So, this weekend I decide to face my biggest writing challenge yet. After reading a few incredible short stories on a site called Figment, I started to get super intimidated (even more than usual) and in the case of one particular 480 word story, I began to feel like a crappy writer. I’ve never been able to write a short story. I tell everything in novel form. It takes me an entire book to develop a character and to make a reader grow attached to them. It occurred to me that my strength might be in the fact that I don’t focus on words, I focus on the people in the story and where they go.

BUT, if I could somehow get myself to practice focusing on the words, on zooming in on a tiny speck of a moment in a character’s life and forcing myself to tell the story in less than 2000 words maybe it would really help me to grow as a writer. So, I just did it. Like literally just finished and I want to post it here before I chicken out and start to hate it. It doesn’t matter if I hate it because then I’ll know why I hate it and can try again. And again.

Anyway, if you’re willing to take a look and let me know what you think that would be greatly appreciated. I’d also love title suggestions. Unless it sucks then I don’t have to call it anything.

In fact, I’m going to do a signed TEMPEST + VORTEX giveaway entry for anyone who comments on the story (and seriously, be critical, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad feedback). And if you want to be entered, make sure to leave your email in the comments.

*************************************************************

I could count on one hand the number of times my head has been fully submerged. The water ripples, forming peaks and then flattening them again. The current’s strong. It will be quick.

The branches and sharp jagged rocks on the bottom of the river fade in and out of view as the water pushes over them. The distance between my eyes and the deadly river is much greater than I had anticipated before making my way out to the ledge. My hands are wrapped so tightly around the metal frame of the bridge they’ve started to ache with an intensity that’s almost unbearable. The cold air is making the skin on my knuckles raw, probably bloody if I could see them, but that would mean letting go and turning around. I’m not turning around.

My heart is pounding and pumping blood so fast through my body that the only places I can feel the thirty degree wind are my fingers and toes. The rest of me could stand here forever. I look up at the dark sky, stars splattered across it like the lights I once saw on a Holiday tree. The one time Larry took me into town. That was eight years ago. I’d heard the engine of his truck roar to life so many times, but always from a distance.

That day in December, I had felt the truck rumble underneath me as I Iay flat against the ice cold metal bed, holding my breath and not moving a muscle. I had planned on squeezing my eyes shut, making myself believe I’d become invisible but as the dark cloudy sky zipped past me revealing a world outside of my shack in the woods, I couldn’t look away.

My entire body shook with fear when my stepfather had exited the truck after parking near the stores on the main street, but curiosity won, at least for a split second. After Larry tucked himself inside a shop across the street, I sat up just enough to peer over the side of the truck.

And there it was.

Sparkling in the window display, the pine tree sat front and center, wrapped in golden lights, silver bells dangled from the ends of nearly every branch and at the top, a child-like angel stood watch. Her dress was white, her wings spread open, and her face the picture of innocence. If heaven existed it resided inside that window. I imagined the warmth in the store and felt the welcoming heat so deeply it began to creep up my arms.

My eyes pulled away from the window after hearing sounds of unfamiliar voices walking past the door of the store. I focused on the higher pitched grown woman’s voice. A tall man walked beside her and I only allowed myself to take him in for half a second. His hair was too much like Larry’s. Between them stood a tiny person with a pink coat and white gloves covering her hands. A girl. Like me but smaller. They each held one of her hands. The woman had looked down at her and smiled, speaking words I didn’t understand but I’d felt their warmth. I’d never known, until that night, that words could be warm. Heated, yes, but not warm.

At that point, I’d lost track of the seconds Larry had been inside the shop so I returned to playing rock on the bed of the truck. As I stared up at the sky, snow began to fall like fluffy crystals, tiny bits of sugar, egg whites.  

That was the first time I’d wanted to die.

I’d even focused on making my organs stop, on ceasing to exist because the smell of the snow, the Holiday tree lights stable in my mind, the sound of the woman’s warm tone…I wanted all of that to be the last thing I felt before leaving this world.

I lift my eyes to the clear sky again. No clouds to produce snow tonight, but the half crescent moon provided a beauty just as great as the lit up tree and the heavenly angel.

But before I could complete my final task, the visions of Larry tossing a box of tools into the back of the truck and catching me lying on my back invades my version of heaven. My breathing turns rapid and irregular, coming out in short gasps like it had when he’d caught me. I squeeze my eyes shut failing at forcing away the image of him leaning over me, shoving his square spectacles back up to the bridge of his nose, the lenses magnifying the storm brewing in his eyes. He didn’t speak a word until we returned home.

