Contest #16 shortlist ⭐️

15 comments

Mystery

I am used to the chemical smell in the air. We all are. We all have to be. It coats our throats and hurts when we breath, but we fight through it. There simply aren’t enough gas masks to go around. We don’t have a choice. We need food. We need wood to keep the furnaces going. 

Without the precious logs that others bring in, we would all freeze to death in the only thing keeping us safe from the disastrous elements. The bunker. 

My red hoodie and black gloves protect me from the dangerous plants. Fungi coated in poisonous slime. Flowers that bite. Countless things that have been forever changed by the damaged environment around them. 

I carry an ax in one hand. 

A burlap sack in the other. 

My mother warned me that I wasn’t old enough to be going into the toxic woods without a mask. That my body couldn’t protect me from the radiation. That I wasn’t strong enough to fend off all the other creatures lurking between the deformed trees. 

But today even my mother agreed that I had no choice. 

We recently lost two of our people. We don’t know what happened to them. We only know that they didn’t come back. 

We are already short on people as it is. 

So now it’s my turn. It’s my turn to harvest. 

I cover my mouth and nose with the red fabric of my tattered hoodie. It filters out some of the chemicals in the air. Not all, but enough that it makes a difference. 

I walk into the woods. Toward the center, where we started collecting years ago. The clearing in the center is filled with tree trunks and felled branches too small to be of any use to us. I approach a tree. 

The tree has a greenish tint to it. It’s all sharp corners and jutting branches. Not healthy by any means. I take my ax in both hands, dropping my sack onto the too-bright grass. I swing. I cut into the tree, revealing the live green wood inside. Another chop. 

These trees are fragile and weak. Easy to chop through. Within three swings of my ax, the tree is toppling over. It lands with a crash onto the ground. I chop some more, near the base to get the thickest logs, and chop it into smaller pieces. 

I leave the leaf covered tree top on the ground to decompose into the soil, only throwing the chopped up bits of it’s base into my sack. Thanks to the poor condition of the trees, they burn through so much faster. The thin branches are no good. We leave them behind to prevent them from taking up precious space in our bags. 

I am felling another tree when I hear something. A rustling in the branches. I spin on the balls of my feet, swinging my ax in front of me. My eyes dart side to side, examining the dark spaces between the trees. At first I see nothing. Then I hear it again. Branches crunching underfoot. Right ahead of me. 

I press my back against the tree. It groans as I push against it’s fresh cut. I worry that it my fall just from the pressure I am putting on it. 

Branches shift and crack as whatever is moving in the trees comes closer. I crouch down and prepare to pounce at the thing. My thighs start to burn while I wait until I can see the thing in the woods. 

Finally a shape begins to make itself known. As it comes into view, I let myself relax, standing and letting my ax fall to my side. 

The man approaching me is a familiar one. He wears a matching red hoodie, his more stained and torn up then mine. He also carries an ax and a sack identical to mine. He is another member of the group sent out to collect wood today. He startles when he sees me. 

“Gosh, Tom, you scared me! Maybe announce yourself next time? I could’ve killed you!” 

He scoffs as if I’ve insulted him. “Sure you could’ve. What are you doing out here anyway, Scar? I thought your mamma wouldn't let you out.”

I roll my eyes. “Had to. Synthia and Craig didn’t come back last night.”

“Poor guys.” He looks sad, but not distraught, although they were friends of his. We can’t afford to mourn in our situation. We simply don't have time for it.

“Anyway, get out of here. This is my spot.”

He looks like he is maybe going to argue, but he doesn’t say anything. He simply moves on, disappearing in the trees. I can hear him whistling as he walks away, trying in what little ways he can to brighten up the depressing woods. 

I finish chopping down the trees. I fill my bag all the way to the brim. 

I wipe the sweat off my brow, proud of myself for completing my first harvest so well. I tie the bag closed and try to lift it. 

Too heavy. 

I can’t, no matter how hard I try, seem to get it more than a foot off the ground. I sigh, the pride I felt for a job well done dissipating as I untie the bag. I cringe with every piece of precious wood that I throw into a pile behind me. I try to focus on the fact that I’ll at least have some pre-cut wood ready to collect tomorrow. That will save some time. I hope. 

I end up having to dump half the bag onto the forest floor. It pains me to look at the wasteful pile of wood, even if I know that I can come back and get it soon enough. Maybe even today.

