Contest #97 shortlist ⭐️

31 comments

Sad Contemporary Adventure

My little brother’s heavy breathing fogs up our view while his mouth sticks to the window like a cleaner fish. The room’s pretty dark, so we pulled the curtains away just a bit to see the stars, only to be disappointed by the blinding, excessive lighting of the motel sign. Our little sister, Frida, is curled up between mom and dad while Benjamin and I take shifts, staying on the lookout for the perfect car.


The receptionist asked mom the length of our stay, but dad chimed in, saying it would only be a couple hours, just a night, which was all we could really afford. Mom laid out some bedsheets over the carpet in case me or my brother get tired, but we decide to stay awake because honestly, all-nighters to us are pretty fun, and we detest sleeping on the floor.


Dad taught us the secret to finding the perfect car. It doesn’t need to look pretty; the paint can even be a bit washed out. It needs to be old, nothing past the eighties. Dad can Slim Jim a window pretty quickly, and mom is great with using a coat hanger. Any early model Toyota or Fiat will do, but I usually try to go for something a bit more spacious since we’re in five.


A few months ago, we ended up with a Panda, uncomfortable and cramped, but it was enough to get us past four states. We emptied the tank of our last car a couple days ago while still on the freeway. Mom, Benjamin, and I had to push the car into the side of the road, grab our things and walk a quarter-mile while dad held Frida as she cried.


My little sister didn’t want to leave the car. Frida wiggled like a worm in my dad’s arms until she finally gave up, stuck out her hand, and waved the car goodbye.


“That’s it.” I point to a dark blue Stanza Wagon passing through the motel plaque entering the lot. “That’s our ticket out of here tonight.”


Benjamin open’s a wide smile, “Way to go, Jane,” he says. “Should we wake up mom and dad?”


“No, not yet, we need to stake the driver out, make sure he enters a room for the night.”


“Got it, so what do we until then?”


“I know,” I say, grabbing a chair and placing it close to the window. Benjamin holds the seat in place by its back while I stand tall and exhale onto the glass, covering it in a layer of mist. I draw four lines over on the window and make a circle right in the center square.


“Hey, no fair,” Benjamin says. “I hate being X.”


*


They used to tell us, “This land is our land.”


Mom and Dad aren't big fans of using maps. We traveled coast to coast, never from California to the New York Islands, but we did get to see the Red Desert in Wyoming, and the beaches of New Jersey, stopping by campsites, empty gas stations, or warehouses. We once stayed at a harbor in Maine, sleeping close to the docks, before the police came and had us bolt, threatening to arrest my parents for trespassing.


“But this is public property,” dad argued. “You can’t force us out of here. I know my rights."


The two officers laughed and threatened my dad and mom with their guns and cuffs.


“Just get out of here,” one of them said. “Look at your kids. Wouldn’t it be better for them to not see their parents get involved in some crap?”


Mom grabbed Frida, then Benjamin’s hand, and waited by the car. I walked the dock out of the harbor, constantly looking back to my dad.


“Come on,” I’d mutter under my breath. “It’s not worth it. They're policemen. Don’t fight them on this.”


Frida was crying out by the car; mom tried to calm her down. Benjamin grabbed our sister, cradled her in his arms while mom opened up the vehicle’s doors.


Dad walked away, knitting his brows, and with shame stamped across his face. The police officers shook their heads. They called him a crazy hippy and told him to watch out.


“One of these days, you’re gonna get yourself killed,” mom warned.


He got inside, shoved a screwdriver into the ignition, and started up the car. We drove out of Maine that night, entering New Hampshire before lunch. Our bellies were near empty, much like the fat, lazy Citation we stole, nearly dying along the road.


*


“Are we running away from the police?” I once asked.


I felt the heat on my cheek before registering the sound of the slap.


“Why would you ask that?” Mom returned, retracting her hand and placing it over her lap. 


