Contest #37 winner 🏆

This is a story about the man who wants to kill you. I have my doubts, not about the man or about the story, but about you. I fear I do all this for nothing.

 

Listen: I would scream if I had a mouth. I have a story. So that is what I will use.

 

You have seen him before. He might as well live in your periphery. He is tall and seems to carry his weight in his chest and shoulders. He has a narrow waist and legs that taper down to small leather shoes. 

 

Not that you've noticed any of this before. You've been distracted, haven't you? If I told you this same man walked by your home every day, paused to peer into your window, you wouldn't want to believe me. But you couldn't say for certain that I'm wrong.

 

I'm not wrong. 

 

He might be very close right now. He might even be in your house. After all, there are so many excellent hiding places, aren't there? The back of a closet, behind the shower curtain, inside a cabinet…

 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I promised you a story. And perhaps we still have time for it.

 

Understand: This man is not from your time. Spare me your disbelief. There are things beyond your comprehension. You are too old to think you know the universe.

 

Twenty years from now, this man lives on the coast with his five-year-old daughter. Their house, a patchwork creation of driftwood and corrugated metal, clings to the side of a rocky cliff. When the tide crashes in, the salt spray splashes against the windows. The sky is the color of steel, and the water is foam-flecked black. 

 

Everything is cold, harsh, and wet—except for inside the house. Warm yellow light spills out from a window, and a steady finger of smoke curls up from a slanted chimney.

 

Inside, the man reads to his daughter. He sits in a faded orange armchair by the fire, and she lays on her stomach in front of him, alternating her focus on the flames and the pages turning in her father's hands. 

 

"When you finish this story, can you read another?" 

 

He makes a show of looking at half the book that's still remaining and then looking back at her. "Already tired of this one?"

 

She shakes her head. "No, I just don't want this one to be over. I don't want them to ever end."

 

He smiles and agrees, even though he knows she'll be asleep long before he'll have to pick out a new book. He knows how she feels. He doesn't want any of this to be over. He wants to hold onto every second, close his fingers around them and keep them safe, keep them from marching on.

 

And it is at that moment that everything goes white—a blast of blinding light that disintegrates the scene into dust—and then fades.

 

When the man comes to, he is wedged into the cliff's face, soaked, hanging a few feet above the waves. Above him, the remains of his house: a couple stumpy wooden beams and one amputated orange limb of his armchair. Below him, inky black ocean.

 

His daughter is gone. He will search for her for a long, long time. 

 

What he finally finds is not what he is looking for. He discovers a way to go back. But innovation is never as neat as any of us would like. He can only travel back a set number of years, way before his daughter is born.

 

So before he goes back, he does his homework. He researches. He spends hours in the archives of war museums, flipping through files, searching for someone new.

 

Searching for you.

 

And then he makes the leap, jumps back a few decades, emerges the same, if a little nauseous for a spell, into a world transformed. The colors seem brighter here, the smiles wider, flashing ferociously, the eyes emptier and hungrier.

 

But of course that's what he would see. Him, an interloper. Here, a brave old world.

 

On his third day back, he finds you, speaks to you. He asks you for the time. His hands are trembling; his eyes never leave yours. Do you remember? It was a year or so ago. 

 

Your paths keep crossing, but he gets more cautious, becomes a flickering shadow, in and out of the corners of your life. Waiting. Watching.

 

So where is he now? Soon you might know better than me. 

 

He is tightening his resolve now, like a noose. 

 

Listen: You killed this man’s daughter. Not yet, not now. Twenty years in the future. Will it make you feel better if I say it was for a “cause”? Or for the “greater good”? It’s true. At least it’s true that you’ll tell yourself that when the time comes.

 

I understand you are not a killer. Neither is this man with the wide shoulders and tiny shoes who may be in your house right now. But the years change us. Stories change us. You will be protecting your family, your friends, when you send bombs across the sea. And he thinks, by killing you, he’ll be avenging the memory of his daughter.

 

Maybe you still don’t believe me. But think: Is there a limit to what you would do for love? Is any price too high to pay? You will have an answer for that soon, in the trying years ahead, whether you can face it now or not.

 

You two are very similar. Do you find that interesting? Relevant? Perhaps not. You both love words and tales and the drama, mystery, and madness of being alive. 

 

See: His story is partly your story, too. 

 

But no more of this. I fear it may be too late, and I’ve done all I can. Please, listen

 

Not to me.

 

A sound. Can you hear it? It’s inside your home. Maybe the creak of a door or a soft muffled step on the carpet. Or a shallow inhale of breath that’s not yours...

 

He is there, right now. Do not run. Do not call for help.

 

Remember the story. He doesn’t want this one to end, not like this—and not deep down, not where it counts. Do you? 

 

The shadow in the corner. It’s not a shadow.

 

Okay. Your move.

 

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186 likes 127 comments

01:12 Apr 19, 2020

"This is a story about the man who wants to kill you. I have my doubts, not about the man or about the story, but about you. I fear I do all this for nothing." Great opening lines, Hayley. As I continued to read the story became more chilling, as well as descriptive. Immediately it makes you ask...why. "Your Move" ultimately makes one ponder the price of waging war. And the ultimate revenge for the loss of a loved one. Keep up the good work.

