Okay, finally we have the finalists set for the inaugural Strong Scene Contest. Let me start by saying what a terrific bunch of submissions I received. So much so that I completely wimped out and couldn't reduce the finalists down to 3, I had to include 5. Out of over 30 submissions I had the gut-renching duty to tell 25 really good writers they didn't make the finals. That was terrible. And although I've been at this game a while now, I'm still a writer. And writers really don't enjoy the R-word unless it ends with oyalties.
So below are the 5 finalists which I've already sent to our Honorary Judge, author Monique High. She will have the arduous task of choosing a winner. Feel free to comment on these scenes, I'm sure the authors would appreciate any critiques (as long as they're constructive) or support of their work. Thanks to all who submitted and keep them coming.
Scene # 1
Her anger blew before her like a dark wind as she headed down the hall towards the still struggling redhead and the bored looking Ryder. Raine didn’t even spare him a glance. “Go help Cheveyo get Gavin out of here.”
As Ryder let go of Eden’s wrist, Raine snatched a handful of unraveling red hair, yanking hard enough to bring a short scream of pain from the struggling woman. Using Eden’s hair as a handle, Raine dragged her down the cold hallway towards the glass enclosed exam room. The doctor’s fancy French manicure ripped and broke as she clawed at the hand fisted in her hair. She lost a heel as her nylon clad feet scrambled frantically against the smooth floor. None of it fazed Raine who continued to drag her cursing and sobbing down the hall.
Eden made a desperate attempt to stop Raine’s progress in to the examination room by desperately grabbing the doorframe. Raine put a stop to that futile action with a sharp jerk which not only broke more nails but created a high pitch scream of pain. Wrenching her hand out of Eden’s hair, Raine’s hand snaked out and whipped across Eden’s face. Shocked silence filled the room and held Eden momentarily still. Long enough for Raine to shackle her arms and bodily slam her onto the frigid metal table with casual strength. The silver restraints brought a stinging pain to Raine’s hands, but she ignored it.
Eden’s breath was knocked out of her from the force of her back meeting the table. Raine was able to lock one wrist and one ankle restraint before the doctor began fighting in earnest.
Raine’s long fingered hand reached out and snagged Eden’s chin, forcing green eyes to meet the glacial steel matched by the voice dripping ice. “Give me a reason, just one.”
Raine could smell the metallic stink of fear rising from Eden. She reveled in the dark joy that killing this human would bring her. The whimpers escaping from Eden’s bloodless lips added a savage spark of satisfaction to Raine’s grey eyes. She made quick work of the remaining two restraints.
With Eden strapped to the table, Raine looked around the room. Spotting a number of syringes loaded with some clear liquid lying in the cooling unit brought a small vicious smile to her face. She walked around the table while its occupant’s frightened eyes followed her, and took one of the syringes out of the unit. Raine’s eyes were glowing with predatory delight as Eden’s breath hitched audibly.
“Now what could this little syringe hold that scares you so much, Dr. Lawson?” Raine’s voice was a purr of malice as she dragged a small backless chair over to Eden’s left side.
Andi came awake in a heart-stopping thump. Usually she swam up to consciousness through layers of sleep and took several minutes to become fully awake. This time she was instantly awake and alert.
Someone touched my cheek
She kept her eyes closed as she tuned into the sounds around her. Ticking alarm clock, occasional drip from the bathroom faucet, a car revving somewhere nearby.
Maybe it was the car that woke me
She had almost convinced herself of that when she heard a sound from the kitchen. It was a very faint noise, a soft click. So soft, so stealthy. It wasn’t meant to be heard. She opened one eye halfway. The apartment was completely still.
What did I hear?
When the light came on, she sucked in a great gasp of air.
That’s the refrigerator light ohmygod someone is in the kitchen
She leapt from the bed and was across the room in one fluid movement, turning the lock as she closed the door. She put her ear to it. The apartment was silent.
Maybe that wasn’t the refrigerator light after all maybe it was someone’s headlights reflecting into the room
Her ear pressed into the door so hard it hurt. No noise came from the other side.
Yeah and since when can you see headlights in a third floor apartment
A whispery, slithery sound came from the other side. Andi held her breath, straining to hear. With mounting terror, she heard breathing.
He’s listening to me the same way I’m listening to him
She backed away, hand to her mouth to hold back the scream in her throat.
This can’t be happening
The back of her knees tingled as all doubt was driven away by a low, dark, deep hate-filled chuckle coming from the hall outside.
“Go away. Please go away,” she whimpered.
