Summer, 2007
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

Mosquitoes buzzed, but kept their distance as the aroma of insect repellent overpowered the smoke coming from the dying campfire. The counselor was getting to the good part of the ghost story and the campers were all quiet, straining to hear the raspy whispers of the protagonist. The sudden sound of footsteps approaching on the pine needle carpet silenced the group. All heads turned simultaneously and the little girls screamed when a man emerged from the tree line, dressed in torn clothing and carrying a pack. The pack started to move as an infant's startled cry joined the panicked chorus...

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

A Cry in the Night
By Christine Hurst, Paris, ON, Canada

Andi stared into the embers of the dying campfire. Her eyes stung from the smoke and heavy dose of insect repellent. Her idea of a holiday was Club Med where your every need was taken care of - not some adventure in the woods with a long-lost sister.

"Do you remember that summer when we were camping at Wolf Lake, Andi?" Michelle's soft voice brought her out of her reverie. "I think I was 8 and you were 12. Things were falling apart with Mom and Dad by then, but we hardly noticed. We were swimming every day and had great campfires on the beach each night."

Andi pushed her dark hair off her face. She scarcely remembered the beach or the campfires. She did remember all the shouting matches between her parents and how she would be ordered to take Michelle swimming each time they started.

The soft glow of the fire lit up Michelle's auburn curls. Michelle still had that sweet look that made her the favorite child 30 years ago. Of course, Andi's rebellious nature hadn't helped. But when their dad left, her mom moved to Nova Scotia with Michelle and Andi was placed into what was supposed to be temporary foster care. Until two months ago, she had never heard from any of them again.

"You know Michelle, maybe we should shorten this trip and head back. I've got a ton of work to do and well, let's face it, we're nearly strangers to each other."

Her sister continued on as if she hadn't heard her. "Do you know what I loved about those trips the most? The ghost stories you would tell. You had such an imagination! Do you remember any of them?"

Andi stared at her in disbelief. Her face tightened in anger. "Michelle, grow up! That was a lifetime ago. I lived through enough horror stories in all those foster homes while you and mom took off. We're not kids anymore! Let's just..." she stopped and suddenly gasped. A man stood at the edge of the woods, not ten feet behind Michelle. Even in the faint light, she could see his torn clothing. He had a pack slung across his front. As she started to rise and Michelle whirled around to see what she was staring at, an infant's cry broke the silence.

The man stumbled towards them, nearly falling into the firepit. Michelle rushed forward, steadying him as he dropped to his knees, just outside the circle. The pack he wore parted to reveal the round face of a baby.

The man grabbed Michelle's arm as if it were a lifeline. "Thank God I've found you. I ran all night. They'll kill her!"

"It's all right now. I'll take care of her," Michelle unclipped the pack and took the child in her arms. Clearly relieved, the man lowered the rest of his lanky frame to the ground beside the fire and closed his eyes.

Andi stood frozen, staring at her sister. Michelle cooed to the child and headed for the woods. The child started crying again, releasing Andi to move. "Michelle! What are you doing? Where are you going?"

"I'm just getting the food pack out of the tree. The baby's hungry. We've got milk powder and water - put another couple logs on the fire, will you?" She used the rope to lower the food pack - a method of keeping the bears that frequented the northern Ontario woods from their food supply.

On her way back to the fire, Michelle stopped at their tent, coming out with a small bag. Andi could barely hear herself think over the child's wails. She put the wood on the fire and watched Michelle expertly lift the child from its pack, laying it on a small towel from the bag. With various things from the bag, she quickly changed the child's diaper. She wrapped the child up again, lifted a baby bottle out of the bag and tossed it to Andi.

"Can you make the baby's milk? Just mix the powder and the water and warm it in the fire pot."

"Michelle, whose baby is this?" Andi asked as she mixed the milk and put the bottle in the pot. "Where did this guy come from and why does he have a baby?"

"I didn't know if Steve would be able to save her. We'll have to leave at first light because they'll be out searching then."

"Who will be out? Shouldn't we let them find usÖ we need to get help." Andi reached to her side for her ever-present cell phone and flipped it open. "Out of range. Great."

"Andi, I know you have a lot of questions. But trust meÖ the search party will not come to help us. They will come to kill us."

Andi looked at her little sister in astonishment. "Michelle, what have you got yourself mixed up in? If you're in some kind of trouble, I can help you get out of it once we're back in the city."

Michelle had no doubt that her sister's legal skills would help. It was one of the reasons she sought her out after so many years apart. She had to hope that her sister's urge to protect her, as she had done when they were little, would be enough. The baby's cries ceased as she gave it the bottle. She took a deep breath and began.

"I told you that I used to love your ghost stories. You always made me so scared and then, at the end, made sure the good guys won." Michelle suddenly looked very tired. "This child has lived her own horror story in her few short months. She has been poked and prodded; born, raised and tested at a secret facility near here. She has basically been treated like a science experiment. Because that's exactly what she is."

Andi's eyes dropped to the child's face. She looked like any other baby to her. Maybe her sister was losing it. The child caught her eye and popped the bottle out of its tiny mouth. Andi braced herself for the expected howl.

Her heart nearly stopped when instead she heard "Hello, Andi."

What Christine 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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