Dad was driving awfully fast, holding a beer while maintaining a single hand on the wheel. It was cold; the windshield was masked in a misty overcoat. The station wagon's wipers didn’t work. Benjamin sat in the passenger seat by dad and periodically hunched forward during our trip to wipe the inner glass with his sleeve.


“We’re not doing anything wrong by being out on the road, Jane,” Mom said. “We’re happy with our lives. We do whatever we want, travel, live off the land. We survive.”


It was drizzling. Water droplets wound up accumulating quickly despite not raining heavily. They stuck to the transparent surface, scattered across our field of view, impairing Dad’s already blurry vision.


A dark shadow cast over the front of the hood, rifts formed like torn flesh on the glass. The car shook. Benjamin was hurled back into his seat from the impact. Frida threw herself onto me, her head digging into my chest. I wrapped my arms around my sister’s body and stretched my gaze to Benjamin, who had the wind knocked out of him but didn’t look dead.


Dad stopped in a craze, almost drove off the side of the road. There was honking, probably from another vehicle, but I doubt that dad even heard it. He ran out. Mom went and flung the side door open. I arched over to my brother; he was breathing and seemed groggy, almost as if just waking up from a nap.


“What happened?” mom shouted, walking around the car.


“This stupid animal, that’s what,” Dad replied, kicking the deer, which twitched slightly before finally dying.”


“Stop it,” I said from inside the car. “Leave the poor thing alone.”


“Poor thing? This thing’s gonzo,” he returned.


Mom leaned into the car window, “At least no one was seriously hurt.”


There was a gash on the side of Benjamin’s head, probably from a shard of glass, while the hood was dusted in crystal fragments, wet from the rain, and the windshield irreparably smashed.

Dad hopped back into the car, fired up the motor, which ignited much to his surprise.


“Well, will you look at that? I knew this car was golden,” he smirked to mom, who returned with a chuckle and shaking her hand. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here before the cops come.”


“But what about the deer?” I wondered. “Are we just gonna leave her there?”


“Now, now, Jane, don’t think that you have to save all the animals. How about you just stick to helping out your family and leave the rest to your dad and me?”


We left the deer in the middle of the road. Mom occupied the passenger seat, fixing up the glass with duct tape she found in the glove compartment. She tossed some scrap paper to my brother and told him to apply it to the wound in his head.


“You’re bleeding, honey. Here, have Jane take care of that.”


That day my sister slept soundly over my knees; my brother and I kept our eyes peeled open to the road, occasionally diverting our gaze to mom and dad. They laughed and winked at one another. Mom ran her fingers down dad’s face while he drunkenly smiled.


“I love you, you know that, right?” 


Mom nodded and blew him a kiss.


“I love you guys too,” he repeated, turning back to us, uttering those words with his beer breath.


*


I remember when we once slept in a hut, or so that’s what we were ordered to call it. We stopped in West Virginia, where dad found a job in a coal mine for a few weeks. We couldn’t find a home cheap, so we stopped our car a couple miles out of dad’s new job. He and mom formed a make-shift sundeck using slabs of old wood and the trunk door of our damaged car.


While dad went out early in the morning, mom would have us forage around our campsite for anything useful. She taught us about the spiritual healing properties of moss and what mushrooms were edible. Mom had us learn knots and taught me how to braid, while she took advantage of nature’s beauty and made ink from berries and flowers to paint the landscape. We didn’t have paper, so she opted to use the leftover unstained documents from the car.


I watched her while Frida slept, and Benjamin cut his own hair with a switchblade he received from our dad. She absorbed the sunset, drank in the beauty with her eyes, and stroked her fingers across the sheets of paper with red, brown, and green dyes.


“It’s beautiful, mom,” I told her.


“So are you, honey,” she said with her hand on my shoulder. “It’s our home, you know?” All of this.”


“What do you mean?”


“This,” she said, stretching out her arms like a hawk. “All of this is ours. This land is all ours.”


*


Mom’s filling up her pockets with all the bathroom soap, and dad’s taking the towels, shoving them into a garbage bag.


