Senior Challenge, a short story

Remember the book Write the Story? It’s been a while since I shared a story following one of the prompts in this book.

Inside the book there are suggested storylines. Along with these suggested storylines, there is a collection of ten words that must be included within the story. It’s a lot of fun to see where you can make them fit.

Write the Story: A Haunted House

Write the Story: A Haunted House

Include the following in your story:

♪ silver ♪ relativity ♪ watercolor ♪ Copper Beech ♪ limited
♪ affect ♪ broccoli ♪ politician ♪ arsenal ♪ cufflink


Senior Challenge

Carl swallowed hard as he climbed the walkway from the driveway where he’d left his car. The crumbling stone façade gave the house an ominous look. The old stones held a silver hue in spite of the golden pink of the sunset. Cooper Beech trees lined the walkway, crowding in on each other as they’d grown wild and unkempt.

“Come on,” he heard from ahead on the path.

He squinted to see who’d spoken, but the trees were blocking the little sunlight that still remained, and the murky grey had the affect of turning everyone into a twisted and stretched shadow that hardly resembled their human selves at all. It added to the eerie feeling of the place that made it the perfect place to gather a bunch of seniors together and scare the pants off of them.

They gathered on the front lawn. They pushed and shoved and chattered amongst themselves. The excitement grew as the crowd grew. There was a buzz in the air, almost electric in nature, like a storm hanging in the air refusing to break open. It hummed around them as they waited to learn what this year’s contest would be.

Mr. Winterson had built the house in a long ago era. A career politician, he and his wife had hosted countless parties where he’d glad-handed and hobnobbed with powerful people looking to further his political career and push his agendas to likeminded folks.

“Listen up, listen up!” MacKenzie shouted through the bullhorn.

“Shut up, Mac’s about to talk,” his girlfriend shooshed those nearest her.

Slowly the whisper of shh could be heard passing through the crowd as everyone quieted down to listen for instructions. He began as soon as the crowd was quiet.

“You know the rules. Once you enter the house, there’s no turning back,” Mac reminded everyone. “The doors will be locked up tight. No cell phones allowed. There’s a walkie talkie near the front door and a few others placed throughout. These are to reach us in case of emergency. And ONLY in the case of a real emergency.”

Some people started to bounce from foot to foot uneasily. It was an old crumbling house. There was no electricity or running water. You didn’t know what was lurking around the next corner. People had broken bones and cut themselves on jagged broken places over the years.

The previous year had been the worst year in a long time. No one talked about it. Mac had walked away the undisputed winner. His best friend, Jimmy, hadn’t walked away at all. The funeral had been a somber affair. The whole town had turned out to pay their respects.

The game had almost been cancelled permanently, but Jimmy’s parents had sworn that Jimmy would have hated to know his death caused the end of a valued and timeless tradition that all the townsfolk had seen as a right of passage into adulthood for as long as the townsfolk could remember.

And so here they stood, almost one year to the day since Jimmy’s death, about to hand over their cell phones, their lifelines, to those remaining safely outside. They were to be given flashlights and a pack of batteries before being locked in the broken down monstrosity of a house until the sun had fully risen.

“The bonus prize this year, a thousand dollars,” everyone whooped and hollered at this, “will go to whomever finds Winterson’s silver cufflink. It’s somewhere in the house. I planted it there myself.”

Everyone laughed.

“So follow the rules, sabotage each other, scare each other, be the last man standing to win the grand prize, a ten thousand dollar scholarship to the college of your choice, donated by my aunt and uncle at MacKenzie’s Garage.”

“What if I don’t wanna go to college?” someone asked from in the crowd.

“They’ll discuss helping you start a business or something constructive with the prize money.”

Shouts and whoops went out through the crowd again.

“Sun’s almost gone. Drop your phones in the basket, grab a torch and batteries, and get in there. See you tomorrow. Good luck.”

Carl pulled his phone from his pocket and activated the screen lock feature. No way was he trusting anyone to stay out of his phone when he handed it over. He’d have left it in his car if that wouldn’t be a violation of the rules. He slipped it back in his pocket and, shrugging, took a place in the line that had started to form in front of him.

The cute brunette collecting the phones winked at him as he dropped his into the basket. He grinned at her as he took a flashlight and batteries from the arsenal on the table beside her.

“Good luck,” she giggled.