“You think God gave you those legs to escape? Is that what you think?” he spat.

At eight years old, I had learned by then not to answer those types of questions. He’d already made his decision and I would only make it worse by speaking.

“Fine, Leah,” he had said in that eerie calm. “Jesus survived forty days and forty nights in the desert, surely you can survive a night outside in the winter.”

I can still feel the pain my body endured after a night huddled in the back of Larry’s truck, my knees pulled to my chest, my face pressed against them, wishing the cold away. My stomach had rumbled with hunger, my insides hollow and empty. And I had wanted to die all over again but this time to escape the pain instead of searching for heaven.

By the time Larry pulled me out of the truck six hours later, dragging me down to the basement, whipping my raw, frostbitten skin with his leather belt, quoting scriptures to force the demons out of me, I had decided that heaven didn’t exist. But Hell? That was certainly possible.

Rage builds up inside of me. If I’m evil, if I defy God’s will tonight, it’s because he made me this way.

My feet slide further out on the ledge causing my stomach to turn over. This is it. I’ve finally made it out and only the distance between this bridge and the wild river separate me from freedom. Fifty, maybe sixty feet. It’ll be quick. The water’s freezing, the bottom of the river unforgiving, and the current strong enough to sweep a large object away from here with uncanny speed.

I’m forced into thoughts of Larry holding my head under the water of this very river. It had been summer and the water was calmer but even Larry could barely keep his feet planted with the flowing current. My baptism, he had said. I couldn’t swim…I can’t swim. And he’d forced me to wear the long pants and shirt like always, not covering my skin was unnecessary evil. I fought against the confines of the clothing, their weight pulling me down to the bottom. It wasn’t until I had started to lose consciousness that Larry had pulled me by my hair to the surface.

I take a deep breath and focus on the moon again. He can’t hurt me anymore. We’re going our separate ways. I release one hand from the metal frame, my heart pounding harder, faster, all the way inside my ears.

This is it.

I lift my right foot leaving only a hand and foot to keep me in place.

The sound of suffocated screams distracts me from the moon. My eyes flicker downward, taking in the mass squirming beside me on the ledge. I lean over and use my free hand to shove the square spectacles back up to the bridge of his nose. His eyes are magnified, but the storm is gone, replaced by panic. He bites down on the cloth and tape shoved in his mouth, his hands still fighting the rope binding.  

I press my boot against his stomach and allow my eyes to meet his before saying, “Goodbye, Larry.”

Then I push hard enough to knock him over the edge.

His body falls in slow motion, log rolling through thin air before splashing into the freezing river. I regrasp the metal frame with my other hand and watch until he drifts out of site.

My fingers begin to lose their grip so I turn around and crawl beneath the metal frame, returning my feet to the safety of the abandoned bridge. The trail where I dragged Larry through the snow is still visible, leading all the way to the shack in the woods. I turn my back on it and walk in the opposite direction.

Finally. Finally, I’m out of God’s hands.  [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

2018-02-19T13:57:55+00:00

About the Author:

24 Comments

  1. Sara March 10, 2013 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Wow. This is… Wow. This is great. I feel like it needs a simple title to contrast the complex emotions Leah is feeling. Something like "The Bridge." I didn't really understand the relationship between Leah and Larry… He seemed like a father or uncle, but she just called him by his first name… Maybe a boyfriend? That might be kind of good to know. Some more of the relationship between the two. I think I understood that it was abusive and clearly not good for her mental sanity, but I couldn't tell how old they were, even relative to each other. But I really liked it. Up until the very end, I thought she was committing suicide, but it was murder, right? She just wanted Larry gone to get some peace for herself… ?

    And can I enter the contest, too? You have my e-mail. 🙂

  2. Julie Cross March 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Yep, consider yourself entered!

    and Larry is her stepfather and Leah is 16. Those answers are hidden within the story but not super important so I figured I'd just be subtle about them.

    I was going for a Carrie type story…lol, morbid, creepy and weird.

  3. cristina March 10, 2013 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Oh, what a twist! Is it wrong that I kind of cheered Leah on once it was clear what was happening? This is the reason I like short stories, most of the time they take you by surprise. I was feeling sorry for her, but then she turns around and takes control.
    Loved it. I give it 5 stars.
    Alpha_Lycan(@) msn.com

  4. Amie March 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    After reading this, I only have one question in mind. Is live worth living? You can be free from 1 problem but there will be another one await for you. Are you ready for that yet and will you take an easy escape or be strong and deal with it? It's life and it's their job to keep kicking where you hurt the most.
    I like this kind of short story, yup it's fictional but I found it can be related to real life (bully issue, family abuse or depressing etc) Have to say this story can easy kill the happy mood and make me think for a minute about life.
    About the title, I think of "Never Again" would be fit in this situation.

