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Your Story #113

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.
Image from Getty

Image from Getty

  • Prompt: Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt above. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Email your submission to yourstorycontest@aimmedia.com with the subject line “Your Story #113.”

Include your name, phone number, and mailing address. No attachments, please. Paste your submission directly into the body of the email. Entries without a name or mailing address will be disqualified.

Unfortunately, we cannot respond to every entry we receive, due to volume. No confirmation emails will be sent out to confirm receipt of submission. But be assured all submissions received before entry deadline are considered carefully. Official Rules

Entry Deadline: CLOSED

Out of nearly 300 entries, WD editors chose the following 5 finalists. Vote for your favorite entry using the poll at the bottom of the page.

Dream On

I’m 80 years old, stuck in a dark forest, in a dreary house. I’m not polite anymore. I’m crotchety. Don’t bother me, sonny boy, or I’ll whack you! That’s my style.

I use a cane.

“Granny, are those real diamonds on your walking stick?”

“Of course, darling.”

I always glitter but never before 5. Ah, the long-lost rigors of true etiquette. Emily Post. Do you remember her? No. You’re too young.

It’s early morning. I’m crunched on the couch, in my gloomy living room, trapped under those dark, Gothic gables. Imagine if they ever caught fire.

But I’m of good cheer.

It’s Saturday. My regular evening soirée is tonight.

Would you like to come?

I have a fire going. The flames are licking up the back of the fireplace. They’re roaring. Glowing.

Every day, I burn more and more of the pathway to the house. All those wood chips. Who put them there? Nobody can walk on them. Nothing but trip hazards. I’m replacing that entire winding lane with a new, extra smooth, golden pathway. Fake golden.

Fake is the new thing.

How am I managing this? I’m computer literate. That’s saying something for an old babe.

That old narrow stairway in the back of the living room. I burned it up long ago. Rickety steps. Every one. Nice dry wood, however. Wonderful glow.

I installed a new hydraulic elevator. Ordered it online. Especially for seniors. Imagine that.

My reading glasses? Where are they now?

What? Me, worry?

I’m positively pneumatic. Up and down.

I always find them.

I’ll be wearing platinum jewelry this evening. Fake, but gleaming. Goes with my glossy grey wig. My dress will be lavender. My cane, a lilac glitter. I’ll glow.

I married well. First and second, both rich. But third. Alas.

Did you notice all those trees surrounding the house? They aren’t real money. Who knew?

Environmentalists. They make me crazy.

My old friends are coming tonight. They glow, but they come anyway.

Oh! Here’s Toni now! Call out the Jazz Trio.

Toni went quick. Stroke. Spreadeagled on her concrete driveway. Not her style. Just as well. Died flat broke. Shot through every last dollar. Had fun doing it. Snooty the whole way.

I’m anxious watching Toni struggle up the wooded pathway. Hanging off her bent walker are Velcro bags filled with overdue bills and her last eviction notice. I found them later.

Why do dead people glow?

Toni’s first house was truly Grand, a bulky Spanish Mission. Hung over the Coast Highway. Glorious. We loved it. Once owned by Charles Laughton of Hunchback fame. Hollywood cache. A big perk. A pipe organ surrounded the fireplace. Ravel’s “Bolero.” Always booming. Roaring fire, blazing.

The bank trucks. Due the next morning. The last of Toni’s French antiques. We wined and dined. Celebrated. Who cared? A Medieval bacchanalian feast. Beowulf. Gothic rafters. “Ode de Joy.”

Don’t laugh. We were crazy fruits and nuts living in the sizzling California desert. Hot young sprouts, all of us, burning, aching, ready for anything.

After dinner?

An orgy.

Oh, to be 30 again.

Oh, the glow.

The mansion is on the market.

Memories. Can I buy them?

Did you notice the surrounding trees? Whoever heard of tree huggers? They’re ruining my dreams.

Last night I burned a little bit of the roof. The shingles danced and popped. Made a wonderful glow.

A pyre. For me?

You can’t build houses with shingle roofs in California anymore. Too dangerous.

Wouldn’t that roof look spectacular all aflame?

Will I glow too? Will I shine red?

Don’t worry. I’ll always be splendid at my Saturday night soirées.


