TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The dark water racing under the bridge contrasted sharply with the yellow and orange leaves riding atop the ripples. Balding maple trees shadowed the riverbank while the remains of a cornfield rustled violently in the cold wind. Standing on the cobblestones by his trusty wooden cart, he shivered. It was going to be a bad winter but they were well prepared. Suddenly, a strong gust brought the sound of maniacal laughter. He stepped quickly to the back of the cart, and threw back the burlap cover…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Their black suburban sped through traffic, weaving between cars as they drove toward the bridge. Going over the speed limit, the wheels of the car screeched against the road every time Payne braked.
In the passenger seat, Joy’s right leg hadn’t stopped bouncing after learning the last package they were after was ten miles away.
It was the evening before Halloween and night had fallen at the tender hour of 6 p.m.
Payne glanced over at his wife with knitted brows and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she lied, her eyes peering through the window at the dark water racing under the bridge they crossed. The moving body resembled a bed of snakes, contrasting sharply with the yellow and orange leaves riding atop the ripples.
“I’m just concerned about Hope,” Joy added.
“Don’t worry about her, she’s fine.”
“But it’s getting late. And your mother…”
“She doesn’t mind,” he interjected. “You just focus on us getting this done. We don’t want a repeat of last year.”
“I already promised you I wouldn’t mess up this time.”
Joy looked down at the directions, then back at the road ahead of them.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Payne queried.
Joy glanced at the directions again, and nodded.
Moments later, Payne released a sigh of relief when he saw lights glowing from their destination.
“There it is,” he pointed.
“Are you sure you want to go in there? I can go alone.”
“Wow, Payne. You really don’t trust me with this, huh?” She shook her head, pulled her wrist free from his gentle grip, then exited the car.
As they walked toward the building’s entrance, Joy noticed an old man standing on cobblestones beside a wooden cart. His shoulders were hunched, his clothes tapered and two shades darker than their normal color, and he shivered under the brisk fall air. When the old man realized he had her attention, he motioned for her to come.
“I’ve got what you want,” he yelled with confidence.
Payne looked over at Joy, and shook his head.
“But, it’s probably in there.”
“Joy, no. Let’s just stick with the plan.”
The old man threw back the burlap cover on his wooden cart. Joy, curious, moved in his direction.
“Joy!” Payne whispered through clenched teeth. He glared at her and this made her turn to the old man and smile politely, declining his offer with the shake of her head.
With her eyes still on the chaos, Joy leaned in, and asked, ” Should we split up?”
“Can you handle this alone, Joy?”
But when she spotted a child throwing themselves on the floor, tears streaming down their face, with total signs of defeat in their eyes, this was all Joy needed to run in the first direction she saw.
Payne shouted for her. She was deaf to his voice. Joy ran between tall steel boxes. The flat length of iron serving as dividers were barren with just pieces of paper to prove something was once there.
Joy faced frozen faces with bared teeth, eyes that would never blink, and shed hairs scattered on the floor like dead leaves.
She turned the corner, and saw the package…and another woman standing feet away from it.
Joy gasped and became motionless. This was what made her fail the last time, hesitation. Exactly why Payne was cautious about bringing her along tonight.
Joy surveyed the woman’s size. She was taller, her hair already pulled back for battle. The woman narrowed her eyes and Joy swallowed hard.
Suddenly, a familiar cry distracted the woman long enough for Joy to slip in, grab, then disappear with the package around a corner.
She took a step toward the entrance when a hand grabbed her shoulder. She turned fast, balling her free hand into a fist.
“Joy, it’s me,” Payne surrendered.
Joy sighed, “I’m sorry, baby. I thought you were someone else.”
“Did you get it?” Payne quizzed.
Joy smiled. “Yeah.”
“Really?!” he confirmed.
She held the package up, and bragged, “The last Dory costume!”
Payne gave her a high-five, relieved they wouldn’t have to see their baby girl Hope sob about not being her favorite character for Halloween again.
“Thank God. Now we can pick Hope up from my mother’s house.”
As they walked to the register, Payne said, “Use Siri again to map us out of this town. It’s crazy in this Party City.”