    Yay a signed copy of your books. My email is amie639@yahoo.com

    Amie@MagicOfWords

  5. Sara March 10, 2013 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Yay!

    Ahh okay. Yeah I can see that, but I think it still works without knowing that.

    I think that's exactly what it is. Morbid, creepy, weird, and still really interesting. 🙂

  6. Brooke DelVecchio March 10, 2013 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Wow, that was…powerful. I get the relationship right away: he's abusive to her, she wants revenge. At first I thought she was jumping, so I LOVE the twist that she is pushing him in. I didn't quite get her age. She certainly seems like a teen to me, but then I realize she's 16, yes? just wanting to make sure. I can totally see this making it into a novel, Julie. Wow!
    Brooke
    bhwrn1(at)gmail(dot)com

  7. Julie Cross March 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks!! And not sure about the novel…that's kind of what I was trying to avoid. The necessity of more pages since I usually don't have a problem with writing novels. and usually long ones. I'd love to learn how to write a short novel, too! Maybe that can be my next challenge?

  8. Julie Cross March 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    thanks! And I totally wanted you to say, "well done" to Leah at the end 🙂

  9. Julie Cross March 10, 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    well, I totally support this soul searching, meaning of life journey so long as I haven't caused you to toss bodies off bridges…haha…I really don't want to be responsible for that unless it's in fiction.

  10. Heather Anne March 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    I've always thought that a good short story is one that makes you wonder what happened in the "unwritten" beginning and wonder what happens after the story is finished. This did just that! I definitely got the abusive impression from Larry, but I wondered about Leah's mom? I know that isn't important for this story, but the questions was at the back of my mind. I wasn't expecting the twist, but I was like the above comment, cheering Leah on and also a little frightened by her presence at the time when she takes down Larry. Overall great short story!

    And you have my email….I think. 🙂

  11. Lori T. March 10, 2013 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    This was a perfect blend of heartbreaking and creepy. I'm not kidding when I say I was completely claustrophobic at the beginning. I have a fear of drowning (and, so, have never learned how to swim), so reading her struggle to breathe and survive totally creeped me out, and had me nearly gasping for air myself! Oh sure. Reading the line, "That was the first time I’d wanted to die." was like a punch to the gut. That one sentence really let the reader know the true despair she had suffered for so long.
    Larry was a truly awful person. I have to say I didn't feel sorry for him, not even in the end. Her heartbreaking ordeal was what made me read this three times, and I really hope that if you choose to continue this story, it'll someday be developed into a fuller-length novel. I'd definitely buy it! Loved this story, Julie!!!

  12. meradeth March 11, 2013 at 1:42 am - Reply

    Wow, I really enjoyed this. It definitely didn't take long to identify and feel for Leah. I did have a bit of a hard time figuring out how the bridge was situated and how she pushed him off–I was a little thrown with the set-up at the end. Also, I kind of wondered about a 16 year old dragging a full grown man all that distance? Maybe he's a small guy? Kind of made me pause once I'd finished getting over the shock (and amazement) at what she'd done 🙂 Great job!

  13. Brooke DelVecchio March 11, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Oooo….well, that's kind of like a novella, yes? And you kind of have one of those already, yes? So I think you could certainly do that. Perhaps this one is worthy of such a thing!

  14. Anonymous March 11, 2013 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    Julie you're going to have to find a new writing challenge now, this short story was great!Personally, I like reading novels, but since I really like the tempest series I decided to give this one a try. In the beginning I had a little trouble figuring out what was going on,but then it went into the whole back story and I really started to feel for Leah. I understood how she must not know what to do about the whole abusive relationship and all.The story kind of broke my heart, but it was great and I'm glad I read it. Great job, Julie!
    and can i enter the contest? My e-mail's bluebubles@shaw.ca

  15. Lori T. March 12, 2013 at 12:20 am - Reply

    I totally forgot about the title suggestions 😛 I don't know about you, but when I'm writing, I always come up with the title before I start typing up anything. Is that weird? Probably. But I always have the title to my story before I even finish the outline. It's often hard for me to come up with a title once something is completed. But, for this story, I was thinking something around the word "fall", like maybe "The Fall" or "Before the Fall," some sort of play on that word? I don't know, that may sound dumb or silly, but that's what came to mind for me 🙂 (Oh, and I didn't leave my email address because the last time I did that on a comment on another blog, I started getting spammed big-time.)

