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Spring, 2006
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

He turned the knob on the short-wave radio, trying desperately to hear any word from the outside. It had taken them three days to arrive at their mountain cabin on foot and they were relieved that no squatters had taken possession of their property in the mayhem.

While his wife and daughter made an inventory of the scant amount of food they'd left in the cabinets last summer, his son hovered near his elbow, also waiting in silence. He dialed slower and everyone froze when the room suddenly erupted with static and a child's voice...

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


The Unsound Alarm
by Abigail McGowan Veazie, New York, NY

Dad had finally cracked.

I had tolerated my father's delusions for far too long now. Mother had the vacant look on her face to which I had grown so accustomed. Dad had made sure to stockpile the medication she was taking before he closed down his practice several months ago; the pills had all but erased her personality, and she barely said a word these days. Joe was too young to comprehend what was happening. I found myself, at 17, the only sane adult in our household, and I had to take a stand against my father.

The trees outside rustled lightly as the late summer wind blew. The early-morning sunlight streamed through the cabin windows, illuminating the boxes of canned foods, piles of blankets and the huge stack of Dad's survival books teetering next to the large wooden table we were circled around. He'd begun compiling his reading material several weeks ago. That's when I first noticed the change.

I was sailing through my last week of high school, looking forward to a summer of fun with friends and earning some money for college working at my father's office, helping him with patient records and scheduling appointments, though even families he had been treating for years had seemed to vanish. He was becoming obsessed with websites and books dedicated to wild conspiracy theories. Our house was littered with papers; notes were tacked on every surface, with lists of necessities and the evacuation instructions Dad had devised for us to follow in case of emergency. I had never seen him so disoriented, so manic, so scared. He explained to me that none of us were safe in the house we had lived in since the year I was born. According to the books he had ordered from the websites he frequented, the "enemy" was everywhere, could be anyone, and they were planning something big. The stuff I was hearing from my friends was compounding the worry that plagued me. Their parents had been instructed by my father to get rid of their cell phones and unplug any television in their homes manufactured in the past five years. The enemy was using highly advanced technology to locate and track the people in our community through these electronics. We lived in a college town, and the school had graduated some of the most powerful and successful scientists, engineers and software developers our country had seen in the past 50 years. Dad said the enemy saw our citizens as a threat to their own power, and they wanted to destroy us.

Mom had been madly popping the pills that Dad had prescribed for her headaches and it was obvious she was completely addicted, a fact that didn't faze my father one bit. She slept most of the day, and when she was awake, she shuffled aimlessly around the house, looking for something she'd misplaced: a favorite mug, her car keys, a magazine she'd been reading. She didn't even speak much anymore, and since she seemed unaware of Dad's growing paranoia, I took over the responsibilities she once had. I fixed all of our meals, did the laundry and, most days, took Joe to the park for the entire afternoon, away from Mom's fruitless scavenger hunt and Dad's maniacal planning.

Monday morning saw the culmination of Dad's swelling madness. Joe's tiny frame was curled up against mine; he had come into my room and asked to sleep with me last night. I could tell how lonely he was feeling by the frown that tugged at the corners of his little five-year-old mouth.We were sleeping peacefully when Dad burst into the room, flipping on the light and shouting that we had to leave now, get up, he'd already packed our things, get up, get up! We were going to the summer cabin he and Mom had bought several years ago, deep in the Mackinaw Mountains. He had received a distressing e-mail from one of his conspiracy buddies and it looked like the enemy was ready to attack our small town at any time.

The clock said 4:30 a.m. There was no stopping him. Dad had already guided Mom into the front seat of the station wagon and he scooped little Joe up in his arms and raced down the hall. I couldn't let them go off alone with him. The person who had accompanied me to my college interviews last summer, the man who had taught me to read, fish and tie my shoes was insane. He had gone off the deep end and wanted to take us with him.

The drive took 2 1/2 hours. Dad left our car on the main highway to throw off the enemy's trackers, and forced us to walk the last leg of the journey. It was three grueling days of comforting my little brother, now terrified and confused, hungry and tired, keeping my mother from wandering off on her own, and doing my best to keep myself together until we stopped and I could figure out what we were going to do.

There wasn't another cabin around for hundreds of acres. The summers we had spent there in the past had been devoid of any interaction with the outside world. Dad's eyes scanned the trees wildly. He could hear the hysterical cries of people running down the forest paths, apparently the area of attack was wider than he had anticipated. I heard nothing but the crunching of leaves as our feet dragged along through the overgrown trail that took us to the cabin. He pointed to the sky, jabbing his finger at the helicopters that were circling above us. I saw only the small figure of a far-off hawk that crossed the clear blue sky.

Dad barricaded the door of the cabin with logs the moment we had all stepped inside. Mom stared off into the woods through the dusty panes of the window beside her, and Joe crouched at Dad's feet as my father searched the dial on the short-wave radio he had set up, cursing the enemy, hoping to hear any news on the invasion.

As he looked up at me with tears in his eyes, I exploded with all the rage that had been building inside me. He stopped fiddling with the radio and stared me down.

"This is it, Cassandra. They're getting closer, that's what they're saying." He gestured to the radio, which was emitting ear-splitting static and garbled mumbles that may or may not have been a human voice.

"I can't let them take my family.I have no choice." He slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out a heavy-looking, long-barrelled gun. I lunged for my father and, when the gun went off, I clutched my arms, my chest, my stomach. I felt no pain. My mother and Joe were crouched in the corner of the cabin, both with eyes closed. My own eyes traveled the room to rest on my father's lifeless body.

The radio was still screaming.

 

 


What Abigail won:

$250 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)


ENTER THE NEXT 24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST HERE!
Contest guidelines are HERE.

 


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