Contest #137 shortlist ⭐️

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Drama Fiction

Ava parked in the dark space between streetlights, under the shadow of a tree. She looked across the road at her sister’s house and saw the light spilling from the bare kitchen window, casting a ghostly rectangle across the lawn.


“Just act like everything is normal,” she’d said to Annemarie. “Make him something nice for dinner and crush a sleeping pill into it. Make sure he has a whiskey with it.”


Don’t you remember, she could have added.


She left the ignition running and the vapor from the exhaust floated like mist around the car. Hands ready on the wheel. She watched the glowing digits on the car clock snap over and over. Time passing by. She watched the blank bright light in the window.

Prepared for that moment she would see her sister emerge from the dark. Annemarie wouldn’t run, not her. She would walk with her swinging stride, head up. Just like everything was normal.


No one acted better than Annemarie could. She was practicing long before this. Even before the day she met him, seventeen years old, not knowing what was to come. Ava twisted her bracelet, and she remembered.  


XXX


The summer afternoon dragged on with the slowness of syrup, their mother doing an afternoon shift at work, the man who was not their father drinking beer on the porch and listening to the cricket on the radio. “Call me Uncle Johnny,” he had told them. But he wasn’t their uncle either.


Ava lay on her bed reading, wishing for a breeze to come in through the open window. Annemarie was restless. She paced their bedroom, pulled her top off and put on a different one. Posed in front of the mirror. She picked up something from her dresser and tossed it at Ava.


“Here, do you want to wear this?”


It was a bracelet she knew Ava coveted, a silver snake with ruby eyes. Curved around itself, open mouth swallowing the tail. A boy had given it to Annemarie. “It represents immortality, it eats itself and lives forever,” Annemarie had said, and then she rolled her eyes, so there was no mistaking she didn’t believe in fairy tales.


Ava slid it easily over her wrist and spun it around. No boy would ever give her such a gift.


“You can keep it,” Annemarie added, which was how Ava knew the boy had somehow fallen from her sister’s favour. They always did. None could ever be what she wanted.


Sunlight filtered through the thin curtains and she watched her sister spray perfume into the air then step under it.


“I’m so bored,” she said, turning under her scented rain. “Let’s go to the mall.”


“I don’t have any money,” Ava said. Annemarie spun to face her, smiled.


“Don’t you worry about that,” she said.


XXX


Uncle Johnny was leaning over the porch railing, smoking a cigarette and flicking ash down at the straggly grass. The radio turned up to compete with the shrill noise of cicadas coming from the trees. Ava stood with her arms folded as Annemarie went and stood beside Uncle Johnny.


“We’re going to get an ice cream; you got a spare twenty?”


She smiled at him, tossed her hair back over her shoulders. Ava was sure she would rather starve to death than ever smile at him and ask him for money, but Annemarie saw it differently.


“Why not get what I can out of him?” she’d asked one night, drinking a can of bourbon and coke he’d given her.


“Annemarie, honey, for you I do,” Uncle Johnny said, digging into the pocket of his jeans. He was half drunk, swaying slightly when he stood up from the support of the rail.


He held a note toward her and gripped it tight so she had to wrestle it from his hand and he laughed, and she smiled up at him.

“Oh, you’re so funny,” she said. 


XXX


“See,” Annemarie told her. “Men are easy. They just like to feel like you need them for something.”


They cut across the empty sports ground, the summer grass stiff and dry under their shoes. Ava would have happily sat under the trees and lay back to look up at the sky through the leaves, but Annemarie didn’t stop.


They walked down the main road and past the rows of shops staggering toward the mall, and past the pub their mother worked in. They both turned automatically, looked through the glass windows and saw a glimpse of her standing at a table, taking an order.


Ava waved a hand toward her, though she knew her mother wouldn’t see them out there. They carried on to the mall sprawled long and low, cars outside glinting in the sun.


A group of boys sat over the concrete base of the war memorial out by the parking lot. Smoking cigarettes, squinting into the sun. Laughter and heat rolled off them. 


“Annemarie, they're staring at us,” Ava whispered. Though she knew, it wasn’t us. You.


“They can stare,” Annemarie said. She reached her arms up to gather up her hair and flip it over her shoulders. 

The boys leaned toward her. None of them pretending to do anything else but watch.


Ava felt a shiver of excitement run from her stomach all the way up to her throat. Understanding something. Her sister held power. She could make all the boys look her way; she could make Uncle Johnny calm down.


