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August 2020 - Writing Challenge

  • 19 Aug 2020 9:26 AM
    Reply # 9175592 on 9147140

    The Storm

    "The sky is getting dark over there," Judy said.

    Ed looked at the clouds and said, "We'll need to find shelter soon."

    "Should we set up the tent under those trees?" Judy asked.

    "That wouldn't be a good idea," Ed said. "The trees might attract lightning. Besides, after the rain stops, the trees will keep on dripping."

    "How about that shed?" Judy suggested. "Would it attract lightning too?"

    A ramshackle building stood in the distance, covered with old rusty tin sheets.

    "Good idea," Ed said. "Even if lightning did strike it, the tin would conduct it to the ground."

    Judy had glommed on Ed at Freshmen Orientation because neither had any friends in the college class. She lived nearby in the suburbs, but Ed had grown up on a farm, so he had felt like a fish out of water. When he had mentioned that he planned to take an overnight hike during the weekend, she had asked to go along.

    He had a backpack and camping gear, but when he picked her up, she only had a bookbag crammed with some stuff and was wearing athletic shoes rather than boots. They had driven to a state park and left the car in a designated lot. But then they had veered off the main trail to follow a deer herd that had crossed their path.

    It was beginning to sprinkle by the time they reached the shelter. Rotten boards had once divided it into animal stalls, but any dung had long ago decayed and mixed with the soil to form a soft, dry loam.

    Ed unpacked a propane backpacking stove and heated water. He offered her several choices of freeze-dried food, and then they poured the hot water into their packets. Ed also added hot water to instant coffee, and Judy opted for tea. For a while, they just quietly ate and watched the heavy rain.

    Then Judy asked, "Where's the bathroom?"

    Ed stifled a laugh while swinging his arm to point at the other stalls: "You can take your pick."

    Judy had a blank look on her face, so he added: "Just take this folding shovel and dig a little hole. Fill it in when you're finished. And take this toilet paper."

    She left with a small flashlight. Ed heard muffled sounds from her digging, and then after a few minutes, a startled screech.

    "Help!" she yelled. "Ed! I fell down!"

    He found her lying on her back with her bare butt a few inches from the shallow hole she had dug, and her pants were tangled around her ankles that she was holding up in the air. He grabbed her feet and spun her away from the wet hole in the ground. Then he grabbed her wrists and helped her to her feet. Shyly, she turned her back and pulled up her pants.

    "Thanks," she said. "But I still need to go number two."

    Ed shoveled some dirt to cover her urine, and then he dug a foot-deep hole a few feet away. There were some cinder blocks back against the wall, so he put one on either side of the pit.

    "Sit on these blocks," he said. "When you're through, I have some wipes to clean your hands."

    "Okay," she said in a small voice. "You aren't leaving me?"

    "I'm just going back to our stuff to give you some privacy," Ed said. "But I'm only a few seconds away if you need help."

    After a few minutes, she returned to circle of light cast by the lamp and accepted some hand wipes.

    "Do you want some more tea?" Ed asked.

    "No thanks," she said. "I'll have whatever you're drinking."

    The rain had nearly stopped by the time Ed spread his opened sleeping bag out on the ground for both of them to lie on because Judy had only brought a thin blanket. Ed started to turn off the lamp, but Judy asked if he would leave it on. He dimmed the lamp, and laid on his back to sleep. Judy turned her back to him and scooted over to the edge of the sleeping bag.

    They were startled awake by thunder when another storm blew in about midnight. Judy turned over to face him, and then lightning struck the ground about a hundred yards away with a sound like dynamite. The flash illuminated the shed like a floodlight, showing Judy's pale, wide-eyed face.

    "We're safe," Ed reassured her. "We have protection here."

    Then another bolt of lightning struck even closer with an explosive sound, and Judy flew over to grab him. Turning on his side, he put his arm under her head. She threw her arm over him and pulled him close. So he put his other arm over her and patted her on the back.

    "I'm frightened," Judy said.

    "It's alright," Ed said. "Think of it as the world's largest fireworks show."

    "I need to tell you something," Judy said.

    "Okay," Ed said.

    "I was in special ed," she confided. "They said I had Asperger's."

    "You're in college now," Ed said. "The past is the past."

    "You don't mind?" Judy asked.

    "Why should I?" Ed said. "I like you just as you are."

    "I've never been on a date before," Judy admitted. "What should I do now?"

    "What do you want to do?" Ed asked.

    "I want to do what other people do on dates," Judy said.

    "What do you feel like doing?" Ed asked again.

    "I want to feel like everyone else," she said.

    "Do you want me to kiss you?" Ed asked.

    For an answer, she pressed her lips against his. Her technique was clumsy, but he gently kissed her back. She ground her groin against his leg, but he just kissed her some more. He didn’t want to take advantage of her, and romance hadn't crossed his mind when she had asked to go on the hike. They both had a lot to learn in college.

