Contest #134 shortlist ⭐️

31 comments

Fiction Sad

This story contains sensitive content

This story deals with homelessness and death.

The Tumbleweed had blown into the bar. It was a busy Friday night because the “somewhere” in the phrase, “it’s five o'clock somewhere” was finally here. Men in fancy button downs with watches the size of their fists approached the women with bright, red, glossy lips who flipped their hair extensions over their shoulders lazily at them. Music blared loudly. But not as loudly as some of the women attempting to laugh at lame pick up lines. This modern saloon was an oasis for all gathered.

The bar keeper had noticed the Tumbleweed, but only once he was done serving specialty cocktails in tiny glasses to the blondes and brunettes with long legs who dotted his bar. He lumbered over to the corner where the Tumbleweed remained tucked into a shadow and hollered with frustration. He stared down at the Tumbleweed. The bar keeper’s calloused fingers of his right hand ensnared the Tumbleweed, dragging the nuisance across sticky, black floor-through peanut shells, burger wrappers, and human saliva from loud conversations and the one bar fight that broke out late last night. All the patrons watched in discomfort, nibbling on nails or looking intently at the floor in an attempt to look anywhere at the Tumbleweed. The left hand slammed the worn, wooden door open and then closed.

The Tumbleweed landed on the sidewalk in the heat of the autumn sun. The Tumbleweed rested. And then, a breeze began pushing the Tumbleweed along the concrete. The Tumbleweed tripped over small racks and stones that lingered from days past. The air was perfumed with the scent of barbeque from the restaurant across from the bar. The Tumbleweed was blown into the back alley.

Large, green trash cans loomed over the Tumbleweed like skyscrapers. Their contents festered and rotted in the warmth of the day. Insects and street rats had found a paradise in this alleyway. They dove, deep, into the mountains of trash. Their leathery tongues reached out for a sip from hot, brown beer bottles. They bred in passionate pools of water. The Tumbleweed remained pressed against the heat of the metal. Echoes of laughter and conversation danced out into the alleyway. As the sun began to fade long, spindles of light began to fill the alleyway. They reached out each time someone opened the doors of the bars, the boutiques, and the restaurants who stored their trash in this alleway. Each of the doors slammed shut, quickly to not allow the stench of their own waste, into their paradise. When the door was closed, the Tumbleweed was left, abandoned in darkness.

There was a soft thump as three more big, black bags with thin yellow ties were added to the pile of the can that the Tumbleweed now called home. The bar keeper kicked at the Tumbleweed, wedged into a corner. The alleyway came to life as the creatures who called it home dove away from the tyrant raging above them. Each blow grew stronger in anger and disgust as he began to yell obscenities. In one instant, the alleyway had turned into a scene from a monster movie with innocents dodging giant’s footsteps raining down from above. The bar keeper’s thick, rubber soles destroyed the sanctuaries of warm puddles. His broad shoulders knocked into the trash cans, sending trash rushing down like avalanches on the sleeping rats.

The Tumbleweed began to drift down the dark alleyway and the barkeeper threw open the back door; his long list of clean up tasks wouldn’t be completed tonight. The floors would never really be swept and mopped. The bar would be wiped down with an old, smelly, gray rag. The bar keeper knew he’d use the same one to wipe out the cups. But, hey, at least he managed to deal with the trash. 

It was nighttime; the wind had begun to blow cold. Young couples cuddled together. Men wrapped their sports coats around the silken, supple shoulders of their partners. Some of the women stumbled slightly in their stiltesque high heels. Alcohol had warmed their bellies and impaired their judgement.

The men jeered at the Tumbleweed. They pulled their women out of the Tumbleweed’s path, clutching at their thin waists while their women squealed like stuck pigs. Nonetheless, the wind pushed the Tumbleweed along. The starry night sky was a secret hidden by the intense street lights and bright billboards advertising food, drink, and beauty. The night waned on until all the young couples had retired to their bedrooms and the Tumbleweed was left alone with the crickets who were chirping softly. Most of the mosquitos had left after the frenzy of feeding at dusk, but some lingered, finding late night snacks on the backs of innocent birds or the occasional squirrel hurrying home for the night. 

Main Street was no longer bustling. The occasional vehicle wooshed by the Tumbleweed with a blinding flash of light. The gust of warm air pushed the Tumbleweed forward, faster than the night wind. Occasionally, if the Tumbleweed was trapped at a stoplight, the driver’s window would slowly open, exposing a wrathful face which would jeer before the engine would roar to life. 

