These entries from May'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 "May Writing Challenge."
I’ve always loved wind. It’s cold, fast, freeing, bold. No one knows where it comes from or what its purpose is. It just gets to be, to weave its way through the troubles of the world, oblivious to trivial problems and never looking back, just pushing forward. I suppose that’s less than could be said for me.
Today is a better day. Yesterday they were too close. But that’s my fault, anyway. I’m a fool for thinking I could get a few extra hours rest. Today I got on the move at first light. It was almost complete silence at my crude makeshift camp. The only sounds to be heard were the faint whispers of the wind through the oaks and willows and the birds singing like the most magnificent flute ever to utter a tune. Light sparkled brilliantly over the river I had fought my way across just hours ago, setting the patches of poppies ablaze with color and life. It was one of those serene moments where I feel as if, for a second, I’m safe. That’s the lie I tell myself. I’ve been walking for several hours this day, and the map tells me that this moment of peace won’t last for long. I’m approaching the place of my mission, which means I can’t lose my focus for even a second. Seconds are costly in a world like mine.
I make my way along the crude dirt path worn into the greening grasses. It seems older than any path I’ve been along before and looks like it hasn’t been used in years. I look up to the sky. Behind me, I see ominous storm clouds in the west. They won’t reach me for a few hours. But I can’t say that about my pursuers.
There’s an elevation in the trail a few yards ahead of me. I run to it, stumbling on a tree root as I go. When I get to the top, I can finally see what I’ve been looking for. Mount Clarion rises in the distance, a beacon of hope, and I see smoke rising from the valley within. It’s the village I’m meant to warn, to prepare. I can’t help but grin to know I’ve nearly fulfilled this precarious mission I promised to complete.
I start to pull myself up to a higher ledge so I can see better when a rustle from the forest freezes my blood. I get up to the ledge as swiftly and quietly as possible and crouch down, my gaze sweeping the area. It remains quiet for some minutes, and I almost convince myself that I imagined it when an arrow flies down from the trees, scraping my shoulder deep enough to leave a scar. I sprint for cover around a ridge and catch my breath. When I do, I realize that I am standing on the edge of a ravine, with a river rushing fiercely at the bottom. But I can’t be scared, not now. I draw my bow and peek around the corner. They’re on the ground going through the pack I dropped. Their leader is reading the letter I was meant to deliver. He crumples it up and throws it down the cliff, where I watch it tumble to the depths. There are too many of them for me to attack alone. They’re searching for me now. I’m trapped. The leader signals for them to go the opposite direction, and I almost let out a breath of relief, when one of them spies something on the ground several yards from me. I look to see what it is. A silver hair clip. The one my sister made for me before I left. It fell out in my panic. They all go to it, and they come within feet of me. One corner away from my doom. I look at the hair clip. It can’t end like this. I promised to see her again. With our parents gone, I’m all she has. It happens in a few, costly seconds.
One of the men spots me, and as they let the arrow fly right at my head, I look to the raging waters below. And I jump.
Tears of a Willow Tree
She forced herself to stop after she stumbled over an unseen tree root for the third time. Panting, she bent over, trying to catch her breath. Tradition, she sneered to herself. What a lousy concept. Her resentment for her deceased ancestors grew. What girl in modern times would want to grow up to be married off to a complete stranger? What girl in modern times spent their days dreaming about arranged marriage? What girl in modern times aspired to be a housewife?
That’s what was expected of her, anyway. She stood straight again, glaring around at the ominous trees as the wind whispered through the leaves, swirling around her dark hair. Her breathing had calmed, and she glanced forwards to see the small treehouse at the opposite end of the clearing.
Yes. That was what she had come for.
When she was small, her father had built her this treehouse on the single oak tree amongst the abundance of willow trees surrounding the clearing. It’s your getaway, he’d told her. You will always be safe here. This is where you can dream. She remembered laughing with her mother over Pride and Prejudice and downing glasses of chilled lemonade with her father sitting right here at the base of the tree, all those years ago.
Times had changed. Her mother had fallen ill and passed far too soon, and her father had retreated into himself. A shell of a man, the townsfolk called him. He began to despise any shows of affection and love, and his face was permanently shaped into a scowl. He had married out of love, of course. He defied his ancestors and eloped with the woman he had fallen for, and he had come to see her early death as a punishment for his defiance. This, of course, explained her father’s determination to marry his daughter off — to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps and escape the wrath of fate.
