And without further ado the Winner is…
1st Place – Christopher Smith “Pieces“
2nd Place – Alice Nelson “A Hollywood Tragedy”
3rd Place – Ken Cartisano “Miss Perception”
4th Place – Ilana Leeds “The Tragic Human Race”
5th Place – Phil Town “Tragedies”
Story with the Favorite Character: Ken Cartisano “Narrator/Joe”
Story with the Best Pacing: Christopher
Story with the Best Use of Dialogue: Phil
Anyone who would like to get their vote totals may send an email to liflashfiction(at)gmail(dot)com to request details.
To read all of the stories entered and find out how you can participate in our weekly/bi-weekly/monthly short story contests please go to: http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/2017tragedy/.
Per the new process, Carrie Zylka has three days to choose the next prompt/theme. Visit http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/why-and-how-to-participate/writing-prompt-roster/ to view the Writing Prompt Roster.
Pieces by Christopher Smith
Copyright 2017 – all rights reserved
Summer, delicious in its warmth.
I hear the pinging, ringing echo of my hammer, gripped in one hand and still hot from the pounding. I smell the dampness of our double garage, amazingly faint on that day but soon to be forever heightened. I smell the oily stink of grease, some past spill or leak long forgotten. I smell freshly cut wood, a sweet, warm scent that once triggered thoughts of summer sunshine and sweat and chilled beer but since provokes only an empty, meaningless sorrow. I see the flecks of sawdust twisting in the soft breeze, dancing around me until they settle on my hair, my clothes, inside of my nose.
My back is sore. And my knees. My neck, too. I’ve yet to purchase a table for my chop saw and I’ve been kneeling and bending and measuring and cutting off and on for nearly two hours now. I stand to stretch. I glance out into the sunshine to check on my daughter; she was riding her bike in wide, lazy circles on our driveway not five seconds ago. She’s not anymore, though. Not that I can see, anyway. I was only keeping a back-of-my-mind ear on her; the training wheels rattling on the stone-littered driveway had been assisting me, but with the sporadic screams of the chop saw I must have lost the sound of her movement. I call her name and she doesn’t answer.
She was right there, and now she’s gone.
Until this point my life has been solid and steady, all pillars surrounding it set firmly in place and showing no signs of erosion. My life has been wonderful in every sense of the word’s meaning, but now one pillar is gone…missing. Something with teeth clamps around my heart and sinks in deeper with each passing second, and suddenly I’m cold.
I call her name again, this time moving, slowly at first and then in panicked steps…or so it seems, because I have no real sense of moving any quicker than before. The three cars parked in our driveway are blocking my view to the road and I wonder briefly why we have so many. Two would do, and we could manage with one. Perhaps if we had managed, perhaps if I hadn’t bought that wreck of a beauty to fix up, she’d still be with us…perhaps.
I glance from side to side—from one neighbour’s front yard to the other—but this is a formality, only to check those mental boxes fluttering in my head like angry mosquitoes, because already I’m moving toward the road; in my near-lifeless heart I know that’s where she’s gone. I call her name again and as my vision crests the rusted top of that beaten-up piece-of-shit Thunderbird I can see the crown of the helmet we bought her last summer, the bright sunlight tickling the purple and pink and yellow flecks surrounding the butterfly- and ladybug-print she had instantly fell in love with.
As I get closer—inching in sickly slow steps because I can’t seem to move any faster than that—I see that she’s studying something on the ground, something I can’t make out, small pebbles or a bug, maybe. Closer still and I see that she’s on the road, not by much, maybe by foot or so, but she’s on it, and that’s enough to make my stomach sink and fill with something that feels like cold metal. I call her name again—for the fourth and last time—only as loud as I think I holler I can’t seem to hear my own voice. Instead of her beautiful name I hear an overwhelming rumbling—a screaming engine leading a tattered muffler. I hear partially deflated tires kissing screeches from the road.
I’m running now, only that’s an illusion; I’m climbing through molasses.
This is when she looks at me. This is when she smiles. This is when her eyes are the brightest. This is when the colours and sounds and smells of this nightmare escalate and become too real, like I’m trapped in a small room, my sensory perception sharpened to a maddening degree, and all of it—her radiant eyes, her glaring helmet, the sharp coughing of the approaching car’s muffler, the thick thump of my heart, the ill stink of hot wood buried in my nose, the stench of burnt tires—is ricocheting around me in tight circles, heaving me close to an edge I pray will simply give way and take me to her.
After all that running I notice that, somehow, I’m much farther from her than when I’d started, and at this realization—that I’ve been reduced to an observer, that I’m too far from her to ever be able to help—I see in my peripheral the car’s yawning grill, vertical bars of chrome that look like bladed teeth, screaming closer to my daughter, twelve inches, eight, three, none.
This is when my heart stops beating—for how long I’m unsure—and when it starts up again it will only be a sad and deflated imitation of itself.
That helmet was meant to protect her from falls of three, four, maybe five feet, no more than that, I’m sure.
It certainly wasn’t meant to protect her from this.
