Contest #151 shortlist ⭐️

66 comments

Fiction

Keep your head down. Eyes low.


Tread softly, placing your boots with their duct-taped soles in the prints left by the person in front of you.


Don’t go too fast, for the person behind.


Don’t stop. Don’t look back.


And don’t look up.


~~~


Keep your head down. The wind is strong, strong enough to pull you off course, if you let it.


The wind carries things with it. Dust that grits up in your eyes and your mouth, a reminder of where you came from, and where you will return. Rain, occasionally. Not the kind you’d turn your face up for, lips open and soft as petals—this rain stings and bites.


Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear voices in the wind. They ring out for miles: cries for help, songs of hope, screams of anguish, whispers of love. After a while, it all sounds the same.


No matter what the wind brings, keep your head down.


~~~


Eyes low.


Do your best not to look around. This way, you can picture the world as it was, not as it is. You can picture fields of flowers, corn ripening in the sun, mountains and rivers and the way the moon caressed the ripples where the ocean met the shore.


Eyes low, so you don’t have to see what the world has become.


~~~


Tread softly. The man in front of you is old, his skin wrinkled by time and leathered by the sun. His footsteps are uneven; the left one always drags a bit. He is taller than you, so you have to stretch to place your boots in his footprints.


You have never seen his face, but you can picture it: golden-brown eyes that were warm and twinkled once. A mouth that droops ever so slightly on the left side, which you’d only notice if you really looked. A scar just to the right of his nose.


He talks to you sometimes. His voice is jagged, like roughly broken pieces of slate. He doesn’t talk about himself much, but he tells you stories. Your favorite is the one about where the sun came from, and where it went. It’s different every time.


If you are very lucky, and he is in a good mood, he sings. Just a hum, really, with the few words that he remembers snuck in like a prayer. He isn’t very good, but you can tell he used to be. You like to imagine him on a stage somewhere a long time ago, an old acoustic strapped to his back, crooning with whiskey on his breath into a microphone. And the room is quiet, and the world is full of everything good.


Tread softly, so you can hear the singing.


~~~


Don’t go too fast.


The girl behind you is young, too young for all of this. She doesn’t tire easily, she’s tough. You think that she will probably last the longest. Maybe she will survive.


Her face is usually covered with a red paisley cloth. She has dark skin, rich and lush as the earth used to be. It reminds you of home, and so you don’t look back at her.


You talk to her sometimes, but not often. You tell her the stories the old man told you, but never as well. The endings always peter out in some unsatisfactory manner, and you feel guilty for this. She deserves a good ending.


She has a laugh that makes you think tomorrow you might actually get to where you're going. She makes you forget the cold.


She told you once that she doesn’t really remember life before. She remembers a man, probably her father, tossing her towards the clouds while she squealed. And she can vaguely recall the taste of oranges, the way the peel stuck beneath her fingernails when she broke into them, and how the scent lingered there for hours.


When she talks about things from before, it’s like they’re happening all over again. Like she could fix things, just by remembering how the world used to be. And you’ve found that you love her, like a sister, the same way you cherished the warmth of the sun on your face.


Don’t go too fast, so you don’t lose the person behind.


~~~


Don’t stop. Don’t look back.


Somewhere in the darkness behind you, there is death. The remains of the ones who fell or strayed from the line. You loved some of them. Tolerated a few. Just like family.


You found them, or they found you, and you walked together. You lost track of the miles, of the names, a long time ago. There was a man who smelled of the ocean and asked too many questions. A young boy who used to run from the front of the line to the back, carrying messages and water and a hopeful smile. There was a woman who was missing one of her front teeth that could fix anything. She was the one who taped your shoe back together for you.


There were many more. And you had to leave them behind.


Sometimes, you think you hear them in the wind. They tell you to keep going, or to turn back, or laugh at you for thinking you will make it to where you’re headed.


They ask if you remember where you’re headed. And you’re not sure you know the answer to that anymore.


But you don’t stop, you don’t look back. Something keeps you going.


~~~


Don’t look up.


This rule is the one you made for yourself. Because you trust that there is light above you, somewhere. And you also trust that if you look too hard for it, you will forget to keep going.


You know that if you look up, you will forget what lies ahead, who goes behind. You will lose track of the old man’s footsteps and you won’t hear the young girl’s laughter.


But sometimes, when the road is silent and you can't see the others through the dust, all you want to do is search for the stars.


Don’t look up, or you’ll lose yourself.


Don’t stop, and don’t look back. There is nothing for you on the road you’ve traveled.


Don’t go too fast. She walks in your footsteps somewhere just behind.


Tread softly, right where the old man walked. His steps are surer than yours, the prints he leaves more absolute.


Keep your eyes low, so the world can be how you remember it.


