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Spring, 2008
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

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.


The Emancipation of Jessica Colburn
By Ellen Fink, Woodstock, Georgia

When Jessica drove her red Boxster off the Rufus B. Morrison Bridge, she'd hung on for dear life, laughing like some kind of liberated inmate from an asylum. The car rolled down a steep incline and bounced off some rocks, throwing her clear seconds before it exploded. Blearily, she'd watched a spectacular fireball rise into the heavens.

Her last thought was Damn! He's won again, before she'd passed out.

When she came to, she tried to open her eyes but only succeeded in opening one. It was dark and she thought she heard water trickling over rocks, and turned toward the sound. She gasped in agony. From somewhere behind her, higher up, she could hear voices. She closed her good eye, letting the pain have its way with her and trying not to think about what had brought her to this place.

This morning she'd gotten a B. Anyone else would have been whooping in excitement. She'd had just completed a class with one of the toughest instructors on campus. She scanned the rest of the grade sheet. Only one A, her B and a smattering of Cs. All the rest were Ds and Fs.

Jessica's stomach was churning as she climbed into the shiny new Boxster she'd received for her 21st birthday. She already knew what her father would say. "Well Lumpy, you missed the boat didn't you? I'm not saying a B is bad, but an A would have been a hell of a lot better now, wouldn't it?" After that he'd hang up on her. When you were the daughter of Michael Colburn, the world-renowned geneticist, only excellence was the norm. Michael Colburn's children didn't just play tennis - they won championships and captained their teams. They were in student government, belonged to the top service clubs and only associated with those peers their father deemed to be winners.

The balmy spring air felt good on her hot face as the powerful sports car rumbled its way toward her apartment. She gave herself a mental pep talk. What was the big deal anyhow? Why in the world should she feel fear at the prospect of talking to her father? She was an adult for heaven's sake; a brilliant medical student; and her father's only child.

All of her life Jessica had dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina, but when her older brother, Steven, had died during his first year of medical school, her life had gone into a tailspin.

The memory of Steven's death five years ago pummeled Jessica's heart every day. Steven was her buffer, the one who protected her from their father's hurtful putdowns and sarcasm. At first, the coroner's office had ruled his death an accident, but once the investigation was complete, there'd been no doubt that Steven had jumped, not fallen, from the balcony of his high-rise apartment.

For weeks, Michael Colburn remained locked away in his study. When he finally emerged, he began what Jessica was to think of later as "The Grand Manipulation." To her shock, he did something he'd never done before. He paid attention to his daughter. He made a point of greeting her when she arrived home from school. He took an avid interest in her studies. How many math courses had she taken so far? How much biology? He commented on her hands. Surgeon's hands, he'd called them.

Bowled over by her father's sudden interest, and determined to make him happy, she'd announced she was dropping her dancing aspirations and going to medical school. Her father's reply was a loud hoot of laughter.

"You Lumpy?" he'd chuckled, "Turning in your tutu for medical scrubs? What will be your specialty? Doctor to the stars?"

"Michael, can't you at least tell your daughter you're proud of her instead of turning this into some kind of joke?" Jessica's mother had pleaded.

"Oh Alison, get a life," he'd sneered. "She knows how I feel, right Lumpy?"

Since then, his manipulations had almost strangled her. The daily phone calls "just to see how you're doing;" his insistence on approving her class schedule before she could turn it in; and, most of all, his constant censure of her friends and relationships.

As she entered her apartment, Jessica noticed the blinking light on her phone. Ignoring it, she reached inside her pocket and turned off her cell phone before she headed for the kitchen. She knelt in front of one of the cabinets and reached behind the pots and pans she never used. With a smile, she pulled out the bottle of Scotch that had been her loyal and only roommate since she'd started school. The roommate her father never noticed when he dropped in for one of his frequent surprise visits.

Jessica poured three fingers into a crystal glass, relishing every sweet drop. As usual, the Scotch came through for her. Her grade, her father, Steven - all of it went away. She felt powerful and in charge of her own destiny. Nothing was ever going to bring Steven back. She would never please her father no matter how hard she tried. She threw back another shot, then grabbed a box of trash bags and headed for her bedroom.

In a few hours, bags filled with her clothing, shoes, books, and awards rested in a far-away landfill. Her final act had been to burn every piece of identification that offered up any clue to her existence. Taking what was left of the Scotch, she headed for the Boxster and one last ride.

"Hey, I've found someone." Startled, she heard the sound of a man's voice. Opening her still-sighted eye, Jessica closed it again, shying away from the light pointed in her face.

The man gasped and yelled, "Hurry up with that stretcher."

"Can you hear me?" he asked. "Can you tell me your name?"

For an instant, a sense of triumph overtook the pain. Maybe this time she'd come out as the winner.

Through tortured lips, she murmured, "I can't remember."


What Ellen 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)

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