“All I want to do is talk to you. If you talk to me, I won’t bother you again.” His voice was low, almost pleasant, sing-songy.
“Stop it!” she screamed.
Call the police! 911!
She cast her eyes about wildly for the phone, then let out a groan as she realized it was where it should be, on the battery charger in the kitchen.
“Open this door right now. It’s time for us to TALK!” He spat out the last word with such venom that her bladder weakened. She tightened her muscles so she wouldn’t wet herself.
“I’m giving you to the count of three and you’d better have this door opened. If I have to break it down, you’ll be sorry.”
I need a weapon oh yes the gun
With a sob, she dove to the floor, rolling over to the bed. For a frantic moment she scrambled about, fishing her hand underneath the bed and feeling only air.
“One. Come on, now, let’s play nice,” he said in a wheedling voice.
Her hands closed upon the metal box.
Twenty-one hundred pennies.
That’s how much my son Charlie needed to buy the baby guinea pig at the pet store.
So Charlie scoured his room and pilfered from his brothers and culled through junk drawers, presenting me with a couple of bulging, gallon-sized bags full of copper.
At the bank, and the teller said she was too busy to count it all, so she set us up at a table in the lobby, where we sat for a good while stuffing paper rolls full of coins and hope.
When we finished, my son had twenty-one hundred pennies.
If that wasn’t a sign from God that I had to buy that darn tennis-ball-sized mound of fur, I don’t know what was.
So we crossed the street to the pet store and brought Pogo home.
Charlie named him Pogo.
Pogo purred when we picked him up. He squealed with glee when we came in the room. He sat on our tummies when we watched TV. And his chocolate chip black eyes blinked at us with adoration.
For four years, we loved Pogo.
And he loved us.
So when Pogo died last Saturday, I cried all morning. We all did. I placed his soft, limp body in a shoebox, on top of fresh bedding. Charlie found a homemade, matching hemp bracelet and necklace, tucked the necklace next to Pogo, and tied the bracelet around his ankle.
As I dug a hole, Charlie brought his guitar outside and sat on the picnic table. “I’ll play Ode to Joy while you read, Mama,” he said.
The whole family stood around the grave site as Charlie plucked a somber rendition of the tune, and I read from the Psalms.
Before we buried Pogo, Charlie wrote and tucked a page-long letter in the box beside him, which I wasn’t allowed to read, but I imagine said something about how Pogo was his best buddy in the whole wide world, and how they will be friends forever, and how much he’ll miss him, but he’ll see him again someday in Heaven.
Friends are hard to lose.
No matter how small.
And sometimes the smallest friends are the most faithful.
Feeling the fur between our fingers and holding our hands to his tiny, rapidly beating chest unveil the flutter of our own hearts, and the flutter of our Maker’s as He reassures us, “I am here. I made this creature. I care for him. And I care for you.”
Because like the Bible says, faith starts as a mustard seed.
If it grows as big as a guinea pig, you’re doing pretty good.
And if you have enough to fill a bag full of pennies, you’re doing great.
No wonder psalmists sang so often of all of God’s creatures.
No wonder God made them every size, shape and color.
In lieu of the betrayal of human hearts, God blinks at us, adoringly, through the eyes of even His smallest, furriest creations.
I headed across Civic Center Park, marveling at the number of hippie-chic types congregating there. The park had always been a favorite spot for transients, their look crossing cultures, ethnicities, and genders. This crowd, on the other hand, looked like groupies following a Grateful Dead tour.
Walking down Court Place a few blocks away, I merged with pedestrians dressed in suits and dresses, the eight-to-fivers of Denver’s business district. It surprised me how many men were wearing their hair longer, and since when had bell-bottoms come back into vogue? But then, I hadn’t been downtown once since returning to Denver. Looked like the business types were adopting their own brand of hippie-chic.
I looked for a Starbucks as I hurried along, saw none. Seemed they were every few blocks when you weren’t looking, but as soon as you needed a caffeine fix, nada. I passed a print shop with the godawfulest, stringiest curtains I’d ever seen before realizing it was actually a large macramé hanging, decorated with beads and feathers.
A Volkswagen buzzed down the street, the Staple Singers classic “I’ll Take You There” blasting out the driver’s open window.
I stopped and stared at the traffic, suddenly aware of how many VW Beetles there were. Which stood out in the stream of larger, gas-guzzling cars.
