them.
You don’t have to do this. No, really, you don’t. Stop the car. Stop it!
Pull over, park the car here, get out, take a walk, go through the park and then take the train back to the apartment. Call in sick. Tell them that you have a migraine. Men always believe that women have migraines all the time anyway. They will tell you to get well soon and then you can hide under that blanket.
Why. Don’t. You. LISTEN!
This is the company’s car park. That’s alright, the gate is automatic, nobody has seen you, maybe one of the security guys at the gate, but that’s not an issue. Leave your car there and then walk away. Tell them that you weren’t feeling well, tell them that you didn’t feel well enough to drive either, tell them that you were nauseous, that you felt dizzy, that your period was terrible this month and that it hurt.
Tell them anything, but please, PLEASE, don’t go inside, don’t open that door, I beg you, don’t open the door, don’t open the door, ok, you opened the door, but don’t go inside, close it and walk outside, don’t call the elevator, don’t wait for the elevator to arrive, don’t wait for the doors to open, don’t go into the elevator, don’t press the button, stop the elevator, open the door again, walk outside, go outside, run outside!
Is Veronica or Sarah at the front desk today?
Oh, good, it’s Veronica. Sarah is two-faced, she may seem nice but she surely tells ‘the boys’ all they want to know in an instant, for a coffee, a flirt, and a laugh. But Veronica is nice. Tell Veronica that you’re in trouble, tell her that you need to talk to her in private, tell her that it’s urgent, tell her that you…
No, no, don’t just smile at her. There, she asked you how you are doing, all you need to do is to tell the truth, tell her that you feel awful and that you are scared.
You lied! You lied to her! No, you are not doing fine! No you are not excited about this opportunity! You are terrified, terrified because of the monsters!
She could have protected you.
There, Bobby, second office on your left. Bobby’s a nice guy. He’s had a crush on you for ages, but he’s too polite, too shy to even dare to ask you out. It’s not nice to play someone like this, but this is an emergency and if you tell him, if you tell Bobby, if you ask him for help, he will do whatever he can to protect you. He will cover for you, maybe he will even hold that presentation for you on the off chance that you let him invite you to that fancy French restaurant.
No, don’t let him wish you good luck and don’t just give him that smile. You know that it pulls his strings, that it keeps his yearning alive and that you never intend on being more to him than a wishful dream. Go inside and open up, tell him what’s going on, he’ll understand. He’s hurting himself and the person who is hurting him is you. Maybe he can help you both heal.
No. No, don’t just walk out of his office again.
There, at the end of the hallway, the meeting room. Avoid it. There’s still time. Ten minutes, but that’s all you need, ten minutes to have a sudden headache, an urgent call about family business, something.
Please. PLEASE. Please. Don’t go into the room.
The monsters are there. They are leering at you and licking their lips. They smell you. Your boss introduces you to each of them as they fletch their teeth and show their colours. You shake the hands and they smile at you as if they mean it. Let go of their hands. Keep your distance. Go to the flipchart, walk past it, out of the door.
You start the presentation instead. It’s not that you don’t do well. Of course you do. You talk the talk, you dance the dance, you speak and smile and nod at all the right moments and the monsters grin and show their teeth again. But it’s still not too late, walk out, claim that you are suddenly feeling unwell. But you don’t walk out. Of course you don’t. You finish the presentation and then the monsters applaud and smile and look.
Now it’s too late, the monsters are roaring. They saw you and they know you are there. They have seen your blanket and they know which parts are covered – and which ones aren’t.
You know what’s coming.
The meeting is over. They shake your hand again and tell you sweet lies and make you feel as one of them then. They give you business cards and tell you things they think you want to hear. They act all friendly. Then they leave the room. All but one. Your boss.
“That was quite an impressive presentation” he says as he closes the door of the room.
“Thank you, Sir.” you say. You rehearsed enough to make it sound genuine and casual.