Morning arrived gently. She was an angel who tugged at the sun; slowly, waking up the world as she danced across the sky. High in the trees of the city park, birds began their morning songs and their morning hunts. The Tumbleweed was the silent guest at their breakfast tables as they devoured worms and insects. Their wings spread out wide against a cloudless sky as their beady eyes searched the ground of their next meal.

The Tumbleweed had landed in the dewy grass of a local playground area the evening before. Within a few hours, the park began to fill up. Families gathered, children began to chase each other, relishing in the lingering autumn warmth. The parents sought the park every morning as a new found part of their routine because it was an opportunity to let the little ones tucker themselves out. They didn’t notice right away that the wind had pushed the Tumbleweed beneath the water fountain. Maybe if they had, they would have walked by in their ginormous, black strollers covered in cracker dust.

Occasionally, children would bend down to the Tumbleweed. Their eyes, wide like saucers, would bore into the Tumbleweed. Their small, grimy fingers reached out, hoping for a touch. But like a sixth sense, the watchful eye of parents and nannies snapped up just as the hairs on the backs of their necks stood up. In an instant they arrived from their perch on the black, metal benches to rush the innocent away from the Tumbleweed. They were moved out of the way of the Tumbleweed’s path as the wind picked up again. 

Night blanketed the Tumbleweed who had settled onto a local park bench. The Tumbleweed closed his eyes. He pulled his black sweatshirt, covered in holes and dirt, around his shoulders.

In his dreams, he was returned to the safety of the desert. Hawks soared above in deep, blue skies. The cacti, long and tall, replaced the trashcans of the alleyway as skyscrapers. At his feet he saw the long, green and brown bodies of lizards. The Tumbleweed was once again a limber child. He could bend down to inspect the pools of water from the night before. He could stretch his limbs and catch beetles in his hands. Small insects scurried over his toes, bringing laughter to his doe eyes. The Tumbleweed sat on a large, warm, sun-worn, red boulder. The sky was painted red, pink, and purple as sunset faded. When was the last time he had bothered to watch the sun set?

He was awoken by the club of a police officer who loomed over him in a blue uniform. The Officer yelled at the Tumbleweed who reached to gather his worn, black backpack. When the Tumbleweed looked at the boy, he found fear looming over trembling green eyes, beads of sweat gathered in the temples. His uniform hung loosely on his body and made him look three times skinnier than he actually was. He grabbed at the Tumbleweed, forcing him to stand. A well used ceramic cup shattered on the sidewalk. Tears filled his eyes as the sting of humiliation bore deep into his soul. 

The Tumbleweed returned to wandering. His only friend for the past 25 years had been the wind. He left behind the park, feeling familiar hunger pains. All around him, large blotches of red, orange, and yellow filled the air. He paused to pick up one leaf, but groaned at the aches and pains emanating from his knees. The Tumbleweed crossed busy streets and shook a dirty baseball cap at anyone who was caught making eye contact. A few loose coins chattered against each other like teeth. Eventually, he stood in front of the old brick building that all tumbleweeds returned to in this town. The hairs on his arm stood up in the cold as he pushed open the front door.

A young woman with her blonde hair in a messy bun greeted him, “Sweetheart, haven’t seen you in a while. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She handed him a bag of toiletries and a towel. He followed her perfect white tennis shoes back to the showers, a trail of mud left in his wake. She offered to take his backpack, saying that they had just got in a fresh donation from the local church of gently used bags, coats, and backpacks, but he held tight to his old black one like a life raft in the raging sea of life. It was soaked within moments of turning on the shower. The Tumbleweed allowed the hot water to pour over his flesh, stinging the open wounds from his many sustained beatings. Afterwards, he stood at a steamy mirror, watching grease swirl in the pools of water in the cracks on the ceramic sink. He brushed his teeth and cried in pain as blood filled his mouth and he pulled out a couple loose teeth. 

The woman had placed a sweat suit on a bench outside the shower. She had also placed a brand new, purple backpack beside it. The Tumbleweed shuffled into the baggy outfit and returned to the kitchen, his soaking wet backpack dripping on the floor. “Supper in an hour, love,” called the woman. He took a seat on a metal bench, watching as youths completed their volunteer hours dishing out green beans, turkey, and stuffing. Many leaves had blown inside and there were a few cheerful turkeys lining the walls; what’s so cheerful about dying, wondered the Tumbleweed. The cafeteria became crowded and hot as the homeless population shuffled in for Thanksgiving supper. The Tumbleweed was first in line to get his meal. He stood, trembling as the servers offered a bottle of water and a slice of apple pie for dessert. He smiled at the young girl with dark curls and a red ribbon. She cringed and turned her back on him. His smile faded. As soon as his belly was full, he felt exhaustion return. He sat, slumped against the white brick wall. 