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16:01 Apr 20, 2020

Thanks for reading, Elliott! What a warm welcome to the Reedsy community. :) I've always been intrigued by our own untested moral limits, and I'm so glad that came across for you. Looking forward to reading your own work!

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16:08 Apr 24, 2020

Wow, this is really good. I love that you incorporated both 2nd and 1st person. 2nd person is a delight to read when it's done well, like this story.

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19:24 Apr 26, 2020

This is such a big deal to me, Zilla—thank you! Halfway through writing it, I worried I bit off more than I could chew with the 2nd person POV. (Also, your vibrant, lyrical stories were some of the first I read on Reedsy, and I can't wait to read more!)

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21:02 Apr 26, 2020

You're welcome! I thought you used 2nd person to near perfection. I love 2nd person but writing it myself is so hard I prefer to read others' works. Anyway, well done :)

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17:06 Apr 24, 2020

I read this waaaay too late at night. Chilled me to the bone. Hayley, keep up the great work but please don't scare me so much with it!

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12:15 Apr 27, 2020

Ahaha thank you, Waverley! I don't usually write suspense, so I think not scaring you again is a promise I can make.

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16:28 Apr 24, 2020

Can I just say, I was in the living room with both my parents as I read this. BUT I STILL FELT SO FRIGTHENED FOR MY LIFE. Honestly, this is amazing writing. Congrats on winning! :D

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19:26 Apr 26, 2020

This is the BEST, Em. I'm sorry I frightened you, but I'm so happy to hear this story connected with you in such a real way!

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16:19 Apr 24, 2020

OMG! Wow Hailey, that story was amazing! It pulled me in and I just had to keep reading. It also really made me question human values. Keep it up!

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19:38 Apr 26, 2020

That means a lot to me, Anou. Thank you! I'm a big philosophy nut, but I've struggled with how to weave those themes into my stories.

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16:06 Apr 24, 2020

Well deserved win.Wow. I love it.Great great work.

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19:44 Apr 26, 2020

Thank you so much, Grace! On my way to read one of your stories. :)

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15:39 Apr 24, 2020

Great story and congrats! Well deserved Would love if you could check my story ! Thanks

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19:51 Apr 26, 2020

I really appreciate that, Hanan! And of course I'd be happy to read your story. :)

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22:50 Apr 30, 2020

That is very, very clever. And, I hasten to add, I am reading it at about midnight, alone in my living room. So thanks for that.

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21:54 May 17, 2020

Thank you so much! You always hope a story can provoke real chills, but you never know.

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16:34 Apr 27, 2020

Goosebumps throughout and hot tears at the end. (maybe because I have a daughter?)

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13:11 Apr 28, 2020

Oh, Robin! That means so much to me. Hope you can hold your daughter tight. <3

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16:35 Apr 24, 2020

This is very well written! I was totally captured and I loved the chill this story sent up my spine.

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12:16 Apr 27, 2020

Thank you so much, Smudge! I'm so glad this story connected with you.

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16:15 Apr 24, 2020

Wow. Just wow. I was hooked from the start until the very end, and the story moved so beautifully. I was not expecting any story to make me that paranoid. You made the story so that anyone reading it could be the main character, and I didn’t want the story to end either.

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13:12 Apr 28, 2020

Thanks, Jackson! That was my hope, but it's impossible to tell if anything will work out as planned until you get in front of readers. Thank you for your kind words!

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16:15 Apr 24, 2020

Great Job Hayley!! I absolutely loved your story. It made me think and wonder about life. Awesome Job!!!!!!

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21:54 May 17, 2020

That's the best kind of compliment. Thank you, Sk!

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16:15 Apr 24, 2020

Congratulations, Hayley. Your story grabbed me from the first. I wanted to know why as much as I wanted to know who. Moral ambivalence makes for interesting reading. You had some great dark images, and I do enjoy reading and writing the dark side. Well done.

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21:55 May 17, 2020

Ahh I'm all about moral quandaries. Thank you for reading and for the lovely comments!

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16:08 Apr 24, 2020

You did it awesome! I felt all these were going on with me... I loved that part where you left the story to us... and also your beginning, it was amazing and it led me to read the whole... last but not the least you took me to a breathtaking roller coaster ride and I literally enjoyed it!

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21:55 May 17, 2020

That means so much to me, Taskin! Thank you for reading!

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16:01 Apr 24, 2020

Wow, just wow. This story is simply phenomenal. I’m bookmarking it so I can read it again later!

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21:56 May 17, 2020

What an amazing thing to hear as a writer! Thank you, Hadley!

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16:01 Apr 24, 2020

It was so amazing! Chilling. It even made me pause and listen to the sounds in my house! Congrats!

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Congratulations Hayley ! Excellent story 1

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15:59 Apr 24, 2020

Congrats on your win! You deserve it. Your story was amazing. Keep on writing:)

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15:36 Apr 24, 2020

Congratulations! I can see why your story was chosen. It's very suspenseful, and even just the first sentence pulled me right into the story. Very beautifully written, and the message is right there. The descriptions were amazing, and I love how dramatic it is. Keep on writing! And again, congratulations!

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16:07 May 22, 2020

This story was very well laid out. Right from the beginning, hooking the reader with a warning of their demise. Then a beautiful finish with an open question that only the reader can answer and leaving them with points to ponder. By no means an end of the story but a look at what possibilities the future could hold. What will you do now? Choose wisely.

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