Your Story 47 Winner: The Ticker

Prompt: Write a short story of 750 words or fewer based on this: A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.

Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in competition #47 (either by entering, reading or voting).

Out of more than 600 entries, readers helped us pick “The Ticker” by Dori Renner as the winner. For winning, Renner’s story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.

Winning Entry

“The Ticker”
by Dori Renner

A steady ticking awakened Murdoch. The morning ritual had gone on for weeks. He tossed the covers aside and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. “Damn ticker,” he grumbled. Countless hours he’d spent searching, never finding a clue to the ticks. He’d worried on several occasions about cabin fever. How it could warp the mind after ages of solitude. He’d seen it in the best of them.

Finally, last Tuesday a clue came, at least he’d groped at imagining it had. He’d left his shirts hanging out to dry. One came up missing overnight; no big deal. But then several other things came up missing immediately after hearing the ticks.

Grumbling, Murdoch shuffled to the wood stove. After stirring the last glowing embers, he tossed in a log. Coffee would have to wait until the flames grew.

Blowing on his frigid fingers, he stared out the window. The sun shined pink on the heavy blanket of snow. He hated the first snow of the season. It always melted quickly and made a muddy mess. Second snow was better. The ground would be frozen then.

Something caught his eye. He moved closer to the window. An odd set of footprints led away from the house. “Hot damn, a ticker.” He instantly assumed.

Now he had proof. He hadn’t gone bonkers after all. He hurriedly dressed, pulled on his parka, shouldered his rifle, and headed out the front door. The pile of trinkets left on the porch as bait had been disturbed. A beaded necklace was gone. A smile curled his thin lips. “Slow and methodical—that’s the way you’ll catch ’em.”

He stepped off the porch and bent down to examine the three-toed footprints. They were small. Judging by the depth, the creature was lightweight. Probably the size of a hare, he decided. His eyes followed the trail that led off to the bushes.

“Small trap,” he muttered under his breath. “Best to use a snare.” He wanted to take it alive if possible. Something this unique had to be worth a pretty penny.

He went into the house. The fire had come to life. He warmed while the coffee brewed. His mind was busy with thoughts of how to set the trap. Best to wait until dusk. He schemed the rest of the day.

At dusk he went out in a softly falling snow to set the trap. The snow would hide his dirty work. He grinned at the mug left as bait, shiny and inviting. “Yep, slow and methodical, the ticker will be mine by morning.”

He ambled onto the porch and through the front door straight to his ancient chair. He planned to spend the night in that chair listening for the ticks. The room was dark, spare the glow from the wood stove. His eyes grew heavy. He slept through the ticking.

At sunrise he woke himself with a snort. “Damn.”

He pushed himself from the chair, his bones creaking as he crossed the floor. He looked out the window. A fresh set of footprints led away from the porch. He was ecstatic. On with the parka, the rifle he threw over his shoulder, and out the door he flew. His grin grew broad as he studied the tracks in the new fallen snow that led to the bushes mere yards away; the mug and the snare lying just beyond.

He listened for ticks. A faint sound returned to his ear. “Hot damn.”

He crept toward the bushes, rifle up, just in case. He peered over the top. The mug was gone; the trap had been sprung.
“Empty.”

He drooped. Footprints led to the trees. He couldn’t help himself, so he followed. Movement up ahead caught his attention along with a steady ticking. In a giddy flurry, he raced forward. Where had his senses gone? Murdoch scolded himself, but couldn’t stop his feet that plowed after the trail of ticks that grew louder. His foot came down hard into the soft snow, but didn’t stop. Down he fell into a deep chasm.

The ticker stepped to the edge of the hole and looked down. Its wide eyes could see well in the dark. Its prey struggled to get free from the sticky web that burned. The screaming was futile.

A smile curled the thin lips of the ticker. “Slow and methodical—that’s the way to catch ’em.”

(For more writing prompts to spark your creativity, check out The Writer’s Idea Book 10th Anniversary Edition today!)

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41 thoughts on “Your Story 47 Winner: The Ticker

  1. Obsidian

    I am trying to vote for my favorite story in the Your Story forum. How do I select and vote for the one I want? Is there a specific button I have to click or do I leave a comment that counts as a vote?

