Spring, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest

1st Place Winner!


She tipped the deliveryman, closed the door, and excitedly pulled the glittering ribbon from the gold box. Inside, she was puzzled to find four fortune cookies nestled in gold satin. She picked one up, cracked it open, and pulled out the white slip of paper. "What goes around comes around." She frowned and opened another one. "As you sow, so shall you reap." She started to tremble as she read the third. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." A bead of sweat trickled past her temple as she reached for the fourth...

The Window

By Alicia Vennos, Kotlik, AK

I cannot open it...do not dare. How has he found me? It's the windows, I am certain. I'd foolishly chosen a house with floor-to-ceiling windows...defiantly welcoming the outside in and gracing my new beginnings with the strength of tall trees. Every day I bless the power and presence of the forest in my life, but at night I feel vulnerable and cannot keep the tiny voice from its whispers, "Is he watching you...are you seen? Where are the eyes that don't belong?" I spin the fortune cookie in my hands, frozen, remembering.

Sarah toddles into view, clothing gone, happiest always without anything covering her baby-silk skin. I shiver, feeling chilled by something deeper than just the sight of my naked child. "Baby, where are your clothes?"

"Potty," Sarah gurgles in her three-year-old dialect.

"Oh! Did you go pee in the potty, honey?" Momentarily distracted by the possibility of a triumphant milestone, I say, "Show me!" and off we go together.

Alas, the little blue potty is clean and empty...but pink leggings are dangling from under toilet seat. "Oh, Sarah...do NOT put your clothes in the toilet..."

She interrupts, gleeful: 'my wassing massine.' Smiling, I gingerly remove Sarah's 'laundry,' and toss it in the sink. I go back to the gold box of ominous fortunes.

I know it is him, Sarah's father and my darkest night. Spewing bible verses like curses, he'd strangled me, raped me, black teeth chanting..."as God is my witness, as God is my witness..."

I'd contemplated abortion, of course. But somehow I could not connect the fury and violence of the assault with the soft flutters of life in my belly.

Sarah's arrival in my world brought equal parts joy and fear. I counted forward to her third birthday...and the end of his prison sentence. Consumed with a fierce den-mother instinct, I fled north to the sheltering, green-dark rainforest of Canada's west coast. And in the anonymous depths of another country, surrounded by the distant friendliness of polite Canadians, I am infused with new confidence and hope. I rent a small log house with a massive wall of glass and a view of trees that I sense we both need.

And now, by letting in the light, I have also let in the darkness. I put a summer dress, soft as air, over Sarah's curls. She struggles for a second then relaxes as the weightless material settles invisibly on her skin. She settles into her favorite television show. I reach for the phone and dial the number I wish I could forget.

He answers the phone with a curt "Hammond."

I pause, unwilling to connect to that voice, that time. "Officer Hammond, it's me, Janet... from..."

His voice cuts in, softer, kind. "Yes, of course. Janet. How are you?"

"Good. Well, until today. I'm afraid. I think he knows where I am. I'm calling because...I want to know - is he out of prison?"

Hammond clears his throat... "Yeah. Early May, I think. Let me check the computer."

I can hear his fingers on the keyboard...a small grunt as he finds the right display. "Okay. Looks like he went to Denver when he first got out, stayed a month and...actually, he's at a half-way house in Seattle." I feel panic filling me like sand. I can't breathe. He is only five hours away from me. "He's...found...me...my Mod..."

Hammond tries to ground me with his voice, reassuring, firm: "Janet. Listen. This guy does not have a stalker profile. You know that."

Slowly I tell him about the gold box, the fortune cookies...the messages that have his breath, his voice all over them. Hammond says, "Okay. Take the box to your local precinct - use gloves. Get them to check it for fingerprints. I'll call myself - I'll also call Seattle and make sure he's under close surveillance. If you like, go somewhere else...just stay in touch with me."

I hang up, shaking, straining to see past the massive trees into the dense green of my forest. "Give me strength," I whisper. "Be with me." Suddenly I realize that Sarah is no longer in front of the television. I find her playing with the gold box, her mouth full of fortune cookie, a small slip of paper stuck to her bottom lip. She smiles at me blissfully and I pull the paper from her mouth. The words freeze my breath. It is the fourth message: "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

He is here. Next door. No -- dear God, he is at the window...black teeth smirking, the eyes that do not belong, piercing glass. I shrink back against the farthest wall, Sarah locked in my arms. The trees stand solid, magnificent and helpless. But I can tell by his face that he cannot see inside the house, he cannot see me. The trees and the glass and the light are sheltering me with a reflective shield of mirrored forest.

As he paces the length of the window, I quietly put Sarah in the bathroom and give her the wet clothing from the sink: "Do your laundry, honey." I hear glass shatter, the smaller window! He is crawling through the opening and I am there, smashing down with the fire poker...again and again. I don't stop until there is nothing but softness and blood. It is over. I whisper to him, this broken father of my child, "I have saved the one good thing about you...from you. As God is my witness." I grab my daughter and run into the dark embrace of the forest. The trees welcome me; I weep at their roots and look up into their branches and bless my forest that stands tall and shelters me.

What Alicia 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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