In his dreams, the Tumbleweed was returned to the desert. Only this time, he was a young man. The sun was bright and beautiful all around him. He was smoking with Delilah. She was laughing with him, kissing him, loving him.  He closed his eyes to lean into her and the sky began to fade. Slowly, she began to dance away and he called for her, “I thought you were dead!” Delilah turned and smiled at him, her big, brown eyes filled with joy. She beckoned him. The Tumbleweed gazed at the horizon before him. It was a deep orange and bright yellow. He listened to the animals as they debriefed each other about their days. He walked into the sunset. In her embrace, he found warmth and peace for the first time in years.

February 21, 2022 14:51

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31 comments

18:11 Feb 21, 2022

Amanda, this was beautifully done! Using the "tumbleweed" to refer to the main character was an excellent choice! The scenes you described that he experiences were excellent! The only suggestion I could think of would be that it might make the story even more emotive if you added in even more of the Tumbleweed's thoughts. I loved every chance to take a little look inside his head! Well done!

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Amanda Lieser
16:25 Feb 25, 2022

Hi Hannah! Thank you so much for the feedback. I am in conflict with the character because I desperately want him to be someone who is anonymous and therefore not very detailed about his own story, but at the same time I want the readers to connect. I am so glad you enjoyed this story. It means a lot to me. I left you a comment on another one of your piece, “Delicious Temptations.”

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17:33 Feb 25, 2022

That makes total sense, I’m just a reader who craves “connection” 😆 but I see what you mean, and you made the right choice for that. Thanks for reading and commenting ❤️

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10:02 Jun 22, 2022

Amanda, I really enjoyed this, and I can see both why it was shortlisted and the similarities to my story (You'll Never Be Alone) that you mentioned. Wonderful sensory details and imagery throughout. The gradual unfurling of the Tumbleweed's humanity was done well, especially with the moments of humanity towards the end. Of course, they were only a temporary reprieve before the sadness of the ending. My favourite part was the personification of the morning - that whole paragraph was wonderful. :)

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Amanda Lieser
03:36 Jul 16, 2022

Hello! Thank you so much for the feedback. That was one of my favorite bits to write. ;)

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Michael Regan
17:50 Mar 11, 2022

I loved the imagery. The use of the 'tumbleweed' as a metaphor was excellent. Very well done.

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Amanda Lieser
21:03 Mar 11, 2022

Hi Michael, Thanks for the feedback!

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Kevin Broccoli
19:13 Mar 07, 2022

I really love this concept and I think you executed it perfectly. Bravo.

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Amanda Lieser
21:02 Mar 11, 2022

Hi Kevin, Thank you so much!!

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Ron Merkin
17:13 Mar 06, 2022

Maybe I shouldn't be posting this "critique". But on the chance that it may give the writer something to think about, I did not read this story in its entirety. In fact I found the first three or four paragraphs so descriptive - so redundantly TELLING the reader what was happening instead of revealing it through plot and interactions - that I felt I couldn't force myself to continue. In my opinion, even setting the scene at the beginning for what may follow should ideally grab the reader's insatiable need to find out what happens next. Ten...

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Cindy Strube
17:53 Mar 04, 2022

Congratulations 🎉 Amanda! I’m so glad this story got recognition. I know you received some comments about the character’s anonymity, but personally I feel that adds to the vibe of the story.

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Amanda Lieser
21:01 Mar 11, 2022

Hi Cindy! Thank you so much for the shoutout! I’m glad you liked that he remains anonymous.

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15:19 Mar 03, 2022

What an amazing story. I enjoyed how you brought an inanimate object to life. Very clever. Your detailed description of the area made me cringe...I loved it.

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Amanda Lieser
23:36 Mar 03, 2022

Hi Ramona! Thank you for the kind comment!

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Jonathan Blaauw
11:39 Mar 03, 2022

Hey, Amanda. I really enjoyed this story! You've done so many clever things here. Right off the bat, I assumed the Tumbleweed was a person, and the cool thing is you do nothing to mislead the reader into thinking otherwise. So when that suspicion/assumption is confirmed later on, it doesn't come as a twist-like surprise. I think a less experienced writer would have tried to veil it more, but you recognized (either consciously or not) that the hook of your story is not so much in any unexpected plot developments but in the solemn portrayal o...

