Fall, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!


The pristine snow on the hill was marred only by the bright orange and red leaves that had fallen in the night wind. The early snowstorm had pushed fall into winter, but fall was still fighting for recognition. She couldn't dwell on the beauty around her, however, because she had only moments to decipher the etchings on the gravestone...

by Ruby Rollins, Bergsig, George, South Africa
(email link not published on request)

The dry autumn leaves crunched underfoot as they moved a little way off from the caravans and the horses. Weak sunlight filtered through the trees, shining on his black hair and glinting off his golden earrings. They had been friends since childhood and over the years that friendship had developed into something more. But, her father had strictly forbidden it. Now, at sixteen years of age, she was faced with an enormous decision.

"Come with me, Anna," he pleaded. She looked away as he continued: "Poland is no longer safe for either Jews or Roma."

"I cannot leave my father," she said softly, "it would break his heart."

"I know we will be together one day." She looked into his dark eyes. "We will find each other again."

He did not answer. He understood her dilemma and, with an aching heart, all he could do was hold her tightly.

She cried all the way back to the ghetto and sobbed herself to sleep that night thinking of Dzwigo and his Romany family now making their way in silence over the hills to the border.

At three a.m. there were frightening noises. She sat up in bed, her heart pounding as she heard the knocking at the door below. Her father in the next room stirred and called urgently to her to hide away. Racing down the stairs, she climbed into the broom cupboard and wrapped herself in a carpet her father had placed there earlier, in readiness for a moment such as this. They broke down the door of the house and she clenched her eyes shut as she heard the shots. The noise of the guns was followed by a dreadful dragging sound and she knew that, for her father, the end had come. They were all over the house now: searching. The door of the broom cupboard was flung open but God must have heard her silent prayers and it was closed again almost immediately. She stayed there until morning, listening to the shots and the screams from the street. Then she heard a rumbling sound of trucks moving off and this was followed by a long, eerie silence.

In the morning, her mouth dry from fear, she at last opened the cupboard door. She tried to ignore the red smear staining the wooden floorboards and walked out onto the street. There was no-one about but, in the distance, near the top of the road, she could see a huddle of uniformed men. The smoke from their cigarettes mingled with the early morning haze over the ghetto. It was freezing cold and, keeping close to the row of houses, she turned off down an alleyway and made her way towards the woods. There were not many of them but she was not going to allow herself to be spotted by the few soldiers left behind.

Dzwigo had taught her to read the gypsy signs. They were called 'patrins' and she knew that he would have left a trail for her to follow. She found the first one easily. To anyone else the small pile of sticks and stones would be unassuming but, to the trained eye, they revealed a message. The gypsies had taken the forest road toward the old cemetery on the hill. She was almost out of the woods when she saw two soldiers standing only yards away. Her heart was beating furiously as she flattened herself against a tree. For more than an hour, she stood there until finally they moved away.

They walked right past her on the other side of the tree and she almost fainted then from fear but, at last, she knew it was safe to go on. It had started to snow while she had been hiding and in her anxiety she had not even noticed. The pristine snow on the hill was marred only by the bright orange and red leaves that had fallen in the night wind. The early snowstorm had pushed fall into winter but she couldn't dwell on the beauty around her as she made her way towards the old graveyard. She searched and at last found what she was seeking. A small, red handkerchief had been tied to to one of the gravestones and below it was a mark. She had only moments to decipher the etching on the gravestone because out in the open she was afraid of being spotted. At last she deciphered the scratched marks. They were headed towards the southern border. All day she walked, pausing only to eat snow when she grew thirsty. The occasional wheel ruts, in places where the snow had not yet fallen, told her that she was on the right path.

Towards evening, the last rays of the sun cast long, red shadows on the blanket of white snow. She could no longer find any wagon trails to show the way or any patrins left behind for her to follow. The ground was now rapidly being covered by the thickly falling snow. Almost ready to give up, she suddenly heard a familiar sound: a violin playing a sad, haunting melody! Then she noticed a thin spire of smoke rising from beyond the next hill. Racing now, she saw that ahead of her was a dense forest. He was waiting there, watching out for her from the edge of the trees. He saw her and ran towards her, gathering her up in his arms.

As they made their way through the little camp, an old gypsy hag stirring a pot of something that smelled wonderful, gave them a toothless grin. Anna looked up at Dzwigo and smiled. Tomorrow would bring with it a whole new set of difficulties but, for them, the war no longer existed. All that mattered was that they had found each other and were together, even if it was for only this one night.

What Ruby won:

$200 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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