“What else should we take?” Benjamin asks while I stare at the parking lot and terrace windows to make sure no one’s watching.


“The mini-fridge,” Dad says. “Get the water, the tiny drinks, and anything we can eat.”


My brother raids the fridge throwing everything into a pillowcase. Frida lies on the bed watching the muted television, hypnotized by the late-night cartoons, and doesn’t notice our mess.


“Jane, how’s it looking out there?” dad asks.


“Coast is clear,” I answer, stepping away from the window.


“Alright, grab your sister, dear,” mom says. “Remember, no making noise, and stay close to your dad and me.”


We head out of the motel room, leaving the bed bare and only the furniture behind. Dad walks down the lot with his hand to his side, holding his revolver that’s been bullet-free since I was nine.


Benjamin is the first to get to the van, crouching as soon as he reaches the passenger door. Dad tosses him the Slim Jim, which he slides into the gap of the window and unlocks the car. He slides into the seat, opens up the driver’s door, and hops into the back. Dad sits, mom occupies her place and passes up everything we stole, tossing plastic bags and pillowcases onto our laps.


I spot Dad’s fingers working magic with the wires. Mom removes her jacket and places it behind Frida’s head to act as a cushion. “Don’t forget to wear your seat belts, guys,” she says.


The engine roars, the headlights flare. Dad backs up, swiftly turns the vehicle. A cloud of smoke from the car rises and dissipates as we drive off, leaving the motel, laughing and clapping after achieving our new ride.


“Good job, kids,” dad says, taking hold of mom’s hand.


“Where are we off to next?” My brother asks.


“How about the mountains?” mom suggests, kissing dad’s hand. “Don’t you think the kids will love it there?”


Benjamin looks to dad, who nods, “Good idea,” he says.


I rest my head against the car seat, thinking that I’ll sleep until we arrive at our next stop, hopefully before the car runs out of gas.


“Do you think maybe we can find a house, dad?” Benjamin lets out. 


“A place where we can all get a bed.”


“Sure thing, Benjamin, we’ll find a nice place to say.”


My brother rolls his shoulders back and dives into the stiff car seat. He smiles, stuffs his hand into the pillowcase, and offers me a mini-sized chocolate bar.


“Hey, pass me one of those tiny bottles,” Dad says. “Give one to your mom too, so she can get some shut-eye.”


“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I ask.


“Don’t worry, you three,” mom interjects. “Just trust your mom and dad.”

June 05, 2021 15:35

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31 comments

Mohamed Sarfan
05:56 Jun 16, 2021

Dear Writer, In the background of a storyline there will always be mysteries or mysteries lurking. The beginning of a pleasant journey may end at the address of tears; Conversely, the search for a tear can linger forever in the home of a fulfilling smile. The life of a man who transcends justice and fairness and is bound is adorned when he is on the side of mother and father no matter what the journey of a family. All the best My Dear Friend. Write more Congratulations

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K. Antonio
14:31 Jun 18, 2021

I just got to say it... YUUUUUUUS! I'M SHOCKED THIS GOT SHORTLISTED. Not because I didn't believe in the story, but because I found it so strange and cheery in some moments, yet laced with moments of parental neglect. I guess I just thought it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea and would end up getting lost in the shuffle of such AMAZING STORIES that I read this week. Truly, I'm grateful for this! Thanks in advanced to the circle of people that have huddled around me and constantly critique and offer feedback. YOU ARE ALL FREAKING GEMS!

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Shea West
15:05 Jun 18, 2021

I loved this one!!! Congrats on the shortlist K.!!! You show up with such good pieces every single week, this was bound to come to fruition :)

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H L Mc Quaid
14:35 Jun 18, 2021

Yaaaaaaas! So happy and excited for you. 💃💕👍😁

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K. Antonio
15:36 Jun 05, 2021

This might sound a bit crazy, but I wanted to write something dark and sad that didn't really give off immediate dark and sad vibes. In a way, I guess this is just me experimenting with a story that has been in my head for a while. Probably still needs a lot of revision. I commend all of those who read and comment. Please, feel free to share your opinions. Stay safe!!