I retie the bag and throw it over my shoulder. I am more disappointed in my weak arms then anything else. My mom was right. I’m not strong enough to be doing this yet. I hadn’t spent long enough training for spending any sort of time outside the bunker. 

Everyone else had spent twice as much time as I had in the make-shift gym we have in the bunker to earn the right to leave. 

I walk through the woods, try to push through my already shaking arms. Pathetic. I’m pathetic. The thought repeats itself over and over again in my head. As I walk. I keep my eyes on the ground, watching to make sure I don’t trip over any roots or branches. 

Branches crush behind me.

“I’m not in the mood for company, Tom.” I shout over my shoulder. 

He doesn’t respond though. He just keeps walking. 

“Seriously. Go away.”

Still nothing. 

Frustrated with being ignored, I toss my bag to the ground and turn, fully prepared to chew him out for not listening to me. 

What I see behind me isn't Tom. Not at all. 

A rabid dog stares me down. Foam drips from its black lips while it stalks toward me. The ax slips from my hand while I stare the dog in the eyes, trying to convince it to back down. To leave me alone. 

It growls. It doesn't seem to like the eye contact. It crouches down on it's front legs, it's tail raised in the air behind it.

And then it pounces.



November 19, 2019 19:25

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15 comments

Bella Owens
22:25 Jun 01, 2020

I really enjoyed this story. I think that it was really interesting to read. The cliffhanger at the end was amazing! It really keeps your interest.

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Khadija S.
20:38 Apr 19, 2020

I love the Red Riding Hood dark Imitation!

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18:49 Nov 29, 2019

This story certainly explains why one should not enter the woods. I like the first-person telling and the abrupt ending certainly paints an image of finality for him/Scar. It might be appropriate to explain why he's called Scar. Have Tom say something like "I thought your mamma wouldn't let you out in the woods, or does she want to call you Scars," he said with sarcasm in his voice. I think your choice to leave the background story vague encourages the reader to fill in it on his/her own. All in all, a good story, but not a young child's ...

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Annalee Long
19:43 Dec 05, 2019

I think the reason Scar's name isn't explained is that it can be assumed that this story is based on "Little Red Riding Hood", so Scar could be short for Scarlet. It was really interesting to me to see the familiarities of this piece and "Little Red Riding Hood". I also enjoyed seeing which details were changed to give the story a post-apocalyptic feel. The only thing I would change is having a wolf-like creature attack at the end. A rabid dog does make sense, but given the state of the rest of the environment, I felt like a rabid dog was a...

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Trevor Pence
16:25 Dec 02, 2019

wow, this is pretty crazy.

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Hance Theodore
12:32 Nov 29, 2019

Interesting read. Good job

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Rima El Boustani
16:30 Nov 28, 2019

I loved how I didnt really know or undestand what was going on...toxic woods? But the language was excellent and it added to the sense of the unknown. I personally felt that the end was too abrupt and unconnected, especially considering the build up, but other than that it was a great read.

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Karen Jones
21:59 Nov 27, 2019

Great story. I loved how it just ended. Done :)

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Sarah Kreiger
00:00 Nov 27, 2019

I like this story :) enough detail to keep me reading and room for more detail if you ever wanted to make it into a full length!

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Luisa Hanson
18:47 Nov 21, 2019

Really has a mysterious atmosphere. I have no idea what is really going on in the world, or how it got to where it is, but it doesn't take away from the story at all!

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Heidi Hanson
18:51 Nov 21, 2019

Thank you so much!

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Heidi Hanson
18:51 Nov 21, 2019

That's really what I was going for, so that's great to hear!

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Jamie Limbaga
08:51 Aug 04, 2020

I'm going through a bunch of your stories (I'm on a roll and I might just binge everything in one go haha) and this one - I especially love this one! It was such a creative twist to make it into an apocalyptic, sort of sci-fi situation, but with an edge of vulnerability from being a human experience. It's raw and engaging and I love it! I'mma continue binge reading all your stories now <3

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Heidi Hanson
13:44 Aug 04, 2020

Thank you!

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Jamie Limbaga
08:51 Aug 04, 2020

I'm going through a bunch of your stories (I'm on a roll and I might just binge everything in one go haha) and this one - I especially love this one! It was such a creative twist to make it into an apocalyptic, sort of sci-fi situation, but with an edge of vulnerability from being a human experience. It's raw and engaging and I love it! I'mma continue binge reading all your stories now <3

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