Contest #5 shortlist ⭐️


Sep 05, 2019


Therese and I enjoyed a perfectly lovely Saturday evening. Our diets were given the night off so that we might savor prawns and steaks at Salty Sam’s Pub on Market Street. The dinner was sublime, though I must admit that the prawns put a warm blush on my cheeks and left me giggling more than usual, as shellfish often does. Allergies can occasionally be entertaining.

Later, we dawdled over cherry ice cream and neighborhood gossip. Then encouraged by a fine white wine, we slipped into remembrance of amusing anecdotes and adventures. As the wine level in our bottle steadily dropped, we grew more sentimental, recalling fond childhood memories together. Who would have guessed that we’d still be bosom buddies all these years later? But our friendship was as strong in 1928 as it had been back in 1912, when we played jacks and skip-rope on the cracked sidewalk in front of Therese’s house. Back then, our mothers were best friends, and as we were being towed along with them from one home to the other, we too became best friends.

The last rays of sun had long since faded on this unseasonably warm and pleasant late October night. Our glasses held the last few sips of our second bottle of wine. Therese was regaling me with a story about the neighbor’s dog confronting a skunk, when the clock over the bar chimed midnight. She stopped short and we blinked at each other in surprise.

“Last call, folks!” called Tony from behind the ancient carved oak bar.

Looking around I saw that we were among the last few patrons in the pub, and that we had completely lost track of the time. I gulped the last of my wine and leaned across the table. “We’ve got to get home, and quick! You know the stories about strange things happening in Moon Bay after midnight, and if even one of them is true, it’s one too many for me,” I said, my voice filled with anxiety.

Therese nodded and sighed. “But not a one of them can hold a candle to what our parents have in store for us, I’m sure.”

Hurriedly we paid our tab and made for the door in as ladylike a manner as we could manage, considering how much wine we’d enjoyed. “Well, you just get a wiggle on home Therese, fast as those gams will go! I’ll see you at church tomorrow. Er, later today, that is. Off with you now.” I gave her a peck on the cheek before she scurried up Market Street and vanished into the dark spaces between the streetlights. I turned to walk the other way, and took a left at the corner to start the trudge up Redwood Drive, towards my parent’s tidy yellow clapboard home.

I winced as I thought of home. The image in my mind’s eye featured our cheery front porch and the picture windows that flanked it. In the left window, I imagined the face of my sweet, patient mother peering worriedly through gauzy curtains. On the right, I could see the eyes of my dear, gruff father piercing the dark night. Neither face held a smile, and no wonder. Their thoughtless daughter had once again given them reason to fret. Though I was twenty, my age wouldn’t shield me from a well-deserved scolding.

Mindful of the time and the distance, I walked briskly in the warm night air. I had just paused to tip a wayward bit of gravel from my shoe when I felt it.

The softest hint of a breeze teased at my hair, then curled around the nape of my neck, raising goosebumps on my flesh. It trailed down the sheer sleeve of my blouse, then wrapped around my hand... and squeezed it tightly!

The whispered voice of a man tickled my ear, though when I looked over that shoulder, there was no gent in sight. I was so scared I nearly forgot to breathe.

“Aye, I remember her well, frail as tissue paper, thin as a rail, determined to find her own way home, just like you, my dear. Oh she struggled and wailed, but it did her no good. When they pulled her body from the river the next day, oh, how her momma did cry...”

I wanted to scream, but all I could manage was a strangled whimper. Even if I had, there was no one to hear me or take heed. At this time of year, the folk of Moon Bay slept with their windows and doors firmly shut.

With fear spurring me on, I jerked my hand free and began running as fast as I could towards the safety of home. I ran until I found myself on the Ramona Street Bridge, my legs shaking and breath coming in gasps as I tried to still my fearful heart.

I paused there at the high point of the arched bridge, clutching the railing for support. It took all my courage to look back the way I had come, but all I could see was the dimly lit, empty street. I was alone. As my own fears began to subside, I began to wonder if Therese was home now, scolded but safe. Thankfully, her walk would have been a much shorter one.

Standing there in the warm, still air, I felt the hem of my silk skirt begin to dance playfully against my calves. As I looked down, I felt a hand sliding up my leg, as soft as a lover’s caress, and cold as a tomb. The combination of arousal and revulsion was more than I could bear, and I broke into a run.

This time there was no rational thinking, no sense of direction. In a blind panic, I simply ran. I ran for my life. I raced down the far side of the bridge, scrambled through a hole in a hedge and found myself in a backyard garden, where I promptly tripped over a pumpkin still on the vine. Shaken and dirty, I got to my feet and slammed through a back gate that opened onto a dark alley. Knocking over several trash cans, I raced through the night, hoping the next street would offer the comfort of a streetlamp to help me regain my bearings. But the streets here were dark and silent. So I kept running, the only sound was my rasping breath.

And then to my dismay, the road ended and I found myself at the water’s edge. I could see the islands out in the bay, so achingly close. I spied an old skiff at the water’s edge and I jumped in. I grabbed the oars and let my fear drive my arms as I rowed hard towards those wild islands, away from Moon Bay and its restless, wandering souls.

The water churned as I approached the largest of the islands, too rough to land a skiff. My tears flowed in frustration and fear, but onward I rowed and rowed, ever to the east. As I approached one of the smaller islands, I finally grounded the skiff on a muddy shoal.

I leapt from the skiff and struggled not to fall as my feet sank into the mud. I moved as quickly as I could, my ruined shoes making awful squishing sounds as I sought the shelter of the nearby trees. But before I got there, a wind-devil swirled around me, and I cried out in fear. I was wild now, almost out of my mind with terror. And it was at that horrible moment, when all seemed at its worst, that I remembered something my mother had told me. “If you look back over your left shoulder, and you see a crescent moon, it may favor you with a bit of good luck.”

It was worth a try. I spun on my heels to face the bay and the open sea beyond. Feeling just a glimmer of hope, I looked back over my left shoulder, and there it was, a slender glowing arc in the sky. It seemed to smile down on me, offering comfort.

I stood there for a long time after that, perhaps an hour, just waiting. But the air stayed calm, blissfully still. And the quiet; it was the most wonderful sound I have ever not heard. At long last, I whispered into the peaceful night. “Thank you, Mother. You always have the best advice. I’ll be home soon, I promise. I’ve caused you more worry than I ever intended, but you can be mad at me and that’s okay. I’ll never stay out past curfew again, I swear!”

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