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A.Dot Ram
02:06 Jun 23, 2021

This was a great story that gave me complex feelings. On the one hand, this is a loving, connected family. On the other hand, pass me one of those little bottles. I'm glad you highlighted both sides of it. The dialog is all great, and the story moves along nicely. It had a momentum that carried me through. I had to see if anything terrible happened. Have you ever read the memoir "Educated." This reminded me of it. Anyway, congrats on a shortlist! If you were to do anything to revise, maybe play around with having your narrator react more to ...

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K. Antonio
03:52 Jun 23, 2021

What you said is good advice! I was just reading "A Little Life" and something I noticed a lot was exactly this. The variation on narrative voice and how the narrator changes its tone/language/perception through certain instances. It's actually something I'm going to be playing around with!!

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A.Dot Ram
05:13 Jun 23, 2021

Excellent! Don't you feel like you notice more when reading, when you approach it as a writer? Stories start to feel transparent-- not in a bad, predictable way, but like you have x-ray vision?

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K. Antonio
11:27 Jun 23, 2021

Exactly like this!

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Kelly Dennison
17:11 Jun 10, 2021

Okay, so, as someone with little to no technical training when it comes to writing, I can really only respond to a story with how it makes me feel. And this family dynamic felt layered, and complex. By opening up with the task at hand, you gave us a glimpse into their troubled normalcy. Through the memories you selected to show us, there's obviously some serious concerns (the thievery, the drinking, the almost neglect). BUT, then you gave us a taste of two parents showing their children the beauty to be found in nature. The vastness of...

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Shea West
15:07 Jun 18, 2021

Kelly you spoke to something I feel too- I have zero technical training and when I come to critique or talk about someone's story I just have to go by feel.

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Nina Chyll
15:04 Jun 19, 2021

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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K. Antonio
15:16 Jun 19, 2021

Thanks Nina!! I can honestly say that you, along with other writers have made me aspire to be better at writing! Can't thank any one of you enough for exposing me to your works!

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Nina Chyll
15:21 Jun 19, 2021

Ah man I'm so flattered, but seriously this isn't about me, it's about you! And you'd won a competition way before I even started on here. Really, well done and glad to see you chuffed to bits.

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Claire Lewis
14:09 Jun 19, 2021

K, I’d say you gotta stop writing so much so I can keep up with your stories but I can’t tell you that in good conscience! This is beautiful, the darkness and sorrow glazed over with the innocent eyes of a child. I loved the structure, the choice to leave off what happens at the hotel as a kind of bookend, which added a lot of tension. I kept thinking by they would get caught. But your ending is perfect, cyclical, and hints at some of the underlying issues without saying anything explicitly. Absolutely deserving of the shortlist!!

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K. Antonio
14:23 Jun 19, 2021

This week I'm going to take a break. Kind of creatively exhausted and I need to finish the school semester with passing grades. 😂🤣🤣 I wish I had caught some of the typos in this piece, but I'm happy that this story was recognized for it's undertones. I haven't put up anything flashy or with a crazy plot in ages, but I get all fuzzy inside thinking I can make these characters. Still envious of your lyrical prose!!

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Shea West
20:50 Jun 05, 2021

I know it's your first draft but this story gave me Captain Fantastic/The Glass Castle vibes. Where the dad is maybe not well (addiction or mental health stuff) and he takes his kids along for the ride. I think you meet the parameters for the prompt. The kids waiting and scoping out cars to steal, that window of opportunity really. You hint at little things like the drinking and the thought process of "all this land is ours," type of entitlement. The sadness seems to follow them as the parents chase whatever it is they're chasing. It's as ...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:41 Jun 18, 2021

