TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

She had an ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach as she gazed attentively at the wearied old woman. Red and yellow leaves fell gently around them…silent witnesses to the occasion.

“It’s yours now,” the elder said as she handed over the thick stick, its knots and bumps matching her gnarled, arthritic knuckles. “But be warned,” the old woman added, “It can be used for good AND for evil.” The forest seemed to darken a bit as the ancient lady shuffled off.

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)


I am plummeting toward the earth, and though horrifying, it is a fitting death.


My fingers claw at empty air, a futile attempt to grasp a piece of the cliff I’d been standing on. The skyline twists and reels like a drunken madman. A guttural cry escapes my throat. My mind grapples to make sense of the moments before the fall.


The scuffling of desperate feet.


The fury in my brother’s eyes.


An unexpected momentum.


The familiar taste of bitter regret on my tongue.


Time glitches, and I tumble in slow motion. Air rushes past my ears, but all I hear are the heavy thuds of my heart. My body is numb with terror, but my mind leaps to life, presenting brilliant snapshots of my past, each one burning with intense, long-forgotten emotions.


These would be my downfall.

 

I am sitting on a stone bench with my twin brother and our father in the palace garden. As always, I am quietly absorbed in a dusty, leather-bound book. Julian, on the other hand, engages in political banter. His voice drips with condescension as he speaks with our father about ridding the kingdom of filthy, migrant peasants.


“They’re people,” I growl, clenching my fists.


“You’re weak-minded, Edward,” my father sneers. “At least Julian sees what needs to be done.”


Next, I see my father lying motionless in bed, a white cloth covering his gray head. I sit silently beside him, shoulders slumped. I am a man, yet I feel lost and strangely numb. I’ve been invisible all these years.


A nobody. Nothing.


Julian barks orders to the servants regarding funeral preparations. Father’s crown rests comfortably in his grasp. His smug eyes rake over me. “You are useless, brother.” He turns away. “Leave me.”


In my mind’s eye, I see Julian and myself trudging up Regal’s Crest the next day, where sorrowful souls often climb to overlook the kingdom and ponder their fate. We follow our mother along the steep, leaf-littered path. The biting wind muffles her quiet sobs.


At the top, she removes two long, thin objects wrapped in burlap from her pack and reverently places them on a large, flat rock near the cliff’s edge. A shaft of sunlight cuts through the low-hanging clouds to engulf the scene. Julian and I both kneel near the rock. My heart pounds.


The packages contain our fate.


According to custom, each King presents a golden scepter to the child he chooses to rule in his place, and simple, knotted sticks to the other children who will become subjects.


Though our father died prematurely before declaring his heir, everyone in the kingdom knows what he intended.


As do I.


My mother cups Julian’s cheek in her wrinkled hand, silently blessing her favored son. “The gods will now choose the worthy son. May they guide your hand.” She glances at me briefly, pity in her eyes.


“Choose first, dog,” Julian snarls. I creep forward, my cheeks flushed with old resentments and self-hatred. This is a pointless exercise.


I know my place.


I grab the nearest object and Julian grabs the other. We simultaneously peel back the burlap.


The memory fades as my mind jerks me back to reality. As I continue to fall, I open my eyes just a crack. My brother stands like a distant speck at the top of the cliff, callously watching my descent. He has always been a small man.


I feel the weight of the object still clutched in my right hand. I turn my head to watch the sunlight glint off its golden surface.


The jagged rocks below await my arrival. Soon I will be shattered into countless fragments, none of them recognizable.


I will be as unremarkable in death as I was in life.


I do not cling desperately to my final moments. I feel no self-pity, only a sense of relief. This is a good death for a man such as me.


I deserve to suffer.


My breath catches in my throat and my muscles clench as I anticipate the impact. I scrunch my eyes shut and try to repress one last awful memory: my mother’s gasp of horror and my brother’s look of disgust as I unwrap the golden scepter.


Rather than bask in the possibilities and embrace my happy fate, I am mocked by self-doubt. Riddled with uncertainty. Filled with outrage for the years of disdain I have endured.


Then I recall a detail far more painful than what I am about to endure.


Julian holds out his hand expectantly. “Give me the scepter, fool. No father or god would ever choose the likes of you!”


Something inside me snaps.


All the pent-up rage and resentment of my youth erupts into one smooth motion as I grab my brother’s shoulders and shove him toward the cliff’s edge.


I am driven by mindless, white-hot fury. At the last moment, Julian rips away from my grasp, and my own momentum carries me over the edge.


I am not a victim of my brother’s cruelty. I am a victim of my own foolishness. I could have been king, but instead, I will rule over nothing but darkness.


The ground rushes toward me.


I slowly release my grip. The scepter slides from my fingers.