“I think the rest of the board was also pleased. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen them so welcoming to a new candidate. Some of them were even taking notes.”
“I’m glad that they liked it. And I hope that some of the points raised will benefit the company.”
“Oh, there’s no question about it. And you as well. There isn’t much in the way of your promotion now. I hope that you found my coaching helpful.”
“Of course, Sir. I’m grateful.” you say.
“Show me”, he says.
And he reaches out and his hand touches yours and moves under your blanket, under all the places of the blanket and pulls the blanket away until you stand there, naked and it’s for him to take everything including your soul.
Paper Cuts by Georgiana Nelsen
Marcie sees Hal pull up outside and knows it’s time to send Lexie to him for the weekend. What is Marcie supposed to do with Lexie gone? Her daughter is all that gives structure to her life now. She thought she’d be vibrant, alive, wanted. She thought she’d feel whole again.
Instead, she’s lonely. She doesn’t do anything she used to love. There are no fresh tomatoes from the garden to sprinkle with sea salt. No pound cake, to pair with the ripe explosion of the fresh strawberries she’d grown. She can’t eat and Lexie is too picky to bother for. She only goes out to get Lexie boxed mac and cheese or cereal or sometimes a plain cheese pizza from the five-dollar place next to the liquor store. There she can stock up on Vodka and no one pays attention to how often she’s there.
The skin on her fingers has cracked in ways that never happened even when she gardened. She can’t afford real manicures anymore. With her skin such a mess, even the Vietnamese girls at the nail shop, would just shake their heads. Maybe it’s stress, or paper cuts from clearing all the “sculptures” Hal sends home with Lexie. The paper cranes were beautiful, but she can’t see how folded up paper helps the situation. Maybe if Hal focused on his job instead, he’d. have never lost the construction company. But when Marcie threw the sculptures out, Lexie cried. Lexie never used to cry.
Marcie’s dry mouth tastes like the ashes of the life they’d shared before she’d told Hal to leave. She’d spent the last of their savings on the sheaf of papers tucked inside the lawyer’s envelope in the front hall. All they have to do was sign them and send them back. She’d try to ask him today. But what she really wants is to throw them out too. Nothing in her life since Hal left has been right.
Vodka keeps her awake but without it, she can only stare at the cracks in the ceiling and worry that the fissure she’d created in their lives can’t be repaired, not even by Hal’s fancy spackling. His carpentry skills were never the problem. The economy wasn’t his fault, but it wasn’t hers either. She didn’t think she could handle being poor again.
Lexie sees her Daddy pull up from her window and finishes creasing the newspaper triangle. She’s learned how to make hats from them that look like captain’s hats from the cartoons. Maybe he will take her to the park with the ship playground. He played with her more when he built houses, because he was outside most of the time and happier. But Conomy, whoever she is, made him stop. The factory where he works doesn’t even have windows, but he won’t be there forever. Conomy will get better. He’s sure.
He smells like the garage but always brings her something new for her collection. Usually, things like butterflies or swans. She won’t tell him that Mommy threw them away. Lexie made him a paper airplane and he let her fly it, but it got stuck in a tree.
Mommy used to smell like outside, too, from working with her flowers and plants. Now she smells more like old bread. Daddy says breaking up is hard, but it is what Mommy wanted. Mommy still isn’t happy, though. Daddy’s gone, but things keep breaking.
When Hal pulls up to the house he took such pride in, he wants to cry. Paint is peeling, shingles are loose from the last storm and the grass hasn’t been mowed in a month. The garden that used to be Marcie’s pride and joy is overgrown with weeds. Her only pleasure seems to come from trying to keep Lexie from him.
He tastes the old coffee still in his thermos, trying to wash away some of the bitterness. It just reminds him of the cabbage and beet soup, Marcie used to make in the fall, the vegetables fresh from her garden. She knew he hated it. Marcie was a professional when it came to passive aggressive behavior.