Great comment here (and congratulations K for another win!) -- The Glass Castle is an excellent memoir, and this has a strong verisimilitude. It FEELS so real. Woody Harrelson would definitely star in the Netflix series :)

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K. Antonio
16:22 Jun 18, 2021

I read The Glass Castle when I was ten. One of the few required reading books I enjoyed, definitely time for a reread! Woody Harrelson, that cracked me up! 😂😂

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Michael Martin
20:54 Jun 20, 2021

A lot of this resonated with me. The only thing my parents didnt do was stealing cars. But constant trouble with the law, always on the run... hell I woke up one night when I was around 8 in the backseat of our car speeding to Flotida to escape the cops looking for us. (That was after my dad held up every drug store on Main Street of our town with a sawed off shotgun. True story) Long story short, I connected with a lot of this. The lessons learned as a child from parents who werent aiming to be optimal role models. The writing fflowe...

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T.H. Sherlock
18:34 Jun 19, 2021

Lovely story. It shows how accepting children are of the world that they’re presented with along with the simple pleasures it can offer to them. There are glimmers of magic in this piece despite the underlying sour aftertaste of parental neglect. Jane, as the eldest child, appears to be awakening to the fact that her parents might not always be counted on to make the best decisions - but I found the parents’ willingness to involve their children in their criminal activities particularly sad. Well done on the shortlist! Definitely deserved.

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I love this story. You had me from the first line, which intrigued me enough to want to keep on reading. I'm glad I did. These character have layers, and the perspective of the story reflects that. One minute their actions are painted as terrible and cruel. Another, and we're seeing the beautiful side to living on the road. Every story had different points of view, and you were able to tell them well. You can tell Jane finds herself questioning her parents more than she'd like to, but can't really stop any of their actions. So, she tries ...

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T.C Morgan
01:15 Jun 12, 2021

Wow. I really loved this story. The tone is so unique and interesting. The story is set in a really dark, sad atmosphere, but it's described in a more lighthearted way. The effect is amazing. You also managed to explain such a complex family dynamic, with distinct characters in such a short story, which is crazy impressive. And the story concept itself! Super unique and compelling. Amazing job. Keep Writing!! :)

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Bruce Friedman
22:51 Aug 09, 2021

For me, this story is almost perfect. Allowed me insights into a lifestyle unknown to me -- both exciting and uncertain. You captured the mood perfectly. I want more. to me.

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William Richards
08:28 Jun 24, 2021

Congrats on the shortlisting. I liked this story as I felt for those kids, must be hard growing up in that environment. Also like how they raided the mini fridge! I was just glad no harm came to them at the end

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Amanda Lieser
21:53 Jun 22, 2021

I loved this story. I thought it was a great capture of a kid’s perspective on a difficult childhood. I like how you weaves the beauty of the parents and the brutality of their lives together.

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Suma Jayachandar
04:18 Jun 19, 2021

Wow! It’s dark yet has an air of innocence and a sprinkling of tenderness to it. Unusual and gripping. Congratulations!

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Babika Goel
04:13 Jun 19, 2021

How easily they moved from one car to another, how easily they adapted like they knew no other life. A truth bared, a truth slapped on face. Children have no one but parents to shape them and mould them. A lesson to be learnt from this dark story for all parents. Lovely read dear Antonio.

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Charlie Murphy
18:36 Jun 16, 2021

Great story! I like the deer scene and the hotwiring and the motel raiding. Why did you categorize this story in SAD?

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Cathryn V
02:30 Jun 16, 2021

the title says it all. to be honest, i didn’t notice the title till i finished the story. this reader’s feeling was all for the kids and what they were learning from the parents who they looked up to. it’s a very quiet story without much forward movement in that the ending is similar to where they began. I wonder if adding more conflict between Jane and the parents would up the tension? or throw in some decision that pits Jane’s loyalty against doing the right thing? i don’t know, just noodling on this story. kids being mislead/used/abused...

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Success Ilama
21:31 Jul 07, 2021

Too long but interesting

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