Keep your head down, so you aren’t drawn off course.


Keep going.


June 19, 2022 00:23

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

66 comments

15:31 Jun 23, 2022

Claire, this is GORGEOUS! your prose is breathtaking, and the interpretation of the prompt is so unique! I love the poetic feel. This begs to be read aloud. You lace so much wisdom with such beautiful imagery. Well done <3

Reply

Claire Lindsey
15:14 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you Hannah! The judges are probably tired of my *creative* takes on the prompts 😂 I’m glad you liked it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rebecca Miles
05:40 Jun 27, 2022

This is the story I have been waiting to read about the Ukraine although it chimes with all refugee crises. So beautiful, the prose so measured just like their footsteps. I normally dislike the second person POV but it works a treat here and is just so warm and kind. I feel almost like it's the benevolent sun talking. Just lovely, a huge thumbs up from me.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
19:59 Jun 27, 2022

Thank you so much Rebecca! Second person is tricky, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this one 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Aeris Walker
09:35 Jun 24, 2022

Even though I imagined a group of bedraggled travelers trudging though some kind of danger-laden waste land, there was beauty in the journey because of your writing. Great job with the perspective, with keeping your theme so tight and focused, and with creating a world that makes sense without really explaining anything about it. Anything could have happened, but we still get the idea that survival requires you keep going and you don’t look up. Such a simple idea made into a beautiful story. Well done.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
15:13 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you so much! My goal was to keep things simple this week and see where the premise took me. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it :)

Reply

Aeris Walker
23:15 Jun 25, 2022

Simple stories are just refreshing sometimes :) for the reader as well as the writer!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
J.C. Lovero
02:56 Jun 22, 2022

Hello Claire! This is my first piece of yours to read, and now I see why people speak of you as a legend. This was dripping gorgeous. So lyrical. I loved how you gave us short vignettes, and the POV choice was perfect. I'm not entirely sure what we are doing, why we are doing it, or where we are going, but it definitely felt like a journey that could be substituted for ______ depending on the reader's perspective on life. Perhaps that is what you were going for - otherwise, I'm just a simpleton and ignore me LOL This line was particularly...

Reply

Claire Lindsey
15:10 Jun 23, 2022

Oops! I could have sworn I replied to this, maybe it didn’t post. Or I’m losing my mind 🤣 I’m thoroughly flattered. That is absolutely what I was going for, you’re no simpleton, J.C. 😊 I changed the title (again.) before I saw your suggestion, but I love that! I’ve enjoyed our discord chats too! It’s inspiring to be able to chat with people like you. A nice little kick in the pants to keep writing 😂

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Thom Brodkin
02:29 Jun 19, 2022

Claire I am so happy to read you again. As always you are an artist with your words, a master of showing not telling. It’s hard to explain but somehow I could see everything you were describing while also feeling like I couldn’t see anything. I don’t know if it’s what you were going for but it felt like the three characters were symbolic of all the stages of life. In a way it’s as if the old man represented the future and the young girl the past. The main character was so very in the moment. I will say this, I want to know more. Where are th...

Reply

Claire Lindsey
16:41 Jun 19, 2022

Thanks for the read, Thom! As always, your comments are both insightful and encouraging. I love your interpretation of the characters 😊 And I like the title suggestions, too! I’ll mull over it a bit more

Reply

Thom Brodkin
17:16 Jun 19, 2022

I just realized I misspelled your name not just once but twice. It’s corrected. I’m sorry. 😀

Reply

Claire Lindsey
19:55 Jun 19, 2022

You’re fine haha! Just a pen name, nothing fancy

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Thom Brodkin
17:16 Jun 19, 2022

I just realized I misspelled your name not just once but twice. It’s corrected. I’m sorry. 😀

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
17:08 Jul 03, 2022

Fine rendition.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
18:53 Jul 03, 2022

Thanks!

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
10:08 Jul 08, 2022

My pleasure

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kevin Broccoli
21:18 Jul 02, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist. I enjoyed the structuring of this so much.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
23:28 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks Kevin!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zack Powell
17:43 Jul 02, 2022

Claire! This comment is LONG overdue (forgive my tardiness). So before anything else: Congratulations on making the shortlist! It's well-earned. The prose here is phenomenal. This is poetry. In fact, I was reading this story too quickly and had to force myself to slow down and digest your sentences. I love your use of second-person POV here. The short imperative sentences throughout establish a nice rhythm and really bring this piece to life. Your economy of language is what truly dazzles me here. It's amazing how much you trust your reade...

