I’ve written a lot of stories before, most of them not quite finished. I’ve kept them all to myself except for some Buffy Faf-fic which is out there in the internet somewhere. In all those years I’ve never entered a writing contest before. And then came The Blank Page Challenge. They somehow showed up in my Twitter feed and I decided to give it a try.
The challenge was to use this image, less than 2,000 words, turn in by midnight on Feb 28th. Easy, right? Well, I’m a procrastinator. So I did an outline and spent the entire month thinking about the story. Finally on Feb 27th I realized I was out of time. I almost decided not to enter but something in me was saying I had to. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I had to prove to myself that I wouldn’t chicken out of something I committed to, just because I didn’t plan well.
They only could choose 3 finalists and I was not one of them. It’s OK though, because I learned things from this that I can apply to future writing. I did like the story, and got some positive feedback on it, so I thought I’d post it in case anyone else enjoyed it. Feel free to comment on it. I love all feedback, good or bad.
Hoping my flashlight batteries didn’t die, I followed her tiny footprints through the snow as her frightened path wound this way and that in the moonless night. Sure, the stars were bright, and it was a cloudless sky, but white snow isn’t that bright when the moon is new. However, it was a big help when it came to tracking the little rascal. Her path from the cabin had begun a straight shot. She was obviously terrified from whatever had landed on our roof.
She always had a keener sense of things than I did. She could tell when danger was near long before I could. I dare say she saved my life more than once the past year alone. Tonight, she just may have again.
While I had been busy counting the six thudding footsteps on our roof, she was out the door and gone. “Crud.” I’d exclaimed, as I scrambled to grab my coat and flashlight and ran out after her.
I’d barely got past our Jeep when I’d heard the thunderous crash of our cabin’s demise. Taking cover, I turned back to see a pile of broken timbers that was once our home, and what could only be described as a bus sized snowflake, sitting right in the midst of it all. At least I thought it was. It was crystalline, all hard edges and lines, roughly star shaped, the flat planes reflecting the surrounding area. I caught sight of myself staring wide eyed back at me.
The image changed, distorting into someone else, then it wasn’t someone. The forehead grew, the ears disappeared, and the eyes became one, like a camera lens. All the while a feedback-like static sounded in my head. The mouth, hanging open in amazement, stretched and twisted, becoming a gaping maw I felt like I was falling into. I ran.
No wonder she had bolted out the door screaming. I had never heard her make such noises before. I would have screamed too but I had left my voice box somewhere behind, along with my heart and lungs and brain. It was the only thing to explain the burning which threatened to rip me in two as I ran. In all our years on the mountain I had never had a problem with running in the cold night air. At that moment all I knew was I couldn’t run fast enough.
I threw my back against a boulder and froze as still as the ice around me. Covering my gasping mouth, I listened. Of all the noises I could have expected to hear I was not prepared for a distant whistle. It started low and slowly raised in pitch and volume until it was nearly deafening.
We were too far from the rail for it to be the train. I looked at my watch. It was also too late- no, early for it to be running anyway. Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, then coughing into my sleeve as the cold wracked my lungs, I carefully peeked around the corner.
The sound suddenly stopped. I had gone too far to see the cabin but there was no one following me. No giant snowflake, no weird nightmare creatures from what was obviously an alien spacecraft, and nothing that would have made a whistle.
Slightly disappointed and relieved at the same time, I stepped out from behind the rock and looked around. Trying to stay aware of the path behind me, I found her footprints once again. Their path seemed much straighter now and I realized soon where she must be headed. With a last glance back toward the cabin I began following her prints. The sooner I found her the sooner we could get to safety.
Her footprints were soon following a shallow stream which babbled along a garden of boulders. The stream never completely froze, even in the dead of winter, and I stopped for just a moment to enjoy the sound of the water. Up ahead was the cliff face where we would often go to watch the sunrise.
My moment of peace was broken by the distant sound of dogs. I snapped my head around and strained my hearing. I could swear I heard voices too, but I wasn’t sure. Surrounded by rock walls I was unsure where the sound was coming from, or if I was imagining it all. In either case, it gave me another surge of urgency and I continued after the trail.
I followed the prints around a boulder, and as I cleared the corner I saw the grey cat hunched down in the snow. She turned her head and asked me, “Meow?”
“There you are.” Her one green and one yellow eye blinked like highway reflectors in my flashlight beam. I picked her up and tucked her into my coat, zipping it up so only her head stuck out. “You think we can make it to Mrs. Green’s house?”
I was about to break into a run, not expecting an answer, when something caught my eye near the stream.
It had just started snowing and everywhere I looked were glints of light winking at me. They were all the silvery white of snow, but by the stream the sparkle was blue. I walked over to one particularly bright glint and tried to pick it up. Just like when my cat chased a laser beam, it disappeared. I looked around but all I saw was white snow.
“We don’t have time for this.” I said, even as I shone my flashlight around my feet, looking one last time.
It was then I noticed it. A strange snowflake. It landed on my glove and took just a moment too long to melt. Then I realized it wasn’t melting, and it was blue. A light shot up into the night sky, like a beacon for all the world to see.
I heard it again, the rumbling- no, thumping. I would have thought it was footsteps, but it was too loud, too uneven, there was no pattern. I realized it was getting closer, or louder at least. The dogs were barking as well, much louder this time, and the voices weren’t talking. They were yelling. The whistle was back too. Now I was sure it wasn’t a train. Whatever it all was, I knew one thing: we had to hide, fast.
I noticed an overhang at the bottom of a particularly large boulder. The snow was built up in a drift in front of it. I hurried around the side and tried to tuck up under the ledge without disturbing the snow too much. With her pressed up against my chest her warmth penetrated straight through my clothes, giving me a comfort I shouldn’t have felt under the circumstances.
The noise was deafening, all the sounds blurring together.
It made me tired.
I blinked a slow blink.
When I opened my eyes, I was on my couch and my cat was asleep on my chest.
“Mischief!” I exclaimed, grabbing her under her armpits and holding her up over my head. She looked down at me, arms outstretched, and meowed her disapproval at having been moved from her comfortable spot. “You will not believe the dream I just had.” I told her.
I plopped her down on the floor and scrambled to pick up my writer’s notebook and pencil from where it had fallen on the other side of me. Flipping to an empty page I scribbled at the top, “The Illusionary Incursion” the details of my dream sliding away as quickly as I struggled to write them down.
I continued writing, filling in where my memory failed me, determined to pin down every last fleeting moment of my dream.
Somewhere in the background of my consciousness was filed away the goings on around me, for later reflection; dogs barked on the TV as characters tried to talk their way out of being attacked, the tea kettle whistled, my old dryer clunked as it struggled to finish drying my heavy winter clothes from the early morning hike, and outside the winter wind blew between the cracks of my window’s insulation sending a single glittering snowflake to land on the arm of my sofa. Where it stayed. A moment too long.