Simulacrum: A Cottage in a Deep, Dark Wood

As soon as I clocked in for my shift, my boss Minerva tapped my elbow. “I’m adding a manual order to your queue. A Cottage in a Deep, Dark Wood.”

“Oh! Thanks a lot,” I said, meaning it. That was a premium offering, with a higher base rate and tip share. “What story?”

“Little Red Riding Hood variant,” Minerva replied. “Details are in your packet.”

“No one wants the original,” I said glumly.

Minerva narrowed her eyes. “If the guest’s parents wanted a uniform experience for their child, they’d take her to one of those retro amusement parks.” She shuddered. “We’re above that.”

“Of course,” I agreed quickly. I didn’t want her to regret giving me the premium assignment. But I enjoyed amusement parks. They were fun 21st-century relics, although I was glad my 27th-century job didn’t require performing in a sweaty costume.

Minerva departed, and I entered my Simulacrum booth, the door sliding shut behind me. My monitor blinked to life, bathing the space in blue light. Cottage was first in my queue. Beatrix, age 7, wanted tea with the Big Bad Wolf. No mention of whether this was before or after the Wolf devoured Grandma.

I pressed a button on my chair’s armrest console. The chair flattened out and my control device, a slim silver headband that tapped into my neural pathways, dropped onto my forehead. I closed my eyes and entered the Simulacrum the Algorithm had designed for Beatrix.

I woke up in a bed of green grass, the blades prickly and smelling of rain. I’d traded my brown skin and black hair for gray fur and three-inch fangs. On all fours, I trotted to a small white cottage, a column of smoke emanating from a chimney. Inside, I found a pink dress and a white cap. My avatar’s lack of opposable thumbs made donning the costume a chore, but I eventually got it on.

“Computer, it’s best to arrive in costume when not in human form. End note.” A chime registered the computer’s acknowledgment. I had barely climbed into the bed when Beatrix opened the door.

She was adorable, small for her age, with brown pigtails, olive skin, and hazel eyes that beamed with delight when she saw me.

“Come in, my dear,” I growled. “You look good enough to eat.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wolf.” Beatrix sat down at a table near the fireplace, where a porcelain tea set was laid out. Beatrix patted her basket. “I brought treats.”

I sat up. “Wolf? I am your own beloved grandmother.”

“No, you aren’t,” Beatrix declared, placing scones on a tray.

She wasn’t going to indulge me, not even a bit. I climbed out of bed and sat down opposite her. “Fine. Can I call you Bea?”

“Sure.”

“Wouldn’t you rather have tea with a princess?”

Bea scrunched her nose. “No. Wolves are cool.”

“They blow down houses,” I argued.

“Maybe he was mad the pigs didn’t let him in. Maybe he just wanted friends.” Bea poured my tea. “That’s what I’d want,” she added quietly.

My right ear perked up in canine fashion. It dawned on me that Bea was alone. Many guests came with siblings or a posse of agemates.

“Depends on the friend,” I observed. “Not everyone is good company.” My tea was the perfect temperature, not too sweet.

Bea nibbled a scone. “That’s true.”

I tasted my pastry, expecting fruit but finding savory meat filling instead. It tasted wonderful in this body. How thoughtful.

“A good friend is hard to find but worth searching for,” I advised. “I myself don’t take tea with everyone.”

Bea smiled into her teacup.

“Also, I ate your grandma.”

“How did she taste?” Bea asked sweetly.

The two of us stared at each other. I was the first to laugh, which came out as a snarling bark.

“Computer, cancel the rest of my jobs today.”


Untitled

Come closer, Detective Johnson.

Closer.

Keep your balance!

The soil beneath your feet is loose and uneven. What if you fall and break your teeth on a rock? Sure, you’d adjust—most men your age wear dentures anyway—but there are dozens of nerve bundles encased in those little enamel shells. It’d be wise to not expose them.

Alas, here you are, trudging a dirt path deep through the woods toward our quaint yellow cottage, intent on uncovering the answer to our town’s greatest unsolved mystery: how several of its denizens have simply disappeared over the course of decades.

Brother Bobby in ’79.

Cousin Maurice in ’91.

And, of course, sweet Cathy, your only daughter, in ’98.