His grin widened. He wasn’t watching where he was going and plowed right into the back of the quarterback. This made her giggle louder.

“Sorry,” he stammered as he stepped around the solid mass who hadn’t seemed to notice the scrawny geek that bounced off his back.

He entered what he assumed was the foyer. The room was illuminated by the flashlights of those who’d entered before him. He decided to conserve his batteries and shoved his flashlight into his pocket. He stuffed the pack of batteries in his other pocket.

As his eyes adjusted to the gloomy darkness, shapes began to form into objects. Softened by the greyness, the room cast the illusion of walking into a watercolor painting. Unsettled, he slipped the flashlight from his pocket as he hustled into the next room.

It was a dining room. The long table in the center of the room was chipped and marred but appeared to still be surprisingly solid. There were broken chairs scattered around the room. The remnants of a sideboard clung to one wall.

He stepped carefully around the shattered chairs and picked his way to the other side of the room. He pushed the door. It resisted. He pushed again, harder. It groaned before finally giving way. He slid through the narrow opening he’d managed to create.

Carl found himself in an immense kitchen. The room smelled faintly of broccoli. He wondered if it was an olfactory hallucination. The stone floor felt solid beneath his feet and he took his time exploring the nooks and crannies of the great room.

There was a cold pantry. It actually felt like a refrigerator in there. He wondered at the likelihood that he was sharing the small space with one of the ghosts rumored to be in residence at the Winterson house. He shivered.

The other pantry was ambient in temperature. The shelves were stocked with jars full of unrecognizable foods. His nose curled involuntarily at the smell of rot that came up from the broken jars. Jars that had likely exploded from the fermentation of the abandoned produce within.

Returning to the kitchen, he sealed the pantry door tightly behind him. The tired bulb of his flashlight provided a limited view of the open space. He followed the flickering beam until he found another door. This one gave way easily and opened into a long hallway.

The hallway led him into a library stocked floor to ceiling with moldy books. He ran his fingers along the spines. Poetry, literature, and fairy tales interspersed with books on relativity and mathematics to sewing patterns, gardening and homemaking. He pulled a few volumes from the shelves and carefully turned a handful of pages.

The pages of the first two books turned to dust in his fingertips. The third book, a thick book, turned out to be Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Though a few pages stuck together, he was able to glance over a few of them. The glue gave way and whole sections came out in his hand, but he could read Tolstoy’s words.

“What’s in here,” he heard the girlish whisper coming from the opposite side of the room.

He turned in time to see Kristy Sumter dragging a befuddled Justin Crewly into the library. She leapt on him, wrapping her legs around his hips as she crammed her tongue down his throat. Carl slipped from the room unnoticed.

“Hey! Check this out!” somebody shouted from down the hall.

With nothing better to do, he followed the hallway in the direction he thought the shout had come from.

“Where are you?” someone questioned.

“Ballroom?” came the uncertain reply.

“There’s a ballroom?” somebody else inquired.

“I think that’s what it is. How should I know? I look like the type you’d find in a ballroom?”

This elicited laughter that echoed and distorted off the walls disorienting Carl. The shadows began to crawl and twist up the walls. The watercolor painting effect returned. He stumbled down the hall, feeling drugged and confused.

He burst through a door and found himself standing in what must have been the nursery. A doll made entirely of strips of leather stood awkwardly on one bed. A broken clay horse lay in pieces on the other. Above a crib a strange mobile began spinning.

Something glinted after each rotation. No longer spun by invisible hand or spontaneous breeze, the mobile began to slow. He picked his way across the broken floor, careful to keep his weight on the crossbeams. The closer he got to the crib, the more certain he was that he’d found the cufflink.

It was a crudely made mobile. Pieces of glass and bottle caps made up the majority of the pieces. There, hidden amongst the garbage was a silver cufflink, a curvy scripted W within a circle, that circled filled entirely with diamond chips.

He slipped it in his pocket just as he heard giggling coming up the hallway. The Freemont twins, Stacy and Casey, held hands, their heads locked together, and whispered secrets to each other.

“Hi Carl,” they sang in unison.

He felt a twinge below his belt and shuffled his feet shyly.

“Hi Stacy, Hi Casey,” he looked them in the eye as he said their names.

“How do you do that?” asked Stacy.

“How do you always know who’s who?” asked Casey.

“I’m madly in love with the both of you, and in my love how could I ever confuse you for your sister?” he confessed.

