Fall, 2003
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!




"I must have taken a wrong turn after the river, Dad. The pavement stopped awhile back and there's nowhere to turn around."

"Hold on, honey, I'm trying to find it on the map."

"You're starting to break up some."

"I don't see any dirt roads in that area. I'm hearing another voice on the line. It's like a whisper, can you hear it?"

"No, I'm just hearing you and static."

"hang... now... mine..."

"Did you hear that?!"

"Did I hear what, Dad?"

Chosen Path
By Tracy Atagi, Alexandria, VA

The fear in his son's voice was a cold knife across a father's already frazzled nerves. John could tell his son was one step away from panic. He focused all his senses through the cell phone to bring his child home.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I thought I knew the way. . ."

"It's okay, son, it's okay. We can do this together. Now, what do you see?"

"It's a wild area. The path ended a while back."

"Any landmarks?"

"Not really. It all looks the same."

John tried to picture a map, to work it out logically, but he was having trouble concentrating. A buzzing noise in the background was interfering, making clear thought impossible. He imagined his son, with all his bright potential, lost in the wilderness. He tried to remember how he got there, but everything was a blur. All he knew was he had to bring his son back very soon.

"It's strange how fast everything changed. It was warm and happy before, but now it's so chill. I'm so cold, Dad - please help me."

"I'm trying, son. I keep hearing an echo or something. Is someone with you?"

There was no answer. His son was humming now, some lullaby maybe, and John bit his lip in frustration. The background noise was growing louder and voices were becoming discernable. His frantic imagination could see his son's bright blue eyes closing sleepily. Blue eyes? Or were they brown, like his mother's?

"I guess this is it. It was good talking to you, Dad."

"No, stop! Don't go. . .you can't go yet, son."

"I love you, Dad."

The line went dead as a new sound grabbed his attention.

"John? John?!! Dammit, hang up the phone. I told you I'm NOT doing this alone."

John blinked stupidly as the bright lights of the clinic waiting room assaulted his eyes. He looked at his wife, arms crossed over her still-flat middle, so tense that the slightest touch would send her into a million shards. His ear hurt. The cell phone was still pressed hard as he listened to its silence. He looked at it; there was no signal.

"Who were you talking to, anyway?" she asked, her voice telling him she didn't really care.

"It was. . .I'm not really sure."

"Oh," she said, looking away to stare blankly at a poster.

He studied her, really seeing her for maybe the first time this week. They were still newlyweds, but she was hunched over like an old woman, puffed dark circles under her eyes. He knew she hadn't slept last night; neither had he. They had lain, not touching, in a silent vigil the whole night. Everything that could be said had been said.

John took a deep breath. This was going to be hard. He reached over to capture her hands. They were blocks of ice.

"Marie, I. . .I changed my mind. I don't want to do this."

She looked at him with stunned disbelief. He couldn't blame her. For days they had been discussing this, and his had always been the voice of reason. They weren't ready to be parents, with a mountain of debt and him just starting law school. They didn't have the time, or the space, or the money to properly care for a child. They had just moved to a city where they had no close friends or family, and their studio apartment was already too crowded. They were young, still getting used to being husband and wife, and would have plenty of other chances.

She had been unable to answer this torrent of arguments with anything but a stubborn insistence that things would work out. In the end, his words had won the day, and she agreed to come here if only he stayed with her the whole time.

And now he was willing to reconsider, a rarity akin to snow in July. He waited for her disbelief to turn to joy, but instead it melted into white-hot rage.

"John, don't do this to me. Do NOT do this to me. If you say something like this, you've got to mean it. Really mean it. I'm not coming back here, and I won't be a single mother. I can't, I really can't, and you're not ready to be a father, maybe never ready, I just can't see it. Please don't do this to me, it's tearing me into pieces." She pulled her hands from his to cover her face, shoulders shaking with her sobs.

John felt a pain in his heart so real he looked down, expecting to see a knife handle. What had he done to her, to the one woman who could make him smile, make him relax and enjoy life? He had blamed her for the pregnancy, for upsetting his plans with her carelessness, but he never meant to hurt her like this. He gathered her stiff body into his arms, rocking her gently.

"Sweetie, I do really mean it, I do. I'll be a great Dad, I promise." He thought about that scared lost boy and blinked in confusion. Such a vivid hallucination. . .

"I'll care for him, guide him. I'll change diapers and go to baseball games and teach him to ride a bike. You know when I make up my mind there's no question I'll do it. I'll love him, Marie, I promise."

She looked at him for one long moment, hope and fear battling. "And if it's a girl?"

"Then I'll love her like no child has been loved before. I swear it's true. Come on, honey, please let's go home."

As they left, he took her hand, and thought about the child to come. Of course, a girl was as likely as a boy, but he could still hear the voice of his son whispering, "I love you, Dad."

And his heart whispered back, "I love you too, son. With all my heart."

The 1st Place Winner Got:

$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)


Copyright 1997 - 2015 WritersWeekly.com
All rights reserved.