I felt queasy, as though I were going to get sick again. Rather than give in to it, I continued walking. At the intersection of 16th and Court Place, I stopped at the curb and stared across the street at the building, which should have been the Adam’s Mark but wasn’t. I looked up at the street signs, thinking I’d taken a wrong turn. No, I was definitely at 16th and Court.
The queasiness turned cold, like a chunk of ice in my gut, as I stared at the words on the building.
May D & F.
I turned to an older gentleman who stood next to me, waiting for the light to change.
“Where’s the Adam’s Mark?” My voice sounded distant, faraway.
He blinked faded blue eyes at me. “Excuse me?”
“The Adam’s Mark hotel?” I gestured numbly across the street. “It used to be there.”
He looked across the street, back to me. His eyes had the same confused look as I’d seen in the bus driver’s. Only, this old guy wasn’t stoned to the gills.
“It’s been May D&F since the fifties,” he said slowly. “Been shopping there for years.”
The light turned green and, with a slight nod, he headed across the street.
I stood there, staring at the building, oblivious to the flow of people crossing the intersection.
It’s been May D&F since the fifties.
I knew that to be true because my mom used to talk about shopping there when she was a kid. I remembered she and my grandmother talking about May Company, then Foley’s, buying the chain several decades later.
I felt sluggish, cold. My mind reeled with snapshots and sounds—-the Staple Singers, macramé curtains, that girl in the Indian print dress dancing in her seat—-until it all congealed into a surreal picture that shook me right down to my very soul.
I fished my cell phone out of my pocket with shaky fingers and flipped it open. Nothing. Dead screen. Just as in the mountains. Except here, in downtown Denver, I should have easily connected to a network. I looked around.
Not a single soul had their ear glued to a cell phone.
My legs felt as though their very bones had dissolved, yet I managed to shuffle my way to a nearby newsstand where I read the headlines.
Dean meets with Gray regarding FBl's Watergate investigation
Henry Kissinger's meeting with Chou En-lai
Dick Lamm against Denver hosting 1976 Winter Olympics
I squeezed the newspaper still in my hand, the paper crinkling as I read the date of the paper in the newsstand.
June 21, 1972.
I don’t know how long I stared at it. Minutes I suppose. The shock of it stunned, then horrified me as I’d never been before. Never. With great effort, I shifted my gaze to the paper I held in my hand and stared at the date on the yellowed edge of newsprint. June 21, 1972.
The truth slammed into me, like an invisible sucker-punch, leaving me breathless. What I was experiencing had nothing to do with my meds or my mind. The truth was much simpler and far more real.
I was dead.
I can see his shoes. I want to look up at him and apologize for moving in such a way that I had broken his rules.
"If he could just look into my blue eyes and see the pain he is causing me, maybe he will let go," a little voice inside me insists.
"No he won't!" another voice in my head yells, "He loves to see you in pain. He will never release you if you show him your pain! You know that. Your twenty-nine years old, now quit acting like a baby and do what you know you have to do."
Coming to terms with myself and what needs to be done, I sit and wait, praying that he will release my wrist soon.
A loud growl comes from beside me. Suddenly, with great power, he releases me from within his grasp and throws my hand onto the hard floor. I can hear my knuckles fracture instantly, and once again a pain shoots through my hand and up my arm. Afraid to move my newly broken hand, I let it lay on the floor. I am in excruciating pain and want to scream, but I know if I do I will suffer painful consequences. I have no other choice but to keep my head pointed towards the ground. I can never show him the pain I am enduring.
Without warning, I find my head being ripped towards him. Suddenly, I am staring at the darkness that keeps me here,. He is wearing a mask that hugs his face like a second skin, his true identity never to be seen. I continue to stare, studying his physique as if I am studying a piece of art. Although I have no way of knowing what he truly looks like, something about him I find hypnotizing. I try to look away, but I can’t. His eyes look like empty, bottomless holes, the blackness pulling me in further and further until I find myself in a trance.
With a fistful of my dirty, blond hair, he smiles as he wipes the tears from my cheeks.
"Is something wrong?" He asks in a devilish tone.
I was afraid to say anything, but at the same time I was afraid not to answer him. Without thinking about what I am about to say, my answer slips out of my mouth.
"Nothing wrong here, just another day in paradise," I smirk as he continues to whip my head in every direction.
The entire time those dreadful words are coming out of my mouth I know what I am saying is wrong. I can't help it. I am in pain and out of patience. I take in a deep breath, roll my eyes, and shake my head in disbelief. What have I done? How could I have let myself slip that way?
I close my eyes in fear, and await the punishment I know is coming next.