Spring, 2008
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!


She thought she heard water trickling over rocks and turned toward the sound, ignoring the thorns that sliced her short, chubby legs. She sat down, drinking as fast as she could. She jumped up when she once again heard all those strangers calling her name, somewhere behind her, higher up. She wasn't sure. She quickly stepped back and her hair got tangled on a low branch. She wrenched it free, her panic having dulled all pain hours ago. The forest canopy swallowed her as she sobbed and stumbled, repeatedly whispering to herself...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.

Her Way
By Valerie L. Wallander, Portland, Oregon

"My way, my way!" She would rather die than submit to their gruesome torture. The sick rituals, beyond anything she had ever known or imagined. She slipped and skidded as she stumbled along the creek bed. Their voices echoed around her; "Ursula! Come back!" "You'll be sorry!" and "Don't make this any harder than it has to be!" She flung herself behind the shelter of a fir tree, and searched the ground for a weapon. Anything to defend herself. She snatched up a weighty stone. "Kill or be Killed." She snarled and resumed running down stream.

The drab gray uniform she'd been issued snagged on a branch and she tore it free. Wiping her pudgy hands down the front of the garment she worried how she would blend in with regular society. The other prisoners had whispered about safe houses. Poor folks who would take a bribe and provide street clothes, no questions asked. Rivulets of sweat ran between Ursula's breasts. She wiped her eyes and squinted downstream, hoping to see some sign of civilization. She cocked her head, listening for the sounds of pursuit, and heard nothing but crickets and birdsong. The shadows deepened in the forest as daylight slowly melted away. She fought back panic, afraid of the darkness that loomed, afraid to be alone, but more afraid to be captured and sent back to the hell that was "Fairview".

Her rounded stomach suddenly lurched and she shuddered, retching up the water that she had drunk earlier. Groaning, she leaned her spinning head against a tree. Spots danced before her eyes and she gulped the cool forest air, trying not to faint. When had she eaten last? Two days ago? A week? She couldn't remember. Ursula's misery was absolute. "Damn you, Aunt Helen! Damn you to Hell!" Exhaustion closed her eyes. Head hanging, she sank to her knees and let herself remember.

Just a few months ago her life had been perfect. Her mother had dumped her out of the car in front of Aunt Helen's house, bellowed "I wash my hands of you!" and driven away. Ursula had been elated. Living with her aunt had been wonderful. They stayed up all night, watching old movies and eating what they liked. Gave each other manicures and pedicures and traded movie magazines. Then summer came. Hateful, poisonous summer. Her aunt had averted her eyes guiltily and tried to reassure her, "Try and be brave, Honey." Then she turned her over to the hatched faced matron at Fairview, got in her baby blue Cadillac, and drove away. Hot tears had coursed down Ursula's face then, just as they did now. Choking back a sob, she dragged herself up and forced herself to keep going.

Walter Graves scratched his stubbly chin and peered out the grubby kitchen window. Pete and Smokey were straining against their chains, and barking madly. "What are those damn dogs barking about now?" snapped Irma, his long suffering wife. "Possums" she said "Please, Lord, let it be possums." Walter ignored her, putting on his hat and grabbing his lantern. "You can't keep helping these girls! They're going to have the law on us yet."

Walter paused in the open doorway "It ain't right what they do to them poor girls up on the hill! No sir, it just ain't right." With that he closed the door and went out into the night to search for her. Irma watched him go and fought the urge to lock the door behind him.

Ursula hid in the shadows as the old man approached. She smoothed her snarled hair and tried to stop trembling. Please God, let this man be sympathetic and save her from the unspeakable horror that was Fairview. Walter set down his lantern and patted the hounds. "Hush up now boys," he scolded. "You two don't know sic'em from c'mere." He caught her movement out of the corner of his eye and spoke a little louder. "Nothing to be scared of here, that's for sure... Got nice hot coffee up to the house and homemade cookies my wife made just this morning." He waited patiently.

Ursula stepped shyly into the open. Walter smiled, and beckoned her to follow him into the kitchen. She sat at the table and almost cried with relief. She was safe! She had made it out. She drank the strong coffee and crunched the snicker doodles. Sugar and caffeine coursed through her veins, making her giddy. "I was a prisoner but I escaped!"

"Good for you, honey." said Walter, patting her hand.

Irma stood in the doorway eyeing the both of them. "Why don't you freshen up some, Hon?" She smiled at the filthy girl. "There's a change of clothes for you in the bathroom." She glared at Walter but he pretended not to notice.

"You get fixed up and I'll warm up the truck, take you where you want to go," he said.

Bouncing down the road, Ursula's eyes flickered back and forth. They could be out there anywhere searching for her. She pulled the cap down over her eyes and hunched down in the front seat. Walter swung into a brightly lit parking lot. He tucked a twenty dollar bill in her hand and pointed to a brightly lit building. "Good luck, kid!" He smiled as she hopped out, gunned the engine, and roared away into the night.

Ten minutes later Ursula was in the place she had dreamt of ever since being locked up in Fairview Fat Camp. She grinned and sank her teeth into the Burger King Whopper with extra cheese. "My way!!" she garbled through a mouthful of burger ecstasy.

What Valerie won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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