Three missing in your family alone. You’re grateful for that. Some people in this town have lost seven, eight. They were all last seen before entering these woods, and no matter the countless search and rescue attempts, no team of authorities has stumbled upon our yellow cottage.

That’s because we steer them away. It’s a natural process, like insects pumping pheromones into the air to ward off approaching predators the moment they breach our radius of influence.

Every group of cops or concerned citizens searching these woods for answers succumbs to a subconscious malaise that misdirects them elsewhere if they trespass too close to our quarters.

But not you, Detective Johnson.

Today, you march on with a fearless bravado you've emulated from the retired detectives you’ve seen portrayed on television. Men with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Men who want to be the hero.

The good news, Detective Johnson, is that your suspicions are correct. We’re all here in this quaint, yellow cottage. Bobby’s here. Maurice. Sweet Cathy, too. Every last one of us who has disappeared from the face of this Podunk town.

The bad news, Detective Johnson, is that you’re not going to be a hero. Your fearless bravado is a fantasy. The truth is much colder: Just as insects pump out pheromones to steer away predators, they also do it to lure in prey.

Closer, now.

Closer.

See it. Behold it. Our little yellow cottage. The paint is dull and ridden with craquelure like wrinkled skin, the bricks loose in arthritic joints, the windows clouded with cataracts. The word that comes from your mouth is derelict.

Wrong, Detective. The correct word is malnourished.

You place your hand on the doorknob and pull it, and the revulsion that twists your face is our favorite part. It’s the moment you realize this cottage isn’t an inanimate assemblage of brick and wood but a living organism whose ravenous mouth you just voluntarily opened. It’s us. This is our body. You stare into the hallway, and the oak panels quaver like the peristaltic movements of a human esophagus. The cellar’s dark gullet awaits you.

Your head is easier to crack open than we anticipated. It’s like biting down on a peanut shell. No match for brick teeth. Our wooden tongue that you mistook for the floor explores the inside of your skull and unspools those gray coils like ramen. You should thank us for eliminating your pain receptors first. Some of us know how excruciating a thousand splinters feel.

Finally.

Satiation.

Feel it. Feel our paint restoring to its once-vibrant coat. Feel the bricks reassembling, the mortar between them strengthening.

The clouds in our windows eyes are dispersing. The shattered panes are collecting themselves and mending together again. Our vision is clearer.

Our mind is stronger.

We’re so glad you’ve joined us, Detective Johnson. Your knowledge of the town and its many inhabitants is invaluable to us.

We, the Disappeared, are one.


FOR SALE

This quaint, 2-bedroom, 1-bath house is nestled in a cozy little forest. The antiquated sugar stucco was recently renovated for a more ... mature look. It's perfect for off-the-grid living; there is no need for a noisy A/C unit as the looming trees do such a fine job sinking the house into silent shadow. The privacy-conscious will be happy to know the nearest neighbor is a playground on the other side of the wood, a quarter-mile away.

From the back door, you can follow a footpath through a patch of bright-red rhubarb—lush with the best bone meal fertilizer—to a period iron gate buttered up to perfection. Swing it open on its silent hinges, and you're standing at a lake as smooth as a silver mirror.

Inside, the master bedroom is dominated by a four-poster bed. The queen-sized mattress is filled with environmentally friendly stuffing: the softest human hair. While the décor may be atypical, it will suit those who collect oddities. Purchase of the house includes one-of-a-kind stuffed birds, shrunken heads, and voodoo dolls which decorate the large half of the bedroom that doubles as a proper library overflowing with an assortment of enchanting reads. For those interested in the occult or esoteric, they will be spellbinding.

In the eclectic bathroom, we replaced the silver hand mirror mounted next to an ivory stand big enough for all your creams and potions. Climb in the washtub held aloft on four golden chicken feet, and soak to your heart's content. A bewitching view of the silver lake framed by heavy curtains will keep you captivated long after the water has cooled.

The spotless kitchen is equipped for the do-it-yourself butcher. And with the oversized brick oven, you'll never have to worry about how big the roast is. If, instead, you feel like making a stew for a party of 15, there is a pot big enough. This kitchen will make your mouth water with the savory, sweet scents of meats cooked here. As a bonus, the pantry comes stocked with all the spices you could ever want from rosemary to hyssop to eye-of-newt.