This resulted in more giggles. Casey whispered in Stacy’s ear, Stacy replied in kind. They giggled a little more then nodded in silent agreement. They were there beside him so quickly he’d swear they’d defied physics and teleported.

“Your so sweet,” Casey told him.

“Sweet like candy,” Stacy agreed.

And then they’d planted their glossed lips on each corner of his mouth. A sweet, innocent kiss that sent lightening bolts through his very being. Just as quickly, they’d retreated. Leaving him alone with a hardon and the winning grand in his pocket.

He patted his pocket. Relieved when he found it still there. The kiss hadn’t been a ploy to take the prize. He pulled it from his pocket and examined it closely. Certain that it was the silver cufflink, he placed it inside the little pocket of his jeans where he was confident he wouldn’t lose it.

He retraced his steps to the kitchen and settled into the cool pantry to await the morning. To pass the time, he talked to the ghosts that he was sure didn’t exist. So certain was he that he hardly noticed when the little girl started answering back.

They had a wonderfully dull conversation and he’d fallen asleep leaning against the wall. Vaguely aware of the handful of times somebody poked their head into the pantry to look around. He slept soundly and snored loudly. He was still there when Mac came through with the bullhorn declaring the night over.

“Gather round the front door,” he shouted, “and let’s see who’s declared your winner.”

Carl unfolded himself, stood up, and stretched as far as he could stretch. He yawned loudly as he exited the pantry. The pale morning sunlight was trying to shine through the dingy window panes. Years of dust and debris clung to both sides.

He found his way into the dining room. The door he’d barely squeezed through the night before had splintered under somebody’s bruit force. He carefully slid through the broken pieces of rotted wood. Stepping softly, he wound his way through the dining room debris.

The foyer was nearly empty. Sweet, quiet Amelia stood off in the corner. She wore a drab grey dress that almost perfectly matched the lighting of the room. She chewed her bottom lip and kicked the dust with her small foot. She looked up as Mac entered the foyer.

“Well, well, well. Looks like we have two winners. You know how we break a tie like this?” his eyes sparkled mischievously.

Carl patted his pocket, confident that he had the tie breaker right there. He smiled self assuredly.

“A fight to the death!” Mac declared.

Amelia stammered and stuttered. Carl choked and sputtered.

“Just kidding,” Mac’s laugh echoed off the walls. “Did either of you find the silver cufflink?”

Carl pulled it from his pocket and held it up so both Mac and Amelia could see it. Amelia’s face was crestfallen. He hated to see her that way.

“That just means I get that grand of spending money to put in my pocket, right?” Carl raised an eyebrow at Mac. “Amelia and I split the scholarship fifty-fifty, don’t we?”

Mac lowered his eyebrow questioningly, not immediately understanding why Carl was giving up half of his prize. Carl looked at Amelia and Mac followed his gaze to the quiet girl with the long brown hair that hung over her face, and the grey dress that hung loosely from her shoulders, dwarfing her small frame.

“Oh yeah, that scholarship money will have to be split fairly between you both,” he’d agreed and her face had peeked out from behind the hair curtain, a small smile evident.

“Let’s go get some breakfast,” Carl invited Amelia, offering his arm like an old-fashioned gentleman.

“I’d be delighted,” she’d whispered quietly as she took his arm.

They left the house arm in arm, blinking in the soft light of the morning sun. They’d stayed linked together on the porch as everyone who’d hung around cheered and applauded them for braving the whole night.

The pair walked together through the crowd, paying no mind to their jubilation and adoration. They only had eyes for pancakes. He opened the passenger door to his car, and she climbed in. He slid into the driver’s seat and reversed down the long driveway and out onto the quiet street.

Ten minutes later they were sitting across from each other at the corner booth of O’Malley’s diner scarfing down a giant breakfast and washing it down with way too much coffee. They talked excitedly around mouthfuls of food.

All too soon he had to pay the bill and drive Amelia home. It had been such a wonderfully enjoyable morning that he hated to say goodbye. In front of her apartment building, she kissed him deeply.

“Thank you,” she said as she climbed out of the car.

He’d stared after her, mouth hanging open, until she’d disappeared into the complex and the door had shut tightly behind her. He’d driven away regretfully.

At home, he showered and crawled into bed. He was asleep before his head had hit the pillow.

dawn’s early light ShldBWriting


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Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

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