I was so pleased to learn a few days ago that my story, “Quenched,” has been awarded Honorable Mention in the WritersWeekly Fall, 2015, 24-Hour Contest.
Contestants were given a paragraph that we only needed to “touch upon” in some way for our story to qualify, a maximum length, and yes, only 24 hours to craft the tale. I decided to take the challenge. I’m so glad I did.
Let me say, it did not start out a fortuitous 24 hours: I had just had a huge caramel macchiato at our favorite café (those of you who know me well know that much caffeine is so not gonna do me well) when I received a text: our son was in the hospital. The poor guy started texting me that he was thirsty but they wouldn’t give him anything to drink, etc. That would wreck any mother’s concentration.
I had to stop myself from packing up the car and heading to his bedside. We had just been to see him days before, one of our cars was in need of repair, and Barry had no more vacation time to spare. All is well with our son now, thankfully, but that day I was a mess and he, of course, much more so.
And oh yeah — when I get stressed my blood sugar falls. Fast. So even before I started writing my long-suffering husband had to put up with me having a tearfest. He fed me (not literally!)and told me all would be well; that no, our son did not require my immediate presence. (I suspect Barry felt just as torn up to not be there.)
Then I settled in to write, because what else does a worrying writer do? Between my still-swirling feelings and the (you know you read it too in the aisle at B & N!) dystopic YA I’ve been reading, it’s no wonder I came up with what I did.
Want to read my entry? I just re-read it and asked myself what I was trying to say. I think I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. Comments welcome.
Again, I’m chuffed to have won! Thank you, Angela Hoy and the crew over at WritersWeekly. What fun.
Now for my story…forgive the formatting…it shows up right on my screen but when I preview it, the words clump. Hmm…
“Catch her – she’s the last one,” the Convincer yells.
The cornfields have housed me for days now. I run for the sanctuary of a lone tree in the distance, stopping up short when I spy a door in the trunk surrounded by odd etchings.
The rough-hewn entry opens as if expecting me. I scrape my fingers against the rough bark of its interior as I duck in. I sense the tree’s benevolent intent.
I place my fingers, my cheek, against the inside of the tree. For a moment I rest, breathing deeply.
The last of the ten, I won’t give in.
“It’s painless,” the Convincers cried at the beginning. “All you need to do is drink this; nanobots will take it from there.”
That was their mistake, they’d say later, telling us, giving us a choice, because none of us who were still us trusted them after they said that. Those who gave in did so for every reason except belief and trust.
Those of us who resisted began avoiding tap water, hoarding the sealed bottles, those dated before the request for compliance.
Eventually we took to drinking in the forest, from cupped leaves after storms, by squeezing moss. We attempted to filter the water, but suddenly all of the supplies were restricted. You had to have a license.
“It’s to benefit us, all of us, not just you. You’re being selfish,” they said.
Again and again we refused.
We’d dream and wake to someone standing over us. They wouldn’t make us, they swore, but if we wanted to buy, sell out. If we wanted to eat, drink up.
“It won’t hurt,” they promised. “It will equalize us.”
So apps full of games, rewards, reminders appeared on our phones warning, threatening. “Apt” analogies were drawn; peer pressure was applied like a tourniquet.
First to cave in were the young, because they were offered comfy jobs and double portions. They were so young they trusted, eventually.
Then the elderly, because they were too frail to withstand, complied.
The Midwestern corn buckled just as my uncle, too weary to go on, did. He drank from the conveniently cold bottle that the Convincers carried right to his side.
“Oh, try it!” he urged us. His change was abrupt.
The nine of us hurried on, including my two sisters, my brother, who fell early. Various neighbors were picked off by thirst. As soon as they gave in they smiled at us but their change set us fleeing.
One by one they left my side and I understood the plea for forgiveness in their eyes as they raised the longed for liquid to their lips. I’d watch and imagine the fluid flowed into my own mouth and for a moment, I was saved.
My best friend caved on Day 38 when the hunger got to him and he was promised an Elephant Ear, an Indiana delicacy made with fried dough and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and his favorite, if only he would drink, just drink.
He was the last besides me. This time, I didn’t let go gracefully: “I hope you choke,” I cried as I watched the inside of him die as he became not-him.
“You’ll remain essentially yourself,” they claimed.
I was already me, so why should I want to change? I challenged.
They sighed. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t afford the expenditure of water.
The cornfield, our pretend sanctuary for the last week, was filled with the rustle of Convincers in thick shoes bearing backpacks full of food and, more importantly, water. Tainted water.
I ate the last of my jerky, and then the end of my mixed nuts.
Red leaves swirled, and they knew by the weather, soon they’d have me. Though why I alone filled them with fear, I can’t say. One cannot propagate alone.
The temperature dropped at night, and near my ear while I huddled beneath a sheaf of corn and shivered in my sleep I’d hear offers of a warm bed, thick quilts, if only I’d give in.
Sometimes it rained and I cried with my mouth open, cupping my hands, wondering how water, something I had taken so for granted was now the only thing I wanted. Clean water, that is. Uncontaminated by compromise, however good they promised it would be.
Fear of change? That wasn’t it. Rebellion? No. The spirit of the poet lives by its individuality, I argued behind tree stumps and over fences. Words were my bombs. Always they returned the volley. Always they had an explanation, an excuse.
Now I wander gratefully through this tree’s interior, past the toadstools (I didn’t know they could grow down here), past the holes plugged with nuts (do squirrels burrow so far in?).
Words are no longer mine, unable to be formed by my parched lips.
I am not a cheese but I stand very much alone.
Ahead, a pool of water reflects like a lake in a cave. Funny, I didn’t know trees could hold water. Don’t the roots take – I cease thinking and bend and drink. My mouth blesses me from the inside out until just like that, I’m one of them.
The tree halves and my fellow humans surround me. The water beneath my feet reflects my new features, indistinct now from any of them. We are all the same color. We are all the same sex. No wrinkles betray any differences in age.
Suddenly, I do understand. We are one, and finally, for the first time in my life, all of me is quenched.