The nursery is a child's dream. It is filled with the brightest colors as if a baker had decorated with fondant and the tastiest candies. The tykes will be enthralled for ages while you binge-watch the latest shows. And with an easy-to-use peephole, you'll be able to check on them and get back before the commercial break ends. We all want to keep those precious morsels safe, and the nursery is the safest room in the house. It is childproofed behind a heavy iron door with a thick, predator-proof padlock. You can sleep soundly knowing you have the only key.

As the bank must make a sale and has no time for a proper auction, this lovely house comes as-is and fully furnished. You never know what treasures you may find in an attic this old. To name a few: an antique broom, a large black sun hat, and loads of children's clothing—costumes spanning the last 500 years. For more information, contact Alex Lobanov, Executor of the estate of Baba Yaga, a.k.a. "Boney Legs," at 301-555-9242.


The Contest

The studio was a crisp 62 degrees, just the temperature Chef Jeff liked. There was a rumor it was in his contract. Lights beat down on the contestants while cameras rolled, catching every moment. Later, it would be edited into a manufactured version of events.

“Is the grass too green?” I stood back and inspected the landscape. “Should I add more?”

“Nah. Leave the pathway a little rugged. It’s better that way,” my best friend, Jen, instructed.

“I messed up.” I pointed to the patches of grass that were greener than the rest. “You can tell those are from a different batch and I accidentally used the wrong icing tip.”

“Relax. It’s more realistic when it’s not picture perfect … my grass is exactly like that at home. It’s greener where Scout does his dirty business.” She picked up a small piece of mulch and ate it.

“Don’t eat our work, Jen.” I slapped her hand as she went to grab one more. “It took forever to make those!”

“I know, I know. It’s just, I’m starving!”

“Here,” I said, handing her a mangled tree from our discard box. “You can have this.”

“Oh thanks, the reject tree.”

“You know it wasn’t my fault,” I defended.

“The color is way off. That’s your department.”

“Jen, be honest. You used the wrong tool to make the bark. It looked like a turd.”

A tree shifted toward the cottage, halting our bantering. Jen carefully twisted and lifted the tree while I used a small spatula to apply more of our edible cement.

“Five more minutes!” one of the judges on the panel announced.

I pulled out a piece of crumpled paper and held it up. “The pièce de résistance.”

“The formula! This is going to be epic,” Jen whispered.

I picked up two small flasks and handed them to her. “This is the only useful thing I learned in chemistry,” I confessed.

“That was 19 years ago. It’s the only thing you remember,” she teased.

“Not true! I remember … baking soda and vinegar make an awesome volcano.” I gave her the side-eye as I adjusted a branch.

“That was your science fair project in middle school.”

“Technicalities.” I shrugged.

Jen glanced around the room at the competition. “This could be what sets us apart from everyone.” She unfolded the piece of paper and smoothed it out. “These measurements are from the last experiment, right?”

“Yeah—when we got it to smoke for 14 minutes and 25 seconds.”

“We’re second in line to be judged. We can’t alter our project once judging starts, so once we mix these babies,” she said, swirling the flasks, “and place it in the cottage…”

“It’ll still be burning when the judges come to our table,” I finished.

Jen writhed her wrists. “If we win—”

“When we win.” I winked.

“I’ll pay off my credit card debt and put the rest away for Maddie’s college fund, and you can pay off your medical bills.”

“Being responsible is so boring.” Fishing through our discard box, I removed a small tree and placed it near the walkway leading up to the cottage.

“Ooh that’s just the right touch,” Jen said.

“Hey, what if we did something else,” I suggested, twirling a strand of hair.

“Like what?”

“Open that bakery we’ve always talked about.”

Her eyes lit up. “I love it,” she said, biting a fingernail. “But it’s so risky.”

“It’ll always be risky. What if we stopped believing chasing dreams was a luxury, but an obligation?”

Jen thought a minute and took a deep breath. “Call it.”

“If the smoke lasts longer than our record time, luck is on our side. We go for it, and we can’t chicken out.”

Jen nodded in agreement.

The trio of judges stood and straightened their white uniforms. “Two more minutes!” one announced.

“Are you scared?”

“I’m less scared of failing and more scared of never trying.”

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