  16. Gaby Pendragon March 12, 2013 at 5:42 am - Reply

    I pretty much agree with everyone, this is very powerful. I think it's hard when you read a short story to really get something out of it, or that it leaves a strong message or impression on you but you totally got my attention with this. It's saw but also very real. You did great Julie.
    gaby_sama@hotmail.com

  17. KitnKat March 12, 2013 at 5:46 am - Reply

    I was very nervous for Leah, with it sounding like she doesn't know how to swim – but the desire to eliminate her step-dad and put that talk of "fire and brimstone" to rest, as well as the torture (six hrs out in the freezing cold – she's just a child, for goodness sake!!), and the beating upon a child who may have frost bite…. Leah, sweet heart, step back and let me take care of this for you…. sweet child, where is your momma?

    I need the books you mentioned above…. If I don't win (which is usually the case) are there any discounts for those of us less forunate types???

  18. KitnKat March 12, 2013 at 6:06 am - Reply

    One more thing: what about a title like "I'm Out of His Hands", or just "Out of His Hands" as a title. I think that sums up where they've been and what the future holds – for her. The question then is, is it out of her step-dad or Gods hands???

  19. reem hardan March 12, 2013 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Mmmm…okaaay I so wasn't expecting that!! I mean Tempest is a whole different world. I'm really not good at writing reviews or stating my opinion clearly about books/short stories.It always seems good in my head then I start talking in forgien language…anyway I really liked this short story. I gotta admit at first I thought it was an horror story or something, what's with the darkness, and all (I really don't like to read/watch horror geners). But no it wasn't horror. I guess you pulled me into the story, and I really understood everything. you know the abusive step dad, and all that.
    It's really great, if you're thinking about continuing this one into a book, I'd totally buy it. I think the whole "abusing kid" have been handled by many authors, but only little have nailed it. And I'm not just saying this to make you feel good, I say this because it's true, you would be one of the few authors who would nail this thing (If you want to do a book).
    For a second there I thought she was going to commit suicide and I was like DON'T, but then Larry came into the scene, and the picture got clearer.
    you did great by giving a comprehensive view of the story considering it's a short one.
    As for titles , oh boy I really suck at this stuff…but mmm…I think "Alive at last" or "Breath of life" are my suggestion… (You can't say I didn't warn you, I do suck :Z)
    I hoped I helped.

    my email :
    rock.3yone@hotmail.com

  20. reem hardan March 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    I just saw your comment that you probably will turn this into a novella not a book…eh…it's great. If I was the type who loves to read novellas. I always find them lacking and never satisfies me. But don't let that stop you. many people love novellas. (That doesn't mean I'm not gonna read it , if you did write it that is).

  21. Anonymous March 14, 2013 at 4:35 am - Reply

    I wanted to thank уοu fог thiѕ
    fantaѕtіc read!! I certainly loνed eνегy bit of it.
    I've got you saved as a favorite to look at new things you post…

    Also visit my web page … http://www.sfgate.com/business/prweb/article/V2-Cigs-Review-Authentic-Smoking-Experience-or-4075176.php

  22. KitnKat March 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Though I have already sent two msgs, with comments about your short story (which I hope that you've ascertained that I LOVED IT) – I forgot to mention my e-mail address so that I might be added to the growing list of admirers also hoping to enter your contest. It is

    kroy911@live.com

    I am a fiction book reader who has had a recent opportunity to read an aweful lot of short stories. I must say that there are a number of them on the internet that are absolutely dreadful – not enough information to really draw you in, grossly childish (as if counting the words to ensure that it has enough, but not too muc, that it would not be considered a short story, and those that although short in length the story put you to sleep one word at a time…. might I just restate that I really enjoyed your work!

  23. Ricardo M March 16, 2013 at 3:50 am - Reply

    This story is amazing I feel as though I was with Leah as the short story went on and I felt happy that Larry her abuser is now gone. The story was very vivid and I would enjoy reading another short story
    Rickymarlo97@yahoo.com

  24. Ashley Miles August 7, 2013 at 3:28 am - Reply

    Am speechless! Good thing Leah managed to escape by defeating Larry. She is a smart girl.

    HHhmmm… looks like am carried away by your story. Thanks. I think it's a good story already. Right now, I can't write a good story like that but I am into learning things about dissertation writing in my blog

Leave A Comment