This wasn't at all like when I taught my kids to hit a ball deep to the outfield, or how to cook, or drive. This one hit much closer to home, when my high school freshman son told me a couple weeks ago his English teacher was running a contest in class. She tasked her students with a creative writing exercise. They were each to write an original very short story that would give her the creeps when she read it. Each submission was to be written as if it weren't a complete story in and of itself, but as if it were the first chapter of a longer work. At the story's end, the reader was to be left anxious to know, what happens next?
Those of you who've had high school freshman sons, or who have them now, know that sprinting down the academic paths of least resistance is a high art form with those kids. I'm an author, and I write scary short stories, so it didn't surprise me much when my boy cornered me as I was brushing my teeth, explained the assignment, and asked me what he should write. Write whatever you'd like to, I said through a mouth full of foam over the whirring of my electric toothbrush. But there's a prize for the best story and I want to win it, he said. I replied that he'd best write a really good story then, but that I wasn't going to help him beyond a few basic tips about crafting horror stories, and checking his grammar and punctuation when he finished his writing.
He granted me a scowl, then threw his hands in his pockets and wandered off to ponder as I flossed my smile.
I read his story when he finished it a few days later. I thought it was great, and told him so. His teacher thought so, too, as did the rest of his class. Yesterday, his eerie tale won the prize for best story. Overstating my pride about that isn't possible. And so without further ado, I present to you the work of a budding young author teeming with bright promise. Enjoy.
The Long Way Home
By E. Gazala
“You must not be from around here,” Brooke said. “I’m supposed to be home before dark, and this is the long way home. We should have gone the other way. Now it’ll be dark before I get home.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time,” Will replied.
There was only silence between them for a few minutes. Both of them wanted to speak, but for some reason, they kept to themselves. Finally Brooke said, “Did you hear what Turner was saying today?”
“You mean about how the anniversary of the school bus wreck all those years ago is coming up?”
Brooke nodded. “Yeah. I always think about it when I walk on this street. It happened here, you know. Gives me the creeps…”
“Really? That makes me think about…“ Will stopped talking, abruptly.
Brooke waited for Will to finish his sentence. He didn’t say anything.
Will seemed sad when she looked at him. “What were you going to say?” Brooke asked.
Will shook his head.
“C’mon. Tell me.”
“Ok, ok. I was just going to say that it makes me think about ghosts,” Will answered, reluctantly.
“That’s it? Why did you not want to tell me that?”
“I’m not sure. We just met. I didn’t want you to think I’m weird or something.”
“No! Everyone thinks about ghosts every now and then, Will.”
Will smiled weakly, as if he knew he made a mistake by telling Brooke his thought. Another silence hung between them.
Finally Brooke said, “It’s going to be dark soon. My Dad gets mad when I’m out after dark. Why did you want to come this way?”
The sky was a fading orange as the sun began to set over the tree line of the suburban neighborhood Brooke and Will were walking through. The sun was still slightly out though, and it seemed too dark and too cold for the time that it was.
“I’m not sure. I just felt like coming this way tonight,” Will said. “I like it here.”
The sun vanished behind the trees. It was getting colder and darker by the minute. A chilling breeze picked up. It swished through the trees and pushed fallen, crumbling leaves against Brooke’s and Will’s ankles.
“You’re right. You are weird,” Brooke said. She tried to make it sound like a joke, but she sounded a little nervous.
Will laughed sheepishly. “Was it really this street that the school bus crash was on? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Everyone knows that,” Brooke said. “You know, Turner said people think that some of the kids who died in the crash left their ghosts around here. He’s such an idiot.”
When Will didn’t answer her Brooke turned around. Will was gone. She looked everywhere, but she was alone, except for the silence all around her.
“Will?” she called out. Her voice was trembling
There was no answer but a single cold breath on the back of her neck.
"The child is father to the man."
~~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~~