  2. Virginia Fair

    Stefan opened one eye then the other. That same old dream, the one he’d been having for over forty years. He’d been having it since that morning in Virginia’s apartment, rolling out of bed in pre-dawn light to stuff jeans and shirts into his duffle, leaving the note on the kitchen table, and making his way to the door of her flat. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until he released it in a rush as he stepped out into the blue-gray that passed for dawn in London. The air he breathed in exchange held the fuzzy promise of he knew not what. As it had turned out he only got as far as Heathrow before he realized he wasn’t ready to leave her – not yet. And so he’d returned and she’d taken him back. But it was to be happily never after. Three months later he was back at Heathrow, promising he’d return. He just needed a few months home in NY to settle things.
    “No you won’t,” she told him.” I can feel it. I’ll never see you again. You won’t come back.”
    Yes he would, he really would, he assured her and he really meant it. But he didn’t – not in waking hours, anyway.It was while in the throes of sleep that he kept his promise, or tried to.
    His mind held on to the threads of truth but wove them into tapestries that matched the trappings of his life, wherever it might lead him. The only constant was her voice
    “Stefan, you promised. You promised.”
    He’d set out, the sound of her voice his only compass. When he lived in New York, he’d run through midday Manhattan crowds, in and out of traffic, following the fading call until the street dropped beneath his feet and he plummeted down… down until he managed to sit up, drenched with sweat and Marilyn, caressing his back and assuring him “You’re alright Stef, it’s just that old dream.”
    During his years in California, he’d followed her cry, down the Venice boardwalk, knocking over kamikaze skaters as he made his way to the beach,only to trip and fall face down in the smothering sand. And Sharon shook him, leaning over him until he could raise his head from the pillow.And as he rose to a sitting position and waited for his breath to return to normal, she gave him the assurance, “You’re alright Stef, it’s that dream again.”
    And so it had gone. There wasn’t always a woman in his bed to help him shake off the dream. But even if there was, that old longing for Virginia descended on him and it would be days before it dispersed.
    But it was different this time.He woke up on his own – alone. Although he didn’t feel old at 66, he guessed he could be classified as old and alone.And the dream had been different. It didn’t really end. He’d been running and running,through Hyde Park, getting closer and closer to her voice. He could see her. Those faded patched bell-bottoms, her bushy hair blowing in the breeze. So real, so reach- out- and- touch- it real.
    But then he sat up and the chill on his face brought him back to his bedroom. He straightened up, shaking off the stiffness as he made his way the radiator to turn on the heat. Ash he turned the knob, he realized something was different. The dreams usually came to him. This one had taken him back – to London – to those days.
    He stood at the window and, as he looked out at the new fallen snow he noticed the foot prints. They were leading from the door. Had someone broken in? He ran down the steps and on his way to the front door, he stepped over a man lying there. The man looked just like him, but old.. As he opened the door, he caught his reflection in the door, their reflection. His and Virginia’s. Young and beautiful.
    And he remembered the dream: He, carrying her through the snow. She, crying with joy. “Stef, you came back. You came back.”