Before going in, he squirts rose scented hand lotion into his palm. Marcie hates the scent of grease that he can never quite shake from the week in the factory. It was the only place still open that paid enough to cover the mortgage, child support and rent on his tiny apartment. And Marcie’s vodka. When he lost the business, Marcie just stopped everything. Lexie had told him she didn’t even cook anymore. She said she wanted more—not just money but security. Maybe even a rose garden. The good life.
Hal thought they had it, together.
He lifted the delicate dragon he’d folded while on break at the factory. He’d learned basics from an artist at the library, and then found a book to help with more complicated pieces. He loved the feeling of the paper creasing, coaxing flat sheets and strait edges into illusions. The peace in creation. He wondered if that was how Marcie felt in her garden. To Hal, creating was a tangible form of love.
Marcie meets him at the door, her pallor gray, her hair askew and her once stylish clothing loose and stained. This too feels like his fault. He half listens to her tell him he’s late again, even though they both know he isn’t. He sees the bottle on the counter, half gone and smells the fruity way the alcohol metabolizes with Marcie. He starts to offer …what? For her to join them? For him to help fix up the house again? To till the garden? He knows she doesn’t want him, even if she needs him.
She yells for Lexie.
Lexie hops down the stairs, holding the newsprint. She jumps into his arms, still his little girl. He hands her the dragon, and she hands him the newsprint. He opens the newspaper hat and puts it on, feeling happy, just as when he folded the dragon. He hears the joy of her laughter as she turns his creation around and around. He used to feel this way every day.
Marcie started to complain about another paper creation, but Hal catches sight of the lawyer’s envelope on the hall table. He looks at his broken wife through tears. “Marcie, please.”
Marcie pushes her hair away from her face. “It’s the final papers Hal. All we have to do is sign them. It’s all paid for.”
“Daddy could make you a garden with the paper, Mommy. Like my dragon. Like magic!”
“I bet we could, together. All of us.” Hal pleads.
Marcie’s hands shake as she lifts the envelope. “There’s no magic Lexie.”
“You have to believe!” Lexie cries, and ran outside.
Hal glanced at the bottle. “Marcie, are you happier now?”
Her shoulders, and the envelope drop. “I’m so lonely.”
Hal reaches out and pulls her to him. “Me too, Marcie. I miss both of you.”
“I’ve really screwed things up.”
“I know a lot about fixing things. I’ve even learned about rose gardens.”
She looked at the dragon Lexie dropped. “Maybe we should plant a cherry tree instead.”
Reader’s Choice Award
John Hollow by Linda Sansalone
As a mystery writer, I was intrigued when I found an abandoned house boarded up with a shoddy “For Sale” sign out front. No name was written on the sign, but there was a phone number barely legible. I parked my silver Honda Civic in front of the house and phoned the number on my cell. Five rings later someone picked up on the other end and I heard static and coughing.
“Hello?” A shallow and creaky voice answered.
“Hello, my name is Daniel Conway and I’m calling about your house for sale.”
“My house? No one ever owns that place.”
“Well…why do you want to buy it? It’s a mess to say the least.”
“I’m hoping since it needs a lot of work that your price will reflect that.” I spoke in my best business-like voice.
“Well, I suppose it was my house at least when I bought it many years ago, but I will never step foot in that house again. I’d like to meet somewhere else so that I can tell you my story and then you can decide if you still want it.”
“Sure, but where?”
“There’s a bench just inside St. Matthew’s cemetery a block from the house. Tonight, after the sun sets.”
In a cemetery, in the dark? The meeting place sounded very odd indeed, but I did want the house, so I agreed to his terms. Realizing I hadn’t got his name, I tried calling his number again.
The line rang on followed by a dial tone.