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Amanda Lieser
23:37 Mar 03, 2022

Hello! Thank you for the analysis of this piece. I was really touched to hear that you especially enjoyed the use of the wind. Thank you so much for your time!

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Felice Noelle
19:33 Feb 27, 2022

Amanda: Isn't it amazing how a simple word like "the" in your title can be so powerful. Titling this THE Tumbleweed rather than just Tumbleweed cleverly had me questioning the MC for the first half of the story. You have a very poetic touch and use words evocatively with perfection. I so enjoyed reading it...twice. Second paragraph, you may need to insert but to read looked anywhere BUT the Tumbleweed. Just a picky point. I look forward to reading more. This makes me want to delete my story this week. Maureen

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Amanda Lieser
17:33 Mar 02, 2022

Hi Maureen, Oh my gosh! I love hearing that you read the story twice. This has been a character who has been knocking on my heart for ages now, I’m just so glad I got to write it for such an amazing community. Look out for my comment on one of your pieces soon!

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Cindy Strube
22:58 Feb 23, 2022

Amanda - what a fitting concept to portray the homeless man as the “Tumbleweed”! The story is very evocative. You take the reader along on the Tumbleweed’s journey. Aside from following him, I really like the metaphors and similes. One of my favorites: “The starry night sky was a secret hidden by the intense street lights and bright billboards advertising food, drink, and beauty.” Well done!

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Amanda Lieser
16:46 Feb 25, 2022

Hi Cindy, Thank you so much for picking out a specific line. I love hearing that something stood out to the reader. It tickles me pink! Let me know when you write your next piece, I’ll be eager to enjoy. Thanks again! Amanda

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Cindy Strube
17:45 Feb 25, 2022

Hi Amanda, Hoping to get one in this week - the prompt fits a story I’ve been wanting to tell for ages. It’s already partially written, so there’s a chance! This is a great support site, isn’t it? I appreciate your eagerness for input on your stories.😊

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Cindy Strube
17:29 Mar 05, 2022

Hi Amanda - When you have a chance, let me know what you think of my story “Bittersweet Legacy”.

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Amanda Lieser
21:02 Mar 11, 2022

Absolutely, look for my comment shortly.

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Oma S. Ari
15:11 Feb 22, 2022

Lovely. I really enjoyed reading this story. I think the build up is really nice, emotional but cold at the same time (if that makes sense). Very well done! The ending was beautiful. At the first read, I noticed that the word 'tumbleweed' was mentioned a lot, which can disturb the 'natural' rhythm in certain sentences. A good example can be found in the third paragraph. However, when I read it a second time, I felt like this was deliberate and gave the story a poetic tone, almost 'forcing' the reader to 'see' the tumbleweed and the charact...

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Amanda Lieser
16:44 Feb 25, 2022

Good morning! Thank you so much for the amazing feedback. I really loved writing this story. I know the name is a bit repetitive at the beginning because I wanted people to physically picture a tumbleweed that “transforms” into a person at the end. Thank you again for your time!

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Jeffery Young
14:30 Feb 22, 2022

Amazing allegory with the tumbleweed representing the character. Although I agree that adding more insight into his thoughts would help foster a connection between him and the reader- I felt pretty connected with his experience, as if the point of the story wasn't him as a character but rather the experiences he undergoes. Beautifully done!

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Amanda Lieser
16:34 Feb 25, 2022

Hi Jeffrey, I’m really glad you enjoyed this story. This was one of my favorite characters to write about. I also wanted to give a shout out to your cat whom I read about in your bio. My husband is terribly allergic so I’m always extremely envious of cat owners. I will be sending you another comment shortly so keep your eyes peeled. :)

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J.C. Lovero
22:06 Feb 21, 2022

Hi Amanda, I enjoyed reading this piece and figuring out the metaphor of the tumbleweed as it related to the character of the story. You writing style is very lyrical and I found it fascinating to read. As Hannah commented, I do feel as though I was missing that "connection" with the main character. Perhaps giving us more of the thoughts/feelings throughout could have helped. Overall, a very nice piece. Thanks for sharing!

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Amanda Lieser
16:28 Feb 25, 2022

Hi JC, Thank you so much for the kind comment. I have received the note that a little something more may be needed to connect the reader. However, I’m in conflict as to whether another connection to this specific character will help or take away another piece of his anonymity which is my favorite thing about him. I have left a comment on another one of your pieces so look out! :)

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J.C. Lovero
17:45 Mar 05, 2022

Popped in to congratulate you on the shortlist! Well-deserved :)

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Amanda Lieser
21:02 Mar 11, 2022

THANK YOU!!

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