Contest #151 shortlist ⭐️

67 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

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67 comments

Ace Quinnton
18:25 Jun 24, 2022

Second person. That's what made me read this. Lots of authors say that second person POV is tricky to do but I think you've done very well using it. I've used it in one of my stories called: The chosen light in the darkness. (You can go check that one out if you desire to). The overall idea of the story was interesting. Ignorance is bliss, to keep your head down and keep walking. Never give up. Remember the world for what it was and not what it is now. Mind your own business and keep those dear to you close. Amazing job, Claire.

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Claire Lindsey
16:29 Jun 25, 2022

Hi Ace! Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love a good second person, too. I’ll have to check yours out 😊

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Aesha Amin
12:40 Jun 23, 2022

Heya, I definitely couldn't have interpreted the prompt like you did, but it worked so well! The way you use repetition makes everything flow so easily (which is so foreign to me because every time I do it, it sounds forced). So glad I get to learn from writers like you :))

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Claire Lindsey
14:59 Jun 23, 2022

Hi Aesha! Thanks for the lovely comment and for the read!

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Aesha Amin
16:04 Jul 01, 2022

doing a little dancey dance for you😙

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Claire Lindsey
16:06 Jul 01, 2022

And me for you!! First shortlist ever is a big deal

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Michał Przywara
21:14 Jun 21, 2022

Great opening, it drew me in. The story moves along at a good pace. We don't know for sure what happened, but we have enough information to guess. Literally, I'm picturing a group of refugees heading for some promised sanctuary, after some cataclysm. I'm going to say, nuclear war, given all the dust and "stinging and biting" rain. It's a long journey though, so maybe sanctuary isn't a place, but some time in the future when things calm down. Less literally, perhaps this journey is life. Life is full of traumas, and the message of "just ke...

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Claire Lindsey
01:23 Jun 22, 2022

Hi Michał, thank you for such an intuitive comment! You’re spot on in your observations and I especially love your interpretation of the old man and what it means to follow him, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Looking up, to me at least, meant becoming overly focused on dreams or ideals and losing touch with the world as it is. But it’s up for interpretation, of course 😊 Thank you again for your comment, it’s deeply appreciated!

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Michał Przywara
16:07 Jul 01, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Seán McNicholl
22:38 Jun 20, 2022

Claire, wow, this is brilliant! You wove tension throughout that brilliantly without ever revealing why it’s there! The repetition was wonderful, almost lyrical at points, kept me engaged from start to finish. Love the fact that I am as unsure as to why they are travelling as I was at the beginning! Fantastic story! Only a teeny tiny thing in the opening paragraphs, and maybe it was intentional: “…reminder of where you came, and where you will return.” Should it be “came from?” Came on its own might well work, if so then please ignore me!

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Claire Lindsey
22:56 Jun 20, 2022

Ha! I was just on your page, what a coincidence! Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Gotta keep the readers guessing ;) And thanks for pointing out that sentence, it’s been bugging me and I wasn’t sure why! Anyway, nice to meet you, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your work :)

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Scott Skinner
03:36 Jun 20, 2022

You have some excellent descriptions in this piece and a knack for focusing on the details that really breathe life to a different time/world. My favorite one of these was the line, "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." It's immediately relatable and scent is the strongest memory sense so it works very well here. I pictured the story taking place in a dystopian future, but the mystery of the path that the charac...

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Claire Lindsey
17:59 Jun 22, 2022

Thank you Scott, I appreciate the read and thoughtful comment 😊

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H L McQuaid
18:18 Jun 19, 2022

I didn't realise how much I missed your writing until now. So beautiful, and harrowing, and mysterious. So many wonderful turns of phrase...I can't copy them all, I'd just repeat 80% of the story, but this one stays with me: His voice is jagged, like roughly broken pieces of slate. Anyway, welcome back. :) As for title suggestions: Tread softly What lies ahead (potentially two meanings with that) What the wind brings Whispers

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Claire Lindsey
19:50 Jun 19, 2022

You make me smile, as always. Thank you :) I love the title suggestions. You are the best and I missed you!!

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Osprey Markus
05:27 Jan 03, 2023

I've always been fascinated with this kind of point of view, but you made it come to life! It's a masterpiece! It's such an interesting take on a prompt, probably one of the most creative responses to a prompt I've ever seen. Absolutely amazing!

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Lane Bloom
18:24 Aug 24, 2022

So poetic and lyrical! Absolutely lovely.

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Unknown User
18:23 Jun 19, 2022

<removed by user>

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Claire Lindsey
19:48 Jun 19, 2022

A.G!! It’s good to see you too! Thanks for the kind words. I haven’t read any Rothfuss, but I’ll certainly add him to my list. I can see what you mean with the eyes low bit… I’ll think about how to clarify that. Glad you enjoyed it, even if I didn’t answer all your questions :) I’m looking forward to reading your work again!!

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Claire Lindsey
00:48 Jun 19, 2022

I'm a bit out of practice over here.... it's been a while! As always, title suggestions are welcome, and any and all critiques :)

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