  3. Virginia Fair

    Stefan opened one eye then the other. That same old dream, the one he’d been having for over forty years. He’d been having it since that morning in Virginia’s apartment, rolling out of bed in pre-dawn light to stuff jeans and shirts into his duffle, leaving the note on the kitchen table, and making his way to the door of her flat. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until he released it in a rush as he stepped out into the blue-gray that passed for dawn in London. The air he breathed in exchange held the fuzzy promise of he knew not what. As it had turned out he only got as far as Heathrow before he realized he wasn’t ready to leave her – not yet. And so he’d returned and she’d taken him back. But it was to be happily never after. Three months later he was back at Heathrow promising he’d return. He just needed a few months home in NY to settle things.
    “No you won’t,” she told him.” I can feel it. I’ll never see you again. You won’t come back.”
    Yes he would, he really would, he assured her and he really meant it. But he didn’t – not in waking hours, anyway.It was while in the throes of sleep that he kept his promise, or tried to.
    His mind held on to the threads of truth but wove them into tapestries that matched the trappings of his life, wherever it might lead him. The only constant was her voice
    “Stefan, you promised. You promised.”
    He’d set out, the sound of her voice his only compass. When he lived in New York, he’d run through midday Manhattan crowds, in and out of traffic, following the fading call until the street dropped beneath his feet and he plummeted down… down until he managed to sit up, drenched with sweat and Marilynn, caressing his back and assuring him “You’re alright Stef, it’s just that old dream.”
    During his years in California, he’d followed her cry, down the Venice boardwalk, knocking over kamikaze skaters as he made his way to the beach,only to trip and fall face-down in the smothering sand. And Sharon shook him, leaning over him until he could raise his head from the pillow. And as he rose to a sitting position and waited for his breath to return to normal, she gave him the assurance, “You’re alright Stef, it’s that dream again.”
    And so it had gone. There wasn’t always a woman in his bed to help him shake off the dream. But even if there was, that old longing for Virginia descended on him and it would be days before it dispersed.
    But it was different this time.He woke up on his own – alone. Although he didn’t feel old at 66, he guessed he could be classified as old and alone.And the dream had been different. It didn’t really end. He’d been running and running,through Hyde Park, getting closer and closer to her voice. He could see her. Those faded patched bell-bottoms, her bushy hair blowing in the breeze. So real, so reach- out- and- touch- it real.
    But then he sat up and the chill on his face brought him back to his bedroom. He straightened up, shaking off the stiffness as he made his way the radiator to turn on the heat. Ash he turned the knob, he realized something was different. The dreams usually came to him. This one had taken him back – to London – to those days.
    He stood at the window and, as he looked out at the new fallen snow he noticed the foot prints. They were leading from the door. Had someone broken in? He ran down the steps and on his way to the front door, he stepped over a man lying there. The man looked just like him, but old.. As he opened the door, he caught his reflection in the door, their reflection. His and Virginia’s. Young and beautiful.
    And he remembered the dream: He, carrying her through the snow. She, crying with joy. “Stef, you came back. You came back.”

  4. ricky

    Hi Tiffany, I have a question about the Your Story 47. I submitted my work at 11:59 p.m., one minute before the deadline and did not have enough time to full check my work, so I then re-submitted the same story about 4 minutes later with a few corrections made, but it was 4 minutes past the dead line. I would really love it my second submission could be considered. Is this okay and a possibility?? Thank you so much and sorry for the inconvenience.

  5. rylandor

    I left the title off the story I submitted. Should I send again or will WD just make up a title if my story is chosen? I have yet to see an untitled story among the winners.

  6. penney

    Under Editor’s Blog/There are no rules on WD website they are requesting entries for the same writers contest. Do we enter here or there? Someone that submitted at that location can be read there(not anonomously thus the poss. of reading anyones). Is this the right entry location? Also, because of all the glitches in submissions are you taking care of possible double ups or are we SOL because we can’t tell you got it?

  7. Laura

    Hi Tiffany,

    For the official rules, it says that the winner will be given an IRS 1099 form for their prize if it’s over the indicated amount of $600. I happen to live in Canada and am interested in entering the contest and am curious as to how this form will apply to myself.

    Thank you! ^^

  8. dgberry

    When you find out, knackatory, please let me know. Does the image of a black hole come to mind? How do I know that my submission was received if there is no acknowledgement and there is no place to see it among the others? (And this “You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” is getting to be a bit aggravating.)

  9. knackatory

    Okay, I have looked everywhere except in people’s underwear drawers – where can we read the submissions to the contest? Mostly, of course, I am interested in whether my silly story got where it is supposed to be. And I would like to read what everyone else has written.

    -M.S.

    1. Tiffany Luckey Post author

      You will only be able to read the top 5 entries, chosen by the WD editors; you are not able to read every submission we receive. The top 5 entries will be posted on the Your Story forum, found here, in late January, where forum members can vote on their favorites to help rank the top 5.

  10. JeffSwitt

    My wife had the same experience on her laptop trying to post a 25-word opening line for a contest. She quit trying. I have had no problem on my desktop. I think it a WD problem. (correction, now I am getting that message, what’s up WD?)

  11. penney

    I get the same thing. Patience is all I can tell you. I believe we are too fast for the internet and to awesome for it to keep up. I tend to count to 10-Mississippi after logging in and then again after I cut and paste my submission into this stupid little box before hitting post. It doesn’t always work but more so then not. It’s a conspiracy, it doesn’t matter if you spend millions on the fastest connection, you’re just going to have to wait and retry a few times. If you can’t hit backspace after a failed submit to retrieve this box with your entry(still in it) then dear God I hope you saved it elsewhere to try again because its a dropped item. Sorry. in fact just did….retry, retry it doesn’t matter if you type directly here either. Listen to George Harrison’s “Chill Down”

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