Your Story 42 Winner: The Safe Zone

Prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: “I’ve got to get out of these clothes–fast.”

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

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

Winning Entry

“The Safe Zone”
By Patricia S. Cook

“I’ve got to get out of these clothes—fast,” I say softly to myself, my voice breaking. I obey the man holding a cattle prod inches away from my half-naked body. When the electrified stick crackles close to my ear, the fine hair across my skin raises. I twitch.

“Lift your arms and keep your distance girl,” he roars. “Good. Lift your head. Let me see your neck. Good. Turn around, bend over, touch your toes and spread your legs.”

I move fast and follow the orders given. Besides, what choice do I have? If the man with the prod doesn’t get me, I’m sure one of the others with the M16s would. All the guards look the same with their yellow bodysuits, black gloves, clear face shields, and identical nervous looks in their eyes.

“This one’s clear,” he shouts and then nods at me. “Move along.”

With one last checkpoint ahead, I see the lucky clothed people behind the barbwire fence huddling in groups with army green blankets. I join a woman in line and watch her try to cover her naked body with her hands. I dispense with any sort of modesty and hug my arms, rubbing them in hopes the friction will warm me.

Puffs of smoke laced with the aroma of grilled meats drift by. My stomach aches for food. I don’t dare look down because I imagine it looks as if an alien perches inside, ready to burst through.

Icy winds bite at my flesh. I squat, wrap my arms around my legs and rest my head on my knees. The tingle of tears pricks my eyes while I ignore the knots twisting inside. It’s dusk, and all those who don’t pass the checkpoints by dark will be forced to start all over again tomorrow.

The cry from the woman in front of me draws my attention. She winces as the man scrapes her head with clippers. The buzzing shears moan in protest against her thick blond hair, which falls in strips at his feet. I see his eyes widen right before he jumps back—and I realize she’s infected. He screams and races toward a decontamination tent.

I don’t know if I hear the shots first or see her body jerk under the impact of the bullets. As she falls to the ground, three men with meat hooks in their hands run up to inspect the spot right above her ear. I strain to hear what they say, but can’t make out their muffled words. With blunt force they sink the metal talons deep into her flesh and drag her away to a pit full of other lifeless bodies.

My mouth gapes and my body heaves from the sight, but no tears fall. My humanity is denied all because of dehydration. The pain in my chest deepens when I glance at the people behind the fence, and they seem not to notice or care for the fallen. I’m not sure which.

“This one has been in line with her all day,” I hear a guard announce to a new man at the post.
The words rip through me and my chest tightens. “I’m fine.” I raise my hands in a submissive position. “I’ve kept my distance. I didn’t touch her or even talk to her,” I plead.

“No.” He grabs me to brand my arm with a rejection mark. “Don’t come back for nine days.”

“Please, I’ve traveled so far and I will freeze without clothes,” I beg and pull against his tight hold.

“I can’t help you.”

“Don’t send me back out there,” I sob.

“How old are you?” His brow creases.


The man drops my arm and I overhear his whisper. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He stares at me. “My daughter was twelve, too.” A tear betrays his appearance of control. “Where is your family?” he asks.

“They died in the first wave of bio-attacks. I’m all alone.”

He takes a quick glance around and looks to the sky. “Damn it,” he mutters.

I don’t move or say a word as I watch the man unravel in front of me. But I do smile for the first time in three years when I hear the gentle hum of the clippers click on.

It’s dark as I stumble through the last checkpoint. A guard leans down and strokes my cheek. “Don’t be scared little girl,” he hands me a blanket and grins. “You’ve made it to the safe zone.”


You might also like:

52 thoughts on “Your Story 42 Winner: The Safe Zone

  1. archerbma

    Can someone tell me if I did this right? It’s my first time and I submitted my entry by email and saw all the information that was required on the entry form. Was I supposed to give all that information in the email or was I supposed to fill out the entry form as well? I would appreciate a reply.

  2. BadAdverb

    I received an e-mail postponing this deadline until June 11. I finished my story several weeks ago, and held on to it for last minute editing. Will my story still be considered?

    1. Tiffany Luckey Post author

      The deadline for this specific contest, Your Story #42, was yesterday–June 10, 2012–which means that this contest is now officially closed to submissions. The contest you are referring to is our 81st Annual Writing Competition, in which the deadline was postponed until today–June 11, 2012. For more information regarding that specific contest, visit If you have any other questions regarding our 81st Annual Writing Competition, contact our Competitions Department at

  3. pswinton

    Also, is there a way to know if the entry went through when submitted? I’d hate to clutter your email by sending it via personal email and through submission. I submitted it today through submission.

  4. Americannae

    I had to submit mine twice because there was an error in the first entry that I sent – I hope that’s okay! Just ignore the first one. First-timer’s mistake!

  5. jonathanlivingston

    Another first-timer joins the community. I submitted mine as well, let’s hope for the best…good luck everybody!

    Looking forward to reading all the other entries.

  6. LunaRaven

    Another first timer. I doubt i’ll win but the challenge was good opportunity to stretch my creative writing muscles–which have been sadly neglected in favor of the many tedious academic papers i’ve had to write for school.

  7. BadAdverb

    I fertilized the ovum titled “I’ve got to get out of these clothes–fast!” My seminal work produced three children, and now I do not know how to proceed. Do I offer all three monstrosities at once, entering them together on the same page? Should I pick a favorite progeny and enter only one? They are all horrible and beautiful in my eyes. I have never entered a contest before and am grateful for any advice.
    Thank you

  8. Philster999


    I was just about to post my 750 words (another first-timer) when I noticed that the few italicized words I had included in the story didn’t copy into the post box as italicized. Is there any remedy for this? I looked but didn’t see anywhere that I could possibly adjust the font for the submission. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

      1. Philster999

        Thanks Tiffany,

        I’ll submit the story by e-mail as you suggest. (FYI, I didn’t press “Send” when I uploaded it via the on-line entry form originally so you won’t have to delete it.) I appreciate you getting back to me.

  9. Michelle Tibbetts

    Oh my gosh, this is so much fun! My first time too. My idea hit early this morning and I had to work all day with it bouncing around my brain. I sat down as soon as I got home. I’m happy with the result. I must get back to my WIP but this was kind of like a coffee break. A chance to freshen up the creativity.

  10. Mag

    From these, it seems as it there are a lot of us first timers. I wonder if that will reflect in the genres we wrote. Can’t wait to see other entries. How long after deadline until we get to read entries?

  11. JenWind


    I was submitting, and hit the “submit” button before I put in the title and did a few tweaks to formatting. The whole story is there, and I think formatting is okay, but the title is still missing. Is this a big deal? The title would have put me over 750 words though.

    Sorry this is my first time, and I just want to get it all right!

  12. R.L. Page

    This is great! I’m also among the first-timers. I love the prompt! Reading different interpretations of the prompt will be interesting. I hope people will enjoy reading mine as I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading others. 🙂

  13. fereitica

    I am also a first-timer here, but my dad always told me to check out writer’s digest, because he has always encouraged me to write more… I know I could have taken this story so many different ways, but I went with the first one that really struck me. I hope others like it! (whether I win or not). 🙂

  14. Brenda P. Smith

    Well…, my work is entered. Have no idea how its going to be received, however, I have faith that it is amusing.and will be judged as unique. You have got to be better than that in order to win this one (smile).

    1. StephStrick

      I’m sure it is great…with that opening line there are so many ways to take the story humorous, edgy….I can’t wait to read the submissions.

  15. StephStrick

    I have submitted my entry and I can’t way to see what direction other writers went. The prompt definitely can be the opening to so many genres of writing.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.