“Oh, Uncle Johnny, you must be in so much pain with your back,” Annemarie would say, when he started stomping through the house, hitting his hand against things. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll make you a drink.” 


“Annemarie, you’re an angel,” he would say. “You’re going to make some guy real happy one day.”


“Why are you so nice to him?” Ava would hiss, furious. Annemarie would drop ice cubes into a glass and pour bourbon over them. She would get two of Uncle Johnny’s pills to take to him with the drink.


“You know nothing about life,” Annemarie would say, taking a sip for herself before carrying it through. Or sometimes, “You know nothing about men.”


But now the boys looked at her because she was beside her sister, and for a moment she felt what it was like, to be the one in the sun. To feel like you were moving through a film of your life, an audience watching.


One of the boys peeled away from the group. He strode forward and a murmur of anticipation ran through the others. The one who was bold enough to approach her. Annemarie didn’t look at him, but Ava could feel the way her attention leaned toward him a little.


“Do you want to come over and sit on my face?" he said. Laughter rattled around the boys. Annemarie kept walking, head high and straight. Ava only had a vague understanding of what he’d said, an image she pushed back out of her mind, but the thrill which had beat in her turned to ice. The coldness of their laughter in the hot day. The ugly look on his sunburnt face as he stepped in front of her sister.


“What, your too good to talk to me? That’s ok, bet your good for other things.”


Ava felt the shiver shake her again, and for an unreal moment she wished Uncle Johnny was here. Because she knew he would be able to make this stop. She understood something else right then, sometimes only a man had the power over another man.


Annemarie looked at him then, hair swinging over her shoulders, her expression serene. She was beautiful amidst the heat and ugliness, like a girl who had stepped out of a magazine. A man might be happy to have her, but Ava knew none would deserve her.


“You’re disgusting,” Annemarie said.              


Ava felt the day pulse around her. The heat rising from the concrete, the cars revving engines, the people drifting past going in and out of the mall. There were hisses and laughter and the boy’s face getting redder, his hands groping toward Annemarie, grabbing at her bare arms.


She stepped back from him. “Don’t touch me,” she said.


“Don’t touch her,” someone repeated. Ricky. Before anything else he was a saviour, coming from nowhere. Pushing the red-faced boy back.


“I’ll do what I fu-“ the boy started to shout, and before he could finish Ricky had swung a fist, so fast Ava couldn’t really see what had happened, only knew the boy who had spoken in such an awful way to her sister was on the ground, blinking up at the sun, blood running from his mouth.


Tears crowded her eyes, the shiver running up and down her back. She felt Annemarie’s arm around her shoulders.


“It’s ok, come on, don’t worry about that jerk,” Annemarie said, walking and pulling her so Ava had to walk with her.


“Hey, wait a minute.”


Annemarie stopped as the boy who had saved her came up beside them. They were just inside the mall entrance, cool air blowing down on them.


“Are you ok?”


Ava was crying but it was Annemarie he was looking at.


“Yeah, we’re fine, but thanks,” Annemarie said. She smiled at him, even as he rubbed his swelling knuckles. Compared to the others he was a prince.


“It’s no problem. When he heals up, I’ll break his face again if you want,” he said. He was smiling back at her as he said it, yet somehow Ava didn’t doubt he would do exactly that, if only Annemarie asked.


“Are you planning to follow me around and be my bodyguard?” Annemarie asked.


“I don’t mind the idea of following you around,” he said, his gaze on her. “What’s your name? I’m Ricky.”


“Annemarie. This is my sister Ava.”


He nodded at Ava and pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket. “Do you want to have a smoke, Annemarie?”


He watched her, turning the packet in his hands. Annemarie cut her gaze toward Ava for a moment, then back to him.


“Alright,” she said. They walked back out into the sun. The boys were still there on the statue, and Ricky looked at them as he passed with Annemarie beside him.


They looked back and she sensed the waiting in him, the anticipation. She could tell he wanted it. He wanted one of them to say something, he wanted to fight again, to knock another boy down.


But none of them said a thing, not even the one with a bloodied tee shirt held against his mouth.


They stopped beside a low wall which circled the parking lot and Ava sat down, feeling the concrete hot beneath her shorts.


Ricky put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it then passed it to Annemarie. Ava watched as she put her lips where his had been.

Annemarie took a drag and made her mouth into a circle and blew the smoke out in rings. Then she passed it back to him.