This is when the beast of metal cutting quickly through the sunlight knocks my baby down, takes her away from me, and leaves me questioning everything I’ve ever done and so much more waiting for me two, four, ten years from now. The helmet breaks open—a thick crack! that could be thunder but sadly isn’t—her eyes and smile still brilliant, beaming, her mind distant from the terror upon her, unknowing.
And this is when I wake up—always on impact, never before.
My eyelids don’t flutter or ease open but soar with a shotgun-blast quickness that flings me from one horror-filled world to another drowning in reoccurring waves of agony. My vision is blurry but soon settles and then clears, and I know how irritated my eyes must look, how exhausted. I’m sweating. The nightshirt and boxer shorts I wear are pasted to my skin, wet and itchy, and I can smell the stale stink stuck to me. The bed sheets are cold and damp; I feel like I’m lying in ice water. I’ve either tossed the covers to my wife’s side of the bed or she has stolen them from me because the night air has touched me deep and I’m shivering.
It’s always now—lying semi-awake in a world that feels neither real nor dreamlike, my nightly revisit of that endless day still too clear, never fading—when I’m forced to recall the most painful part of it all: my little girl’s beautifully infinite eyes against a backdrop of her cracked and blood-spattered helmet. It seems as if those brief moments run through my mind in long, drawn-out hours, and wanting to revisit them has nothing to do with it; I can’t seem to help it. A small part of me feels it’s therapeutic, only a much larger, more rational part knows that it’s self-punishment.
I prop myself up on my elbows and look at my wife. She still sleeps…soundly. I glance at the digital clock sitting alone on her night table; it displays an hour that makes little sense against the dark surrounding us: eight o’clock. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been asleep at either of the eights.
There is a tug at my shirtsleeve, and before I have time to turn I hear the plop of it snapping against my arm. My daughter is standing there. The outline of her fades as I focus on it, bending into the darkness, but I know it’s my baby; I can feel her.
I should know how the rest of this half-dream plays out by now, but it’s amazing how each time she appears by our bedside I once again convince myself that she’s real.
She needs to go to the washroom, she says, and she would like me to take her, to keep her company. Sure I will, I tell her; anything for her, and anytime.
I swing my legs over the side of our bed. The floor is cold. I grab for my glasses and they’re as cold as the floor, and once they’re on the only blur remaining is the constant fatigue circling through my body, a droopy, frayed fog that’s endless. Her arms are raised, her tattered blanket dangling from one fragile fist, already waiting for me to pick her up. I do. I stand and lift her to me. She wraps her legs around my stomach, her arms around my neck. She sets her head on my chest. Her scattered, curly hair is warm on my chin, my neck, and my face. She settles into the crook of my elbow as I slip my arm under her. Her blanket is bunched at the base of my neck and I can feel her tiny, sleepy fingers working its silk tag for comfort. I raise a hand to her head and I stroke her hair. I feel no sign of the injury that took her. She smells like warmth, like angels, like love. We walk—together—and my heart aches for it to go on and on.
I’m crying now, silent sobs that distort my whispering, telling her that I love her and I always will.
And then an endless white surrounds me and I surrender to it. I’m in a vacuum. I’m bordered by a deep, endless nothing, and then blackness, so thick and evil I see its teeth, quickly devours me, and I scream.
When I wake I’m wet and cold, kneeling in front of the toilet and clutching her blanket, my shaking fingers rubbing its worn silk tag. I’m mumbling her name, repeating it. And I’m crying.
The last eight months have been this way and I feel the next eight will be just as bad, and that’s only if I make it that long. Insomnia clings to me like a cold I can’t shake, deadens all feeling, although somehow this memory snaps those same feelings awake, full and bright and ravenous.
I’m a terrible father. I’ve told my therapist this and she has told me that I’m not, that I’m being too hard on myself. I appreciate and commend her effort—I’m paying her, after all—but I can’t believe it…won’t. If I did I’d be forgiving myself for my girl’s death, and I’ll never do that.
The bathroom’s floor is cold. I’ve stopped crying; it still hurts (it always will) but I have nothing left inside. I slink back into our bedroom and slip my daughter’s blanket under my clammy pillow. I find it hard to let it go, even for just a minute, but I need to change in to some clean nightclothes. After that’s done I pull gently on the covers my wife has hoarded and arrange them so they will blanket the wet bed sheets. I fetch the thick quilt in the bottom drawer of the armoire in the corner and slip it over me as I join my wife. The clock on her night table declares a more rational hour now. My eyes are swollen, burning and irritated and tired, but I know there will be no true sleep for me, not this night, and probably not ever again.
I concentrate on my wife’s breathing, deep and long and rhythmic, praying it will eventually coax me to her. I bless her ability to sleep…and then curse her in the same breath.
Eventually, unknowingly, I slither into heavy pre-sleep warmth; my eyelids slip shut; the heavy silence of the night begins to claim me. I ease down into the darkness. My mind begins to close, and in this in-between world that isn’t quite sleep but nearly there is absolutely nothing.
And then something, someone, tugs at my shirtsleeve.