These entries from April's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "April Writing Challenge."
Big City Dreams
She sat at the solid wooden table, running her fingers over the dried rings of wine bottle stains, picking up crumbs.
The apartment seemed especially small today. Small and quiet, when only yesterday it had been filled with music and Dean’s laughter.
The city was grey outside, dripping like a watercolour painting, turning the light in the kitchen blue and fogging the windows with rain. The silence was hateful.
She stood up, annoyed, her chair skidding backwards over the floorboards. She would put the music back on and fill up the apartment again.
Tracing soft fingers over her faded record collection, she bit her lip. She adored both Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells… but more recently she’d fallen in love with Dolly.
In the last few weeks she’d mastered The Seeker, practicing every evening in the fading light until her throat was raw.
She’d then attended three more auditions and heard nothing back.
“Just give me a smile, will ya?” Dean had said only the other day. He’d had his dirty boots up on her table, arms folded behind his head. “It hurts me to see you unhappy, you know.”
She’d been pretty sure he was teasing her, but she could never tell with Dean. “I want to sing,” she’d said, arms folded.
His smile grew. “Alright, then. Sing for me, baby.”
But it wasn’t just that — anyone could sing. She wanted to be known. She’d spent three years in New York now, waiting for her chance, waiting to show the world what she was capable of. She’d earnt it. Hadn’t everyone always said her voice was as sweet as a nightingale’s?
She’d ignored Dean’s teasing and kept her lips firmly shut.
Now, she put on Dolly’s Something Special album and closed her eyes, trying to put Dean’s smirking face out of her mind.
“I don’t want you to come round anymore,” she’d said yesterday, fingers clenched together, determined to keep her composure.
He’d walked over to put his arms around her, and she’d twisted away.
“Don’t be stupid, baby. You love me.”
“I never said that.”
He shrugged, reaching for her again. “You like me, then. And if this is some crap about your big city dreams — I can tell you now, honey, sometimes you just gotta make peace with what you have.”
She’d seen red. Her body felt hot and unsteady as she shoved him in the chest, hard. “Get out. Just — get out!”
He looked at her for a long time, his face infuriatingly blank. “You’ll miss me,” he murmured finally, picking up his coat and walking out.
The door slammed behind him.
She sank down against the wall, staring around at her tiny kitchen, hating it. A few lines from The Seeker ran dimly though her thoughts, like moths buzzing against glass.
Won’t you reach out and lead me / Guide me and keep me / In the shelter of your care each day…
Now, she shook herself back into the present, opening her eyes to watch the record spin. The soft vocals were soothing.
Sing for me, baby.
Fine then. She would sing. Sing for all the stupid folk who didn’t yet realise her potential.
How they would gawp and stare when they finally saw her on stage.
The world melted away as the music grew louder. She climbed the narrow, creaking stairs to her room, crossing past her bed to the window. The latch was tricky like always, but she got it open. Wide open, the weak rain blowing in and spattering her face and dress.
She thought, I’m going to be a star.
The streets stretched out below her, shining with rainwater. Cars growled, people hurried past with heads bent down and collars turned up high.
They didn’t know that she stood way above them. They would wish, later, that they had seen her.
New York, cruel, unsuspecting New York, would be her audience, the rain-slicked street her stage. She leant out and closed her eyes as Dolly’s voice rose and rose. She could imagine the record downstairs spinning faster, faster.
The piece reached its crescendo, finally. She stepped out onto her stage, opened her mouth, and began to sing.
This Is It
I look around frantically, searching for an escape.
But I can barely see. The moon half-heartedly attempts to illuminate the worn, dirt path while trees surround me on all sides. I cry out when a branch slaps me across the face and my cheek smarts, and when I touch a finger to it, the skin is warm and wet. My hand is sticky when I pull it away.
Then I hear them. The sound is still a distance behind me, but as I listen more closely, their cries intensify.
Suddenly my mind is spinning, and I feel light, light as a feather floating down from the sky.
Run ! I scream inside my mind. Go now! I feel the hard palpitations of my heart lodged in my throat. My shirt is drenched, my legs rubbery, and all I want to do is collapse onto the ground. But I know what will happen if I stay.
They’ll find me.
The ground squelches as my feet begin moving before my brain comprehends what’s happening. And then I’m weaving between trees and hopping over fallen trunks, and my heart feels like it’s about to explode, right here in the middle of the woods, with only the moon and me as its witnesses.
I hear the yelling grow louder, and I start to panic, so I push myself harder, faster , but still I can hardly make out anything that’s in front of me. I’m sprinting blindly through a forest that darkens the deeper I go.
There’s another scream, but this one’s different. It’s laced with a desperation, an agony that slices through my soul.
It urges me forward.
My mind is lost, my body working on complete adrenaline that I don’t even realize when the dirt softens and my sneakers start to sink into mud.
The ground turns into water, and suddenly I’m wading through a river that comes up to my thighs. Its frigid touch sends shivers up my spine.
By the time I’m on solid ground again, I am shaking, and I’ve only one shoe left. But my mind seems more alert now, and I’m tearing through the woods again when, abruptly, I realize that I am no longer on the path.
I don’t know where I am.
I don’t know when my legs decided to stop working. They’ve been replaced by rubber, I think. The moon looks down at me, a person entwined between the trees of a darkened forest, examining their surroundings like a deer with hunters hot on their pursuit. My heartbeat is so loud that I’m sure the hunters can hear it, too.
And then: quietness. It envelops me like a blanket. Nothing stirs. For a moment, my own heart even seems to stop pounding. The sound of the trickling river is distant, fading. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in. I am alone.
Or at least I thought I was.
A branch snaps to my right, and I swivel to face it, my heartbeat quickening again as it rises back up to my throat. I long for the breath that escaped my lungs just seconds ago.
Maybe if I’m quiet, I think, they won’t notice that I am here.
But I know it’s them. And that means that they know it’s me, too. So I brace myself for what is to come.
Another bit of shuffling, and then they step out from behind the foliage.
I knew this was coming; it was inevitable.
They move under the moonlight, their pale skin glistening. Sweat–or maybe it’s river water–slides down their face and drips from their shirt. I watch as it makes a small puddle beneath them.
Why did I think I stood a chance?
They come closer, now inches from my face, hand held mid-air. Two golden cat-like eyes peer down at me. I can feel their warm, uneven breaths on my face as their chest rises and falls. Rises and falls.
The delicate hairs all along my skin prickle and my limbs go limp. All of the energy drains from my body.
This is it.
Finally, their hand comes down and grasps my arm. “You’re it! ” they say.
As the wind blew through the trees, she could have sworn she heard whispers. This had happened the last three times she had been to the woods. The woods backed on to her childhood home; she had visited here nearly every day when she was growing up. It was her little land of adventure. Daisy had not been back for some time. Like many she had been lured into the big city once she was old enough. She had adored her childhood, full of adventure and make believe, but once you get to a certain age, normally around 13, things started to lose their sparkle. She’d spent those years of her life in a sulk just waiting and hoping to get out. Daisy would come back at Christmas and spend time with the family, and it was wonderful to have a quaint little place that just didn’t change to call “home.” Funny isn’t it – no matter where you live or how many places you live in – where you grew up is always the place you end up referring to as home!
When she was 21, Daisy’s parents had phoned everyone, everyone being Daisy, Jake, and Tom (her two older brothers); they had all been telephoned on the same night and were told that their parents were going to get divorced. No one was really that shocked; it had not been a happy marriage, but why wait all this time? The children had all been gone for a few years by now – but maybe that is what had pushed them over the edge.
Although, they never did get divorced. Mrs. Cole, the mother, ran off with the man next door. Although next door out here was some way down the road, nevertheless that had been the end of big family Christmases. It was awkward trying to split the time between their parents, so they had eventually all drifted off and done their own thing. Daisy regretted that now – what she would give for one more family Christmas together!
Jake had moved to Australia; they video called every few months but hadn’t actually been in the same room with each other for over 10 years. Tom had moved to Scotland; he had no wi-fi and only had a phone signal when he drove into town to use the phone box. He rarely did this, so they rarely even spoke. Instead there would be letters in Christmas cards, but they hadn’t seen each other for 8 years.
When the divorce had come through, her dad had gone to live in a cabin near the lake. Her dad had passed away three weeks ago. The will had left the main house to the children, to be sold and the money split between them. Daisy had thought it would be easy, but now she was here…….
When she had arrived, she had shivered as she walked through the front door. Cobwebs and dust everywhere, but there was still something, an essence of the family that had once been. A couple of birds appeared to have made their homes in the eaves, but as for any other life, there had been nothing. Daisy had sorted what she could in that first day and then ventured into the woods. It was here she heard a noise. She had ignored it. But now twice more had she visited, and twice more had she head the same sounds. This time she strained to listen. She could hear her name, laughter, her brothers, her Dad…. This made her jump. She reached out to touch the nearest tree. She felt a warmth spread through her. The whispers started again. It was like her whole life was being played out amongst the swishing of the branches and the gentle lilt of the breeze. Rather than creepy, there was a sense of warmth, a feeling of belonging, something Daisy hadn’t realised she had missed ever since she’d run off to the city. She thought for a moment and heard “do it” in the wind. Daisy pulled out her phone and called her bank manager and asked about the process of buying out her brothers. Maybe it was finally time to come home.
Kal put the CD inside the portable CD player. Then he closed the lid. He inserted his earphone plug in the slot in the player so he could hear the song quietly. His roommate was already sleeping, and he didn’t want to disturb him.
He put the earbuds in his ears and hit the play button.
It started with a soft melody from a piano.
Then there was a voice; a deep voice started singing.
Kal smiled because he had easily recognized Carter’s voice.
The world melted away as the music grew louder, the beat went faster, and the song reached its crescendo.
Kal closed his eyes as he leaned back in his seat, drowning in Carter’s velvety voice and drowning at the pound of his own heart.
Somehow, the song was trying to tell him something.
Somehow, he understood it.
Kal had a guitar strapped across his chest, strumming on his guitar. He stood among a group of people as they merrily sang to the beat of their instruments. Their loud and upbeat song could reach miles and miles away around their university’s quad.
However, a scream cut off their singing. They looked at the direction of the scream. Four people were walking across the quad towards them. They seemed to be carrying a guy. Two people were holding the flailing arms of that guy, and the other two were holding the legs that were kicking in a general direction. The four people dumped that guy in front of Kal like he was a sack of rice. The guy landed on his butt with a groan. He recognized the guy; it was Carter.
“There you go,” one of the four people who had carried Carter spoke up. He was out of breath. “Just give it to Kal, Carter, for the love of Beethoven! We’re so sick of you running away and taking advantage of your long limbs all the time.”
Then the four left. Kal could only blink at the retreating figures then back at Carter.
“I’m going to kill them,” Carter muttered. His face was flushed down to his neck. He glared at the grass.
“I would probably too if they carried me like that.” Kal smiled. He shifted his guitar so it was now resting on his back. He crouched down in front of Carter.
That was when Carter gazed up at him, eyes wide and dark brown, and his face was a shade of a strawberry. It was cute, though.
“They said you’re going to give me something,” Kal said.
Carter swallowed. “I-I’m going to die.”
Kal snorted. “How are you going to kill your friends if you die.”
Carter clutched his chest. “Ahh, my heart, it’s going to explode.”
“Look!” Carter held Kal’s hand and put it on his chest. Carter’s heart was beating wildly under Kal’s palm.
“Why?” Kal stared at him, bewildered.
“I-I’m nervous.” Carter released his hand and reached for his backpack slung on his shoulders. He opened his bag with shaking hands. Then he shoved a CD case on Kal’s chest.
“That’s for you we have a musical composition class and we have to write a song I wrote one for you bye,” Carter said in all one breath. He scrambled to get up and took off running.
Kal looked down at the CD case in his hand.
Kal had seen Carter up ahead even before the latter could see him. Kal was about to wave at him when Carter’s eyes landed on him. His eyes widened. He made a U-Turn and ran through the corridor, away from Kal.
Kal was confused. He thought that they had gotten along just fine. They had been seatmates at Music History and had been partners for one activity.
What changed then?
Kal found a seat by the window when he had arrived at the lecture hall for his Music History.
Kal turned his head and looked up.
A tall lanky figure pointed at the empty seat next to Kal. “Uhm, is this seat already taken?”
“Nope.” Kal smiled at him. “I’m Kaleb Diaz, by the way.”
Carter smiled back shyly. “Carter Park.”
It was the start of the song.