Reply

Claire Lindsey
17:58 Jul 02, 2022

Thank you so much, Zack! This means a lot coming from someone whose work I admire—I read “What Happens in Vegas” the other day and I’m still too gobsmacked to comment haha! Anyway, thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful and encouraging comment!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kelsey H
05:28 Jul 02, 2022

I love the lyrical feel of this, and even though we don't know why and where they are walking, it feels like it doesn't even matter because the story is in the people and the journey, not the destination. Really great writing, the repetition of the lines worked so well to create the feel of this long walk.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:49 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks Kelsey! Congrats on the win, I’m looking forward to reading it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
L. E. Scott
05:27 Jul 02, 2022

Pretty good post apocalyptic story here. I love the characters. It makes me wonder where they're all headed and if they'll make it.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:48 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks for the read!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Congratulations on the shortlist, Claire! You did a great job. Something I forgot to say last time is, I also like how at the end, you give us the list of rules one more time, with all the context. If you'd given the context to us at the beginning, it wouldn't have mattered as much. The whole thing is so riveting.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:17 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks Guadalupe!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Riel Rosehill
18:32 Jul 01, 2022

Okay I totally see why this was shortlisted. Absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous writing! :D I especially loved the stages of life / one's past, present and future represented by the three walking people as well (I don't know if that's what you were going for, but I thought it was brilliant) Keep going.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
18:43 Jul 01, 2022

Thank you, Riel! That wasn’t intentional at first, but I picked up on it while editing and tried to bring that out a bit. Glad you picked up on it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zelda C. Thorne
17:34 Jul 01, 2022

Beautiful use of second person. Strong feelings of resilience and survival. I loved the description of the old man with his singing, and the girl with the oranges. The way you linked everything to what used to be. Clever. Congrats 🎉

Reply

Claire Lindsey
18:19 Jul 01, 2022

Thank you Zelda 😉 I’m obsessed with your new pen name, btw

Reply

Zelda C. Thorne
09:45 Jul 02, 2022

😁 Thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
14:57 Jul 01, 2022

Congratulations!! I hoped you would get recognition for this, it was BEAUTIFUL!! ❤️

Reply

Claire Lindsey
15:12 Jul 01, 2022

Thank you, Hannah ❤️

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mark Sheehan
01:16 Jun 30, 2022

Hi Claire, I learnt something reading your story. It's the little details that matter. "crooning with whiskey on his breath into a microphone." could just have been "crooning into the microphone", but the reference to whiskey adds a cool touch. The ending left me wondering what got them walking in a line, which is a good thing. Finally, something the internet can't answer. Nice work. Regards Mark

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:19 Jul 02, 2022

Hi Mark, thanks for reading! I really enjoyed your contest entry, looking forward to reading more of your work

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Tommy Goround
00:56 Jun 28, 2022

Clapping. A Beautiful Coming of Age.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:20 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks, Tommy!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
L. Maddison
16:42 Jun 27, 2022

Hi Claire This was so full of loss and longing...I'm intrigued to know the context, but because it is so elusive the story is made all the more mysterious and compelling. There was some stunning detail to contrast then and now. I particularly loved this: She remembers a man, probably her father, tossing her towards the clouds while she squealed. And she can vaguely recall the taste of oranges, the way the peel stuck beneath her fingernails when she broke into them, and how the scent lingered there for hours.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
05:23 Jul 02, 2022

Thank you, L! Means a lot coming from someone as talented as you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Hello, Claire. I really like this story. I was thinking about writing one involving a person literally walking in someone else's footsteps, and I'm so excited to find this one! I like the way you start with the list of rules, then illustrate the reason for each rule in its own paragraph, and finish the paragraph with a summary of what we've just learned. A haunting, heartfelt story.

Reply

Claire Lindsey
04:57 Jun 27, 2022

Thank you, Guadalupe, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jay Mc Kenzie
18:11 Jun 25, 2022

Claire, this is so beautiful. I love the ambiguity: you give us just enough. The presentations of the people around you are gorgeous little snapshots of humans being humans. Your interpretation of the prompt is gorgeous. I too am a sucker for a good second person POV and this is deftly done. 💝

Reply

Claire Lindsey
01:11 Jun 26, 2022

Thank you so much, Jay! Glad you enjoyed it 😊

Reply

Jay Mc Kenzie
21:33 Jul 01, 2022

Congrats!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
04:42 Jun 25, 2022

Claire, if this is you out of practice, I can't wait to see what else you come up with! I felt so drawn into this world, yet it was almost entirely from my own imagination. You gave us readers the framework and let us fill in the rest. I'm a big fan already. Thank you for sharing. :)

Reply

Claire Lindsey
16:12 Jun 25, 2022

Hi Shuv! Thank you so much 😊 It’s fun to see what people read into more open-ended stories. Glad to hear my rather minimalist approach worked this week!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply