Contest #120 shortlist ⭐️

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Adventure Fiction Speculative

Searching for sanctuary


Cough. She wheezed. She could hardly think. What would he do without her? The night grew cold. Sweat gathered in beads on her forehead and her face seared like a deadly sunburn. Cough. She tried to open her eyes. She felt him laying next to her and, with the last of her strength, she grabbed his sleeping hand. Then she, too, fell asleep. 


∆∆∆


He woke to the sun beaming through cracks in the wall. Nothing stirred. He didn’t hear her coughing. His attention snapped from asleep to alert. He sat up and her hand still clung to his. He felt her face. Cold as the night. He hugged her tightly, not ready to let her go. Now he was alone. The unsheathed silence echoed through his ears and roared deafeningly. Tears pierced his eyes with sudden urgency. No, I can fix her. She’ll get better… Soon. He couldn’t fathom being alone and his mind rambled over excuses that she would spring back to life. Nothing hurt him more than losing her, it hurt more than hate, more than fear, more than wounds that spilled blood. He wept and held her hand.

After an hour or so of laying with her, he went outside to breathe. The wind had slowed and the sun shone hot. He walked over to the garden shed, it had nearly blown away in the morning wind, and he held the shovel tight in his hand. He felt angry at himself, how could he have let her die? He started to dig. One shovel full, ‘It’s my fault.’ Two shovel fulls, ‘How can I live here, lonely?’ Four shovel fulls, ‘What should I do?.’ Eight shovel fulls, ‘How could she leave me?’ Fifteen shovel fulls, ‘Nothing can replace her.’ 

He threw the shovel aside and wandered back to the house. He wrapped her in a blanket and slowly carried her outside. He imagined her wincing at the bright sun, but she never moved a muscle. He walked to the hole, and there, he laid her down. He couldn’t bear to see her in the grave. He closed his eyes and recounted her genuine laugh and her sweet scent and her kind words. One shovel full, two shovel fulls, three shovel fulls… Then she was gone. He wandered through the lightly shrubbed forest and found a decently sized rock. He etched, 


HERE LIES MY ISABELLE

2083-2114

REST IN PEACE

AND FOREVER BE IN MY MEMORY


He walked the rock back to the grave and placed it above her head. He gathered some wildflowers from the nearby field. Red tulips, ‘I love you.’ Blue salvia, ‘I miss you.’ Rosemary, ‘I’ll never forget you.’ and he placed them gently on the grave. He kneeled to the ground and brought his face to nearly touching the dirt. 

“Take care of my Isabelle,” he told the Earth. 

Then he went for a walk. Upon following the path, he noticed a yellowed piece of paper with bold writing on it. He rushed to pick it up before the gust stole it. Reading: “Lost? Lonely? Head to SANCTUARY! The last settlement. Be sure to find work, civilisation and plenty of trade! All people welcome, just find the Bell Tower, head North-East and you’re there!” he had found his resolution. 

Back at the shack, he snatched a backpack and filled it with canned food, a flashlight, a knife and a sleeping bag. Then he neatly folded the piece of paper and slipped it into his pocket. He looked around the shack as if he were lost. Was he missing something? He slowly shuffled out the door and looked around. Am I missing something? Then his gaze met with Isabelle’s grave. He was missing her. The thought of leaving her made his chest sting, but he couldn’t stay any longer. Still staring at her grave, he fiddled with the ring on his finger. 


∆∆∆


“Hi, you’re the guy from the app right?”

“You’re Isabelle?”

“Yeah! Nice to finally meet you.”

“This place is so beautiful.”

“Yeah.”

The restaurant smelled of gourmet cooking, wafting through the air with ease. The tables around them were full of people who spoke of distant conversations. All else was a blur, it seemed so long ago. The lights were dimmed, the food was sweet, salty and savoury all at once. Then another sound broke the important conversation between them. Isabelle stood, phone to ear, and took a step to the side.

“I have to go, what’s your number? I’ll call you.” she typed the number in, “Thanks, see you soon.”

Isabelle grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair and disappeared. He looked down at the table and noticed a shiny piece of jewellery, a ring. He put it on, and he fiddled with it when he was worried about her. 


∆∆∆


He worried and worried. 

He worried more than ever. He always kept the ring on whichever finger he happened to place it, usually the pointer. He took the ring off his finger and placed it, knowingly, on his ring finger. 

He heard the Bell Tower is a few miles north of the shack. An elderly man used to live here and got to the shack through the Bell Tower. The old man would tell stories of his great travels and only recently had he passed away. He looked back at the elderly man’s grave. Nearby was Isabelle’s grave and behind that a few more, but now he was going to leave them. He firmly held the compass in his right hand and started to walk. It was early afternoon and he walked quickly. Dead trees, still standing, spotted the forest. The common greenery was an odd bush or tuft of grass. Not many creatures lived in the forest, for which he was thankful. The sun sank lower. The sky shifted from blue to orange to red to black. Stars of all brightness scattered across the sky. Not often were they visible, but tonight the sky was almost clear, clear as crystals that sat snug on rings meant for lovers. 

He kneeled to the ground and slipped off his backpack, he pulled out the sleeping bag and cast it. He slid into it and drifted off to sleep. Rustle. Rustle. He opened his eyes to face the sky that was navy blue of sunless dawn. Click. Click. He looked over to his backpack where a rat, the size of a house cat, with long black wiry fur was trying to break into his food cans. He jumped up, he couldn’t let his precious meal go to waste. Food was scarce and the rat knew it. He stole a stick from a dying branch and poked the rat in the side. This, however, did not phase the vermin as it continued opening the can. He panicked, worried that his food might be devoured before he found a solution. He looked frantically about the forest, before pulling the backpack away from the rat. The rat grabbed the strap and tugged back, he couldn’t believe its strength. Before the backpack was snatched away from him he grabbed the knife from the side pocket. He held the knife steady and the rat's eyes shone with the glint of the blade and it scurried off into a nearby shrub. 

The sun was half risen and, despite his tiredness, he packed his things and continued North. After an hour or so, the incline of a steep hill stood before him. He soldiered on, up and up. Until he was at the very top where there was a clearing. From where he stood he could see miles around. There was no sign of Sanctuary but at the bottom of the hill, there was a building, overthrown with greenery. The Bell Tower. He walked down the hill with caution as it was steep. He stood outside the tower and took in its beautiful design. Foliage crawled up the sides of the building and a fallen tree was leaning over it. Isabelle would have loved this place. He opened the door. He rested in an unfamiliar solitude for half an hour and ate some of his canned food. He considered staying the night here, but his eagerness to see other people and pure curiosity pulled him towards the Sanctuary. Now heading North-East, he picked up his pace. 

The sun sank quicker than he remembered it to. The night got frightfully cold. He shivered, but he couldn't rest yet. He kept walking in the dark, by moonlight. He noticed a frost settled on the ground and his breath started to fog. Exhaling like a steam train leaving the station, his vision fuzzed and everything fell away into darkness. 


∆∆∆


“If you don’t eat it you’ll be hungry, sweety,” his mother told him.

“But I don’t like roast vegetables, they're yucky!”

“Dear, if you don’t eat them you won’t grow big and strong.”

“I’ll have three pieces, then no more,” he bargained.

“That’s better than nothing.”


∆∆∆


He opened his eyes. The sun had thawed the night’s freeze. His stomach groaned, I’d do anything for some roast vegetables right now. He looked up to see the sun. Midday. He hurriedly got up, time had slipped away. He walked fast, nearly jogging, forging his path off the track to keep going North-East. Branches snapped as he went. The compass he held in his hand tightly with frustration had developed a crack across its glass. The world seemed against him.

The sun was edging closer to the horizon. He decided he wouldn’t risk it this time and he set up his sleeping bag, fished a can of beans out of his backpack. Once he was fed, he snuggled into his sleeping bag. 

A small fox kit, not far from where he lay asleep, was abandoned by its mother. The vixen was having a difficult start to spring and couldn’t take care of her kits, so she picked the weakest of the litter and sat it out in the forest. She knew this was a death sentence as it was too young to fight the cold. The lonely kit began to cry. Ruh. Ruh. Ruh. 

He slept through the first round of cries. Then his memory woke him and he thought of his old Jack Russell Terrier, Ruby. 


∆∆∆


He held her under his sweater.

“Excuse me, mister, where do you think you’re going?”

“To my room,” He replied swiftly.

“Be down soon, for dinner.”

The fox kit cried for its mother. “No, girl, don’t bark!”

He heard footsteps coming up the stairs, “What is this?”

“My puppy.”

“Where did you get it from?”

“The street. Can I keep her, please?”

The fox kit cried for its mother. “As long as you take care of her, and keep her quiet, the neighbours won’t like the noise!” 

∆∆∆

The fox kit cried. He opened his eyes. 

“Ruby.” 

He got out of his sleeping bag and his body stiffened at the sudden cold. Ruh. Ruh. Ahooo. He rummaged through his backpack and found his flashlight. He turned to face the sound and slowly walked into the forest. Next to a round stump, the small fox kit cried. 

“Where’s your mother?” His imagination showed him that this fox kit was just like Ruby the Jack Russell in every way. He reached out and scooped up the kit. She fought him a bit, before settling into his arms. “I’m lonely, too.” He felt an overwhelming sense of sadness towards both their situations. In the forest, all alone, no one to talk to, no one to love. He brought the kit back and tucked her into his sleeping bag. She immediately went to the end and curled up, warm and secure. Ruby woke early. She came up to his face and smelled him. Her whiskers tickled his cheek and he woke to face her wide-eyed curiosity. 

“Hi, Ruby,” He sat up and got some Spam out of his backpack. He scooped some out with his finger and offered it to her. She ate it willingly and nuzzled his hand for some more. He hoped they would let him keep her at Sanctuary. Once again, he packed his things and kept walking, but this time he carried a small, fluffy fox kit in his arms. Ruby was very quiet, just like he was. 

They walked together for nearly three hours before they stopped for a break. He got the Spam out of his backpack and gave some to Ruby. After she’d eaten, she played with a leaf for several minutes. Then she suddenly cowered back to him. “What’s wrong, Ruby?” She yapped alertly in one direction. A large brown snake rose its head from the grass to spy on the young kit whom it planned to make its dinner. He snatched Ruby and held her high above the ground, grabbed his backpack and ran as fast as he could. HHe sprinted for nearly five minutes before he tired out. The snake was left behind. He panted, desperately out of breath. 

In the kerfuffle, he had run in the wrong direction. He watched his compass carefully as the needle settled on North-East and they started walking again.


∆∆∆


“Grandpa, will I grow as old as you one day?”

“Yes, everyone does.”

The leaves crackled under their feet.

“How do I become wise like you?”

“Well, boy, you need to listen to your heart and learn all you can about this world for it’s the only thing you can know. Understand that you can’t control every aspect of life. Boy, you’ll grow and I know you’ll grow wise.”

His Grandpa’s grouse voice brought him comfort. 

“Look out, hey! Stop!” Grandpa ran ahead of him. “Boy, see with your eyes, observe. Look there’s a snake under those leaves, it’s… A rattlesnake! Move, head back to the house.”

He’d never run so hard in his life. Safely in the house, he sat at the bench and waited for Grandpa to come back… But he never did. 


∆∆∆


Once again the sun settled on the horizon, birds settling in their nests. He lay in his sleeping bag, looking at the sky. Stars shifted, fireflies lazily wafting past. A cool flurry