    Last modified: 20 Aug 2020 1:39 PM | Michael Worthington
  • 11 Aug 2020 12:01 PM
    Reply # 9158217 on 9147140

    Untitled  --  Robert Kirk Scott

    When the only convicted sex offender that our little town had ever engendered had served his time and scheduled his release, there arose a quandary over where he was to live. Within the boundaries of our 500-soul community there was not a single location that was legally possible for Davis’ residency.

    The state legislature, in its zeal to appear tough on crime during an election year, had passed laws restricting where a registered offender could live – only so close to a school, a church, a public park; any spot where minors routinely were gathered or assembled were declared out of bounds for “people like him.”

    “There’s been a slight problem,” the county parole officer who picked Davis up at the prison gate told the small wiry sixty-seven-year-old man. “You can’t stay anywhere in town. But don’t worry, we’ve found a place out in the county.”

    Davis, who had been eighteen when he started his bid, climbed into the back seat of the cruiser. He carefully placed a small cardboard box of personal possessions on the seat beside him and caught the PO’s eye in the rear-view mirror.

    “No problem,” he said. “If it suits ya’ll, it’ll suit me.” He still had five years of supervised probation to go. Davis had never gotten a single write-up inside. He wasn’t going to start wrong with this man, who would be popping in and out of his life for a while.

    They drove past recently harvested sweet potato fields past clumps of poor people filling up rusty tubs with gleanings that the combines left behind. They drove down long stretches of two-lane blacktop where trim brick ranch houses stood isolated in lawns surrounded by tobacco fields. The PO’s window was rolled down, and the cool Fall air washed the forgotten scent of decaying leaves over Davis. He pressed back into the seat to steady himself. So much open space terrified him. He felt strange to be unenclosed by block walls and metal grates, his view unframed by chain link and barbed wire. Other connies had warned him about the sense of alienation he would experience after such a long incarceration. He closed his eyes and focused on the hard seat beneath him and pushed back harder into it. He took a long breath. He smelled coming winter in the breeze.

    A dirt drive ran beside a ditch for a half-mile off the paved road. The sun was low when they pulled up in front of a single-wide trailer that had seen better days. Weeds grew up through the unpainted wooden steps. The aluminum screen door was hanging by one hinge, and only one of the fake vinyl shutters remained forlornly at the side of a window which was broken, but duct tape held it together and covered the cracks. A bare bulb hung naked in a rusty uncovered fixture beside the door. Davis noticed that the light was burning.

    “It’s not much, but your disability will cover the rent and the utilities. The prison church ministry got it ready for you and left you some groceries. I expect some of them’ll come by to see you. Social worker’ll  be over tomorrow to get you signed up for Medicare and SNAP. Oh…there’s a little store south of here about two miles down highway 11. Here’s the key. Good luck, Davis. I’ll be checking on you.”

    Davis watched the red taillights bounce away in the dusk. Solitude pressed in on him while the crickets sang in waves, now soft, now loud. In all his years inside he’d never been alone like this. There was always someone else around a man in prison. Solitude like this would cost a fortune to arrange in there. He set the cardboard box on the sandy ground. He reached in his pocket for one of the roll-ups his cellmate had gifted him as a going away gesture. The match flared yellow on his close-shaved head and face stubble. He took a drag. This wasn’t so bad. Out of the way, but maybe no one would bother him. He’d heard all the horror stories about that, too. A nearby store, maybe he could get a bike. The light beside the door was reassuring and inviting. A rickety antenna leaned over the back end of the trailer. Maybe there was a television inside…

    Something pushed against his ankle.

    “JESUS!” he yelled and jumped. He tripped over the box and almost fell. His heart beat so hard it drowned out the crickets and he couldn’t catch his breath. 

    Eyes shining in the reflected porch light, a tabby cat moved closer. A rangy lean animal with scruffy orange fur. Friendly though. It nuzzled his ankle again. Then it backed up and stretched out in a polite bow. The cat meowed once and sat down, licking one shoulder. It looked up at him and meowed again.

    Davis squatted and reached out. The cat sniffed his fingers and rubbed his nose over Davis’ hand. Davis scratched behind the cat’s ears while it rubbed against his shins. There had been cats in prison, they gathered like clockwork behind the mess hall for the scraps he gave them when he emptied the trash in the evening after his dishwashing shift.

    He ran his hand down the purring cat’s back and arched tail. “Dam, you scared the shit out of me, buddy.” He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. “Buddy.” He picked Buddy up and the cat lay comfortably in the crook of his arm. Together they looked out over the fields that spread away forever on the other side of the ditch. Stars were coming out in the black ceiling of sky. He hadn’t seen stars so clearly in a long time, the lights of the prison yard had always dimmed them. But here, in the country, they were strong and bright. Buddy’s loud rumbling purr fluttered near Davis’ heart. For the first time in a long time, Davis felt connected, through those twinkling stars, to heaven.

  • 05 Aug 2020 6:19 PM
    Message # 9147140
    Kimberly Riggs (Administrator)

    Share your story or poem in one-thousand or less words by uploading it here as a reply. All genres and levels of writing welcome!

    Last modified: 05 Aug 2020 6:20 PM | Kimberly Riggs (Administrator)
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