“I owe you, Ricky,” she said. Ava had seen boys falter around her sister, blush and go quiet, or get loud and do something stupid to try and get her attention. He did neither, only looked back at her evenly.


“When can I collect?” he asked, and although he smiled again, Ava saw steel in him.


Annemarie didn’t laugh and toss her hair and tell him he was funny. That’s how she knew Annemarie saw something different in him. Not like all those other jerks.


“You can’t come to my house; Uncle Johnny wouldn’t like it.”


He shrugged his shoulders. Dragged on the cigarette. “I wouldn’t be going to see your Uncle, don’t bother me what he likes.”


“I don’t care what he likes either,” Annemarie said. “He’s just some loser my mother met at the pub where she works. I don’t want to get him mad though.”


Ava had never heard Annemarie say a thing like that before, and she was somehow mortified by it, as if Annemarie had just confessed a terrible secret to this dark eyed stranger.


It seemed just about every boy in their high school was in love with Annemarie, or had been at some point, yet she hadn’t brought a single one home in the three years he had lived with them.


(“Annemarie, you just tease them, don’t you?” Uncle Johnny said. “You just break their hearts.”)


But the boy only nodded, his expression hardening. “I get it. My old man probably props up the bar beside him.”


Ava saw something pass between them, the way they looked at each other then, recognizing what they knew. She twisted the snake on her wrist. Watching it spin. Eating itself.


“Why don’t we go for a drive somewhere? I got my car over there.”


“My sister has to come,” Annemarie said. Turning and holding her hand down toward Ava. Ava took it and let herself be pulled up. Annemarie was always stronger than she looked.


“Yeah, of course,” Ricky said. No surprise at her agreement. As if he had always known he would have what he wanted. It made Ava remember the fear which had clamped her earlier. She felt the echo of it.


She dug her fingers into her sister’s wrist, and she wanted to scream at her to run. Run away from this, from him.


But Ricky slung one arm around Annemarie’s shoulders, and then he put the other around Ava. They kept on walking in step with him, toward his car and what would be her sister’s life.


XXX


In the darkness of the car Ava watched the clock and she ran her finger around the bracelet. She thought back on the last eight years, and the life before that. The seventeen years Annemarie lived before she met Ricky, and the years he’d lived too, with his dad, learning lessons of his own.


Uncle Johnny was long gone from their lives. Ricky the brave boy grown into a volatile man. Annemarie the golden girl grown tired of always placating.


Something moved in the darkness. Rushing toward her. She reached over and pushed the door open and Annemarie climbed in. She was sucking in breaths as if she’d just run for miles, turning to toss a bag into the backseat as Ava slammed the car into gear.


“I just had to check he was still breathing,” she said. “I thought I’d actually killed him for a minute.” She gulped air and laughed, leaning her head back.


“Seriously, you could probably give him enough to kill an elephant and he’d be fine,” Ava said.


She drove out toward the main road, headlights swallowing the darkness, Ricky left behind. The bracelet glinted on her wrist, the ruby eyes. She put her foot down, driving faster, the rest of her life and her sister’s life ahead. 

March 17, 2022 03:24

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24 comments

Zelda C. Thorne
22:09 Apr 21, 2022

Hello again, I was on the edge of my seat reading this. I like your descriptions and the detail with the snake bracelet in particular. The end was great. Brilliant.

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Kelsey H
23:11 Apr 21, 2022

Thanks for reading another of my stories! I really appreciate getting your feedback.

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J.C. Lovero
01:55 Mar 29, 2022

Hi Kelsey, I'm a sucker for sibling stories, and you delivered! Loved how you portrayed the girls' relationship throughout and how their roles reversed in the end. Congrats on the shortlist! Well-deserved.

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Kelsey H
04:08 Mar 29, 2022

Thank you! I am also a sucker for sibling stories, it is something I always find myself drawn to writing and reading!

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Kevin Broccoli
17:17 Mar 28, 2022

Kelsey, there are so many moments in this story I loved, I'm having trouble picking out just one, but "The coldness of their laughter in the hot day." really jumped out at me. This is just a stunning story.

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Kelsey H
23:39 Mar 28, 2022

Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Amanda Lieser
04:52 Mar 28, 2022

Hi Kelsey, Little side note, I loved that the sisters’ names began with the same letter. Growing up my sister and I were Mandy and Maggie, the M and M girls. I think it’s common for parents to chose the same letter with siblings of the same gender. Onto what I loved in the story-that opening paragraph to start! What a hook! I love how you made the story so action packed and how you had time move forward through the piece to bring you back to the cliffhanger in the beginning. Nice job! This was well deserved to be on the short list! I know yo...

