TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The three young boys were inseparable. Cool sunlight danced between rippling leaves as they traipsed through their favorite woods. Tommy saw a tree that was just right for climbing, ran to the trunk, and began shimmying his way up. His best friends busied themselves with the beginnings of a fort made of boughs and branches.
Suddenly, Tommy called out, “Oh my gosh! You guys won’t believe this!”
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
“Don’t go so fast,” Charlie whined as he tripped over a root.
“You’re such a crybaby.” His brother scowled. “Shut up or I’ll send you back to Grammy’s.”
Charlie scrambled to his feet, and hurried after his brother and cousin, Jenny.
“Are you sure this is the way to the cave?” Mike turned to Jenny.
“Of course.” She pointed. “By the big oak tree just over that hill.”
“There’s a gazillion oaks out here.” Mike’s frown deepened. “How you gonna remember the right one?”
“I will.” Jenny’s braids bounced as she nodded. “Plus, there’s a lake nearby. Can’t miss a lake.”
The three trudged on.
“No lake,” Mike scoffed as they crested the hill.
“Has to be,” Jenny insisted. “I was here last weekend and lakes don’t just walk away.”
“I’m the oldest.” Mike puffed his 11-year-old chest out. “I’m gonna climb that tree so’s I can see better.”
Moments later, he shouted down to the others. “Wow, cool. This tree’s hollow.” He yanked a small flashlight from his rear pocket. “I can see clear down… Yikes!”
“What, what?” Charlie demanded.
“Yikes,” Mike repeated.
“Tell us.” Jenny rested fisted hands on her hips. “What do you see?”
“The top of… of…”
“Of what?” Jenny commanded.
“A what?” Both Charlie and Jenny turned owl-eyed faces up.
“Wait!” Mike yelped. “I see a sliver of daylight. I’m coming down with my scout knife and cut away those vines. I wanna see…”
Charlie whooped. “Maybe we gots us a dead Injun.”
Mike climbed down in a streak. He moved to the side of the tree where the vine grew thickest, and began hacking away. Thirty minutes and buckets of sweat later, he stepped back.
“Jeepers,” Jenny whispered. “What happened to that tree? A whole person can fit right inside.”
“Girls are so dumb,” Mike scoffed. “Obviously lightening struck it. Duh.”
“What about the head?” Charlie asked. “Can you see the head?”
The head! Mike had forgotten all about his amazing find in the prolonged effort to denude the tree of its secrets-guarding vines. He flashed his light into the gap, and jumped back. “There’s a whole body in there,” he gasped.
Jenny and Charlie crept forward. Odd clothes hung from a skeleton of deeply bronzed skin.
“He’s been dead a long time,” she remarked.
“You think?” Mike sneered.
“How?” Charlie asked.
Mike rolled his eyes. “How what, Dummy?”
“How’d the man get in the tree?”
“Dunno.” Mike shrugged.
“Looks like he was playing hide-n-seek.”
“Yeah, right.” Mike shone the light over the entire length of the upright corpse. All flinched at the vacant stare as the face came into view.
“Creepy,” Charlie whispered.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jenny added.
“No way.” Mike postured bravery while his knees shook. “I’m gonna take something to show Grampa. He ain’t gonna believe us if I don’t.”
“You’re going to touch him?” Jenny gasped.
“Girls…” Mike snapped. He turned to back to the body.
“I’ve got it!” He pumped his fist. “I’m gonna take some of that dude’s hair.”
The others gasped.
After sawing an ample strand of the longish-reddish-slightly curling hair, the three pelted back to their great-grandparents’ home as if the dead would chase them down to retrieve his stolen lock. They arrived, flushed and breathless.
“Well, well.” Grammy met them on the aging porch with a smile. “What have my little explorers found today?”
“Grammy, Grammy,” Charlie shouted. “We got us…”
“Shut up.” Mike pushed his younger brother aside. “We got us a rare treasure.”
“I love treasures!” Grammy clasped her hands together She stepped forward. “These woods are so magical. I’ve loved them all of my 85 years. I believe I know every rock and tree. So, show me what you have.”
“This.” Mike thrust out his open hand. Grammy bent over it.
“Oh.” She dropped to the step, then rolled over in a dead faint.
Jenny screamed. Charlie cried. Mike stuffed the hair back into his pocket, and dashed to the barn.
“Grampy,” He hollered. “Grammy’s sick. Come quick.”
Grampy hurried as fast as his aging legs could carry him. He gathered Grammy up into his arms.
“What is it, love?” He crooned.
Grammy struggled to sit up, then pushed her husband away with a feeble shove.
“Dearest, why?” Shock spread across his lined face. “Never in 65 years of marriage have you ever pushed me away. Why now?” He turned to his grandchildren. “What happened?”
“Dunno?” Mike shrugged. “All I done was show her this.” He shoved the lock of hair under Grampy’s nose. “She saw that, and keeled over.”
Grampy’s face turned white. Grammy’s bled red. She staggered to her feet.
“You told me he left me.” An unfamiliar shriek colored her voice. The kids stumbled back. “You told me he left me for another. Abandoned me.” Hysterical sobs exploded. Grampy stood up. His eyes imploring as he reached for her.
“Don’t you ever touch me again,” she wailed. “You… You ki…” Her eyes swept over the cowering children before her arm looped out to snatch the hair from Mike’s hand. Her feet pounded up the two worn steps and into the house. Wounded howls lingered as three frightened, questioning faces surrounded the old man.