Since I had an hour to waste, I threw on my jacket and decided to look around the exterior of the house. The greyish panelled two-storey house looked as though it had been built in the early 1900s. It had a dark green shingled roof, sat low to the ground, and needed work. I spotted some graffiti written in dark red on the wood panelling: “Keep Away!”, “Beware”, and “N & K forever” along with a large pentagram. Most likely scribed by teens using the grounds as a hang out since it was a distance from other houses and somewhat hidden by trees and bushes. Obviously, it was a very long time since anyone lived in this house, which explains the owner’s raspy voice. The man probably looked somewhat like the outside of this place, old and deteriorating. Weeds wound all over the front lawn in a tangled web, and when I walked around to the back it was the same. The grass had been choked from its’ lawn.
The wind chilled my bones and shook the tree leaves making a rustling sound. Even the wood panels of the house creaked from the unexpected and fierce wind. Walking from the backyard to the front, I heard the creaking sound of a wooden chair rocking back and forth, back and forth, but I couldn’t see anyone there as the setting sun cast a reddish-orange shadow over the porch.
I put my key in the ignition, started my car and turned on the seat heater. Streetlamps in the area were sparse, which made it harder for me to find my way to the cemetery. Just inside the gate, I saw a silhouette of a person sitting on a bench.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long. My name is Daniel.” I extended my hand to shake his, but he didn’t return the gesture. Not so friendly, but I shirked that off and sat next to him. I couldn’t make out his face in the dark.
“My name is John Hollow.” The wind hushed his voice to a whisper.
I shivered sitting next to him, as though the temperature had suddenly dropped to an icy chill. “Would you like to sit in my car? It’s warmer than out here.”
“I’m fine.” After a long pause he continued, “I moved into that house with my wife and two young boys years ago now. I thought it was a good house, until it decided it didn’t want us anymore.” He paused awhile and then continued. “One by one my family was taken from me. Charlie was only two when he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. Simon swam like a fish but drowned in our pool. Shortly after that my wife, Emily, took an overdose of antidepressants and never woke up.” Again, he paused as if lost in thought. “I was the last one to leave that house.”
“I’m deeply sorry for your losses.” How dreadful, I thought to myself.
“You see, I thought I owned that house, but it owned us. Don’t be fooled by the decrepit exterior for when you enter it will look perfect, I know. Why do you want it anyway?” He coughed and gasped for air.
“Do you need a drink?”
“No, that won’t help.” His voice faded into the dark night surrounded by cemetery stones.
“I’m a mystery writer and when I saw the house, I had an immediate feeling that it was just what I needed to help me get back to writing.”
“Mysterious it is, but I’m warning you that you will never own it for it is not a mere house.”
“Thank you for sharing what happened to you and your family. I’m so sorry. But I still want to buy the house, as I think being in an old house may give me the inspiration I require to keep writing.”
“Well, I hope it does help you. Just remember my words.”
“How much for it?”
He shook his head slowly back and forth, and then with a gasp replied. “Nothing.”
“But I have to pay you something.”
A big gust of wind bent the trees making their branches creak. I shuddered and turned to John to say thank you and goodbye, but he was gone. It was as though that gust of wind blew him back from wherever he came.
I returned to my hotel that night but couldn’t sleep. I kept wondering how John had just vanished without a trace. Deciding not to think about it anymore, I got up early and left the hotel excited to see the inside of my new house, picking up a coffee and muffin along the way. I still wore my jacket, but at least the sun was shining today. Someone walking by noticed me taking down the “For Sale” sign.
“Hi.” The elderly woman walking her sheltie called out to me. “Did you buy the house?”
I waved with a smile and replied, “Yes. Last night, after meeting with John Hollow.”
The neighbour stopped for a moment as if she were going to say something, but instead kept on walking.
With a hammer, I pried the wooden slab off the front. The door was unlocked, and the first thing I noticed when I walked in was a beautifully polished antique desk. It stood out as the one object free of dust and cobwebs encasing everything else. Looking at the desk, I could already feel inspiration striking.
Well done, Writers. We are very proud. Thank you to everyone who entered. Your entry helps keep our site up and running.