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Kelsey H
23:45 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you for the comment. I also love the 'matching' names for siblings I must admit! I'm glad you liked the back and forward, I wasn't sure how well it would work, I often find jumps in time hard to write. I haven't had a chance to read your story yet but will do!

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:27 Mar 27, 2022

Fine rendition. Many men are like babies too. Easy and difficult too.

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Kelsey H
23:40 Mar 28, 2022

Thanks for the comment!

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Robin Davidson
04:45 Mar 24, 2022

Your characters feel incredibly real. I can definitely see these sisters in the real world, evolving, enduring--all the while loving and supporting each other like only sisters can. I enjoyed the whole piece but the ending was particularly special. There was a bit of role reversal in the family and I wonder if Ava even realizes it. My only note: I feel connected to Ava as it is but maybe first person would make this story even more impactful (just a thought). Anyway, I wish there was more! I could read an entire novel about these two. :)

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Kelsey H
08:43 Mar 24, 2022

Thanks for your comment. True about the role reversal, I like the idea of the younger sister becoming the protector! Good point about writing in first person, I don't know why but I didn't even consider it, the story just came out in third. I would possibly try that if I were to rewrite!

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Sharon Hancock
00:41 Mar 22, 2022

I loved this story! Reminds me of growing up in the south US, barefoot in cutoff Jean shorts in the summer. I liked how the sisters look out for each other and how different you made them in the story. Thanks for sharing I really enjoyed it!

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Kelsey H
07:17 Mar 22, 2022

Thank you for reading and commenting. I love that it reminded you of summers growing up, I was sort of drawing on those memories of being young and just 'hanging out'!

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Desiree Haros
17:50 Mar 20, 2022

Wow! Such an unexpected twist. A well-written story that delves into the relationship between sisters.

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Kelsey H
20:45 Mar 20, 2022

Thanks for the comment!

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Riel Rosehill
17:34 Mar 19, 2022

Hi Kelsey! This was so well done, you nailed the girls personalities - I have two sisters somehow I find it terribly hard to 1, write women (makes no sense?) 2, write siblings (why?) and you did a great job with both. I loved how you used the snake barclet time and time again and also, I was so relieved she has got out of the house and into the car at the end! And that cat-calling scene... ugh. There is some real stuff and real good stuff in this story. Well done!

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Kelsey H
04:21 Mar 20, 2022

Thanks for the comment! I do find it hard to write female characters sometimes, despite being a woman myself. I guess because a male feels more different to me, whereas I feel it's harder to create a distinct female character, and not someone who is just a version of myself. I am really glad you think it worked here though! Sibling relationships are endlessly interesting to me though, I love writing them.

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Riel Rosehill
21:52 Mar 25, 2022

Back to say congrats for making it onto the shortlist! Well deserved x

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Kelsey H
05:46 Mar 26, 2022

Thank you!

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Zack Powell
06:45 Mar 19, 2022

If I could write sibling relationships half as well as you do, Kelsey, I'd be a happy man. Seriously, you must have a brother(s) or sister(s) because you write the dynamic so believably it's crazy. Both sisters have clear, distinct personalities, voices, and desires. And your writing makes those things shine through. Before I forget: Amazing symbolism with the Ouroboros bracelet (and story title). I love how Annemarie gave it away to Ava but still seemed to be stuck in the endless loop with Uncle Johnny and Ricky and the other boys in her li...

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Kelsey H
09:22 Mar 19, 2022

Thanks so much for commenting, it's great to get your thoughts. I am really glad you like how I write siblings, it is probably my favourite thing to write. I have 2 brothers and I also am the mother of 2 sons! I love that you enjoyed Uncle Johnny, it was hard to get him right since he only appears for one scene yet has a big influence, and I wanted him to come across as a guy who's inappropriate and kind of creepy and wishes he was 21 still, but wouldn't actually cross the line into abuse. Like, Uncle Johnny would totally consider himself t...

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Zack Powell
15:51 Mar 25, 2022

Woohoo! Two shortlists in a row! Congrats, you're on fire, Kelsey. Happy to see this one get its recognition.

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Kelsey H
05:48 Mar 26, 2022

Thanks, very surprised again to see my story there!

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