Towards the beginning of the month I was giving a link to a 24-hour short story contest. My days were filled with reading, watching movies and too much drinking, so, I reasoned I could take one day out of my schedule of nothing to write a short story. I had paid for six years of tuition to learn how to write, and thus figured the five-dollar entry fee was appropriate despite not having any type of job. I realized when I signed up for the contest that 24 hours was not a long time, but that didn’t stop me from procrastinating. I didn’t even type my first word on the story until the deadline was less than twelve hours away. I figured it was just as important to keep the routine of closing the bars on Friday night as it was to get this story completed. I got home, made myself some coffee and a bowl of Mac ‘n Cheese and then finally began writing. I finished the story with three hours to spare. I’m not saying that I have a semi-colon’s chance in an encyclopedia to be picked as the winner, (I’m betting the contest is ran more like a raffle than an actual contest) but I am really proud of the work I pumped out. Here is the topic and word count followed by my contribution to the contest. (fyi- during the time of the contest I was reading a lot of Jorge Luis Borges and was obsessed with magic-realism)
Mosquitoes buzzed, but kept their distance as the aroma of
insect repellent overpowered the smoke coming from the dying campfire. The counselor was getting to the good part of the ghost story and the campers were all quiet, straining to hear the raspy whispers of the protagonist. The sudden sound of footsteps approaching on the pine needle carpet silenced the group. All heads turned simultaneously and the little girls screamed when a man emerged from the tree line, dressed in torn clothing and carrying a pack. The pack started to move as an infant's startled cry joined the panicked chorus...
WORD COUNT Stories for today's topic must not exceed 1050
Age of Accountability
Christopher C. Gilmore
The evening’s chapel concluded with a Q and A session with the preacher. As the children sat in an unorganized mass of innocence, Art and the other counselors snuck out the back door to verify the night’s plans.
While the campers asked questions about original sin and the age of accountability, the adults debated the acceptableness of telling ghost stories around the campfire. One leader suggested the message of terror would be counteractive to the message of hope that the camp was founded on, and to spread nothing less than that message would be an injustice to the parents and the children. While Art listened to both sides of the argument, he could feel the tension in the room begin to mount. He quickly decided the plans would proceed with the justification that a summer camp with out ghost stories was like a prom without dancing.
Meanwhile, little Matty was given the privilege of asking the last question of the night. He asked pastor Mark, “When do you know when you’ve reached the age of accountability?”
Mark’s reply was simple; “Before you reach the age of accountability you won’t fear death. In fact, you’ll embrace it and look forward to returning home. On the other hand, after you’ve reached the age of accountability there will be nothing more that you want to do than go back to the time when you were right with God. (beat) Once again children, thank you for your attention tonight, and if you’ll bow your heads with me I’ll ask our Lord to bless your spooky evening in the woods.”
After the prayer, the children rushed from the rustic stone chapel to gather their jackets and canteens and be the first to meet back at iron bell in the center of camp. When the last of the children arrived, Art pointed the legion of campers towards the mountain, and watched as the counselors lead the children to the fire pit at the brink of the forest. He patted his back pocket to confirm he brought the book of scary stories, as he took up the rear of the group.
By the time the group reached the fire pit there was already a giant fire blazing. Art had suggested that his counselors tell the children that the fire lit itself on the nights when there was the most evil in the forest. The lie worked on the majority of the children except for cabins three and nine, who were a little suspicious about their counselor’s sudden arrival at the bonfire after being absent the entire hike.
Art handed the book to Jerry, the theatre major of the staff, and found a seat in the last row of circular pine benches. As soon as the story began, Art felt a tug on his shirtsleeve. It’s little Matty.
“What is it, Matt?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“If you want, you can just go out in the woods. It’ll be okay this time.”
“No, I can’t”
Art stood and made eye contact with one of the other counselors. He pointed to Matty and mouthed the word bathroom. The leader of cabin seven nodded and turned back to the story.
“Alright, buddy, lets head back down the mountain.”
When they got far enough from the light of the bonfire and the exaggerated story, Art flipped on his flashlight. At that moment Matty asked, “What time is it?”
Art looked at his watch curiously and replied, “That’s strange. My watched stopped. But I’m betting it’s about nine twenty.” If Art had kept looking at his watch he would have noticed that his watch stopped only for that exact moment. The very next moment the clock would resume. However, it would resume progress backwards, and with each step forward the time would exponentially move backwards. Now, if little Matty had had a watch of his own, not only would he have not had to ask the time, but he would also notice his clock was moving forward at the same rate that Art’s was moving backwards.
Halfway down the mountain Art realized his eyes were directly even with Matt’s eyes, but he gave it only a second’s thought before he was distracted by the bouncing circle of light being projected onto the trail ahead. Matt also noticed, but the pressure on his bladder forbid him to give too much credence to it.
In nearly no time at all, Matt could see the lights of the camp in the valley. He looked back at Art, who was now nearly a full foot shorter than him, and said, “I gotta go. Wait for me outside the bathrooms.”
Matt took off running. Art couldn’t yell fast enough to tell him to wait for him, and could only listen as he heard the pounding of feet on the trail and the tearing of fabric. He just picked up a rock and threw it in the direction Matt had run.
After Matt had relieved himself, he left the bathroom, but didn’t see Art anywhere. He called out for the head counselor, but his calls were answered with silence. Thinking Art may not have arrived yet, he began to walk back up the trail. Not even twenty yards from the bathroom he found the flashlight Art was carrying. As he bent down to pick it up, he saw a pile of clothes only an arm’s length from the flashlight. He knelt over the sprawled out flannel shirt and saw something wiggling inside. He pulled back the collar of the shirt and saw a tiny infant. When he reached down to pick he child up, he felt a wiry tingle of a beard on his bare chest and noticed that his clothes where in shreds. Ignoring the impulse to worry about what mother would say, he simply picked up the baby and ran towards the bonfire.
When he heard the pronounced voice of Jerry, he knew he was close. When he saw the light, he jumped back into the circle where a chorus of shrill screams met him. Matt froze as he felt a vice-like squeeze on his heart. He clutched the small child and fell back to the ground. He stared at the sky and said, “Lord, your child is coming.”