THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Holding tightly to her valise, she glanced over her shoulder before stepping onto the platform. Dark blue clouds stretched from the prairie to the heavens. The blizzard was coming fast and the conductor was urgently pleading for everyone to get on board so they could depart before the storm arrived. As she placed her foot on the first step, anxiety prickled the back of her neck. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d forgotten something…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
I gripped my bag tightly as I stepped onto the platform, chewing on a piece of homemade jerky. The salty taste calmed my nerves, much like cigarettes did for others. Dark blue clouds stretched from the tops of the skyscrapers to the sun, which was quickly disappearing. The blizzard was coming fast.
“On board now!” the conductor yelled.
As I placed my foot on the first step, anxiety prickled the back of my neck. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something.
“Crap!” I shouted, spinning around. I grabbed the conductor’s arm as he hurried by. “How much time do I have?”
“An hour,” he replied. “Maybe less.”
“I wouldn’t leave–” the conductor’s words were cut off as the cold wind whipped against my face. I ran from the station to my car. How could I be so stupid? There was no way I could survive a weekend at my parents’ house without—
A car jumped out in front of me and I slammed on my breaks. My wheels started sliding and my heart thumped wildly in my chest before I finally caught my breath and regained control of the car.
“Pay attention,” I muttered.
Jon’s car was still sitting in the driveway when I pulled up, half buried in snow. He’d been asleep when I’d left. I wished he was coming. It wasn’t safe staying here alone this weekend.
My mom’s ringtone blasted from my purse as I slid my key into the lock.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, stepping into the house. My face began defrosting as I headed for the kitchen.
“Mary, are you on the train?”
“Yes,” I lied. “I just got on.”
“Oh, thank God. They say this is going to be the worst storm in a century.”
I peered out the kitchen window as I filled a glass with water and took a sip. My throat was dry. This cold weather had a way of drying out everything it touched. The dark blue clouds were turning to black. I didn’t have much time.
“MARY!” my mom shouted, interrupting my thoughts. “Did you hear me? I asked if Jon was with you.”
“Oh. No,” I said, pausing as I headed for the stairs. I turned back to the kitchen and grabbed some more of my homemade jerky for the train ride.
“Call him. Make him come. It’s not too late.”
That’s when I heard him. Jon’s voice rang out loudly from the basement. He was scared. “Mary? Is that you? Oh, thank God you came back!” A loud sob echoed through the house.
“Mom, I have to go. I’ll see you soon.”
She began to protest but I hung up.
“Jon?” I called out, opening the basement door. “Jon? Are you okay?”
I walked slowly down the stairs. At the bottom landing, it took me a full minute to comprehend what I was seeing.
Jon sat chained to the basement wall. His wrists were in cuffs and a small ocean of water swirled around his feet. Near him lay an overturned water jug. An open box of Pop Tarts and a bag of my jerky sat close by.
“What the hell is this?” I cried. I ran to him, my feet kicking the empty jug. I reached behind his head and stroked his hair as the collar around his neck choked him.
“I thought you’d gone,” Jon said, his voice thick. He’d been crying.
I pulled hard on his hair, yanking his head back. “Did you spill ALL the water I left for you?
His silence only made me mad.
“It was supposed to last you the whole weekend. Do you want to die from thirst?”
Jon started sobbing again. “Please,” he begged. “Let me go.”
I shook my head as I walked to the sink and refilled the jug. “This time, don’t spill it.”
“Mary, please, I’m sorry. I swear, I’ll never cheat on you again.”
I rolled my eyes, saying nothing.
“Mary,” Jon gulped, licking his dried-out lips. “Wh-where’s Lydia? You haven’t–”
I laughed. “Lydia fine. I have to go. The train’s leaving in a half hour. I’ll be lucky if I make it back in time.”
“Mary! Don’t leave me here!”
I was halfway up the stairs when I snapped my fingers, spinning back around. “I almost forgot.” I went to the bin I’d left for Jon. It was filled with extra jerky and Pop Tarts. On top sat my copy of Pride and Prejudice. I grasped it firmly. “I almost forgot this,” I told Jon, laughing. “I’m halfway through and can’t put it down.”
I kissed his head before leaving. “I’ll see you Monday.”
Back on board the train, I was snacking on my jerky when the conductor passed by.
“You made it,” he said smiling. “I thought for sure you’d get stuck in town.”
I returned his smile. “I don’t live far. The streets were empty.”
“That smells delicious,” he said, eying my bag.
“Homemade jerky. Would you like to try some?”
“Oh, I couldn’t—”
“Oh go on. It’s good. Here.” I pushed the bag towards him and he took a strip. His face lit up when he tasted it.
“That’s delicious,” he said. “What do you call it?”
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“I mean, Lydia’s Special Blend.”
He shrugged. “Well, whatever it is, it’s great.”
“Thanks,” I replied, settling back with my book. I pulled another hunk of meat from my bag and began to chomp it as the train pulled away.