She grabbed hold of the rope ladder leading up to the treehouse and pulled herself into the treehouse, watching almost observationally as her ink-stained hands stabilized her body securely in the small building. Glancing around, she saw the familiar stacks of books and makeshift pen holders made of old empty water bottles, a flute case balanced precariously on top of the organized mess. She weaved her way through to the very back, where a small wooden desk sat. It was the one clear surface in the entire tree house, with only a box of matches and a small candle in the corner.
She felt her anger ebbing away as she soaked in her safe space. Replacing it was the deepest sadness, a grief for the life she thought she could have had. She picked up a pile of papers that sat on the floor next to the desk — a stack of her short stories, her passionate thoughts, her dreams and aspirations. Sinking to the ground, she fingered through each sheet lovingly, rereading her most prized writings. Looking back, she laughed at how oblivious she had been. She had dared to dream, dared to wish for a life that was just out of her reach.
In the blink of an eye, she was over at the window of the treehouse, the stack of papers in one hand and a lit match in the other. As the papers trailed out of the window one after the other, half ablaze, half ash, she said her final goodbye to the sole tether that offered her an escape out of the realities of this harsh world — subconsciously also letting go of the last shreds of hope she had clung onto for so many years — a hope for understanding, for acceptance, for any sort of potential.
As the final strains of light from the flames flickered out, the whirling wind of a rising storm threw the fallen leaves into the air, and the girl cried with the weeping willows, weighted down with the heaviness of rain, heartbreak, and the loss of a million dreams and ambitions that were crushed under the sharp reality that had been blurred by naivety.
We’ve escaped the party.
I thought Em was only joking about doing it at first. Yet here we are, half-empty wine bottles in hand and halfway across the field behind my best friend’s house, running ourselves breathless to get as far away from the crowds as we can.
I can feel the dampness in the grass from this afternoon’s storm sinking into my jeans. The cold stings at my skin, but I don’t care — I’m too distracted by Em’s perfume and the way it mingles with the scent of recently fallen rain. I breathe it all in and close my eyes before turning them towards the sky. The storm has left the night a translucent, star-scattered blue, and sparkling like sapphires.
It’s the kind of sky that makes the impossible seem possible.
We’re running even faster now, and I tear my gaze away from the stars for a second to glance over at Em. I kind of hoped she’d be looking at me, too. Instead she seems oblivious to me entirely, her eyes fixed dead ahead and ablaze with the light of the moon above.
It’s only when I stumble over uneven ground and gasp that Em’s focus breaks. I’ve managed to stay on my feet, thank God, and I don’t know if it’s the surge of adrenaline or the flash of worry on Em’s face as she skids to a halt, but I just start to laugh. Em’s fear falls away as quickly as it came, and she laughs, too — that low, liberating laugh that first caught me off guard all those months ago. She jogs back over to me and reaches out to take my free hand in hers.
When her skin touches mine, I feel like we could just keep running together for eternity.
Soon enough, though, tall tangles of grass temper our frenzied flight, and, panting for breath, we reluctantly slow down to a walk and weave our way through the fronds towards the little stream that traces the edge of the field.
Em leads the way now, heading for a willow tree that’s perched in a rather precarious position on the bank. As we edge closer, I’m almost convinced I hear the tree whisper to itself — like it’s watching us as we sweep under its branches. Like it’s gossiping about all the possibilities the next few minutes may hold as we settle ourselves against its trunk.
I soon forget the willow’s whispers as the aftermath of the run and the cold of the night take over my body. My legs are aching, my ears are pounding, and my cheeks are sore from laughter. But being sat next to Em under this tree, just the two of us surrounded by the soothing simmer of the stream, I know I’ve never been happier.
I look over at Em again. She’s taking a long, slow drink of wine from her stolen bottle, her head tilted back to catch the last few drops. I find myself unnerved yet strangely drawn in by the way the liquid pulses against her throat, accentuating the old, fading scar that stretches over the hollow of her neck.
I wonder what living with that scar is like for her. How terrifying getting it must have been.
Before my thoughts can wander too far, Em puts the bottle down again and catches me staring. I blush so hard that I’m afraid she’ll be able to see my cheeks glowing pink through the dark.
But she just smiles. The wine has left a ruby red stain on her lips.
Like a stolen kiss, I think.
That’s when I realise she’s still holding my hand.
“So,” I ask after forever, the tremble in my voice betraying me. “What do we do now?”
Em doesn’t say a word. She just moves in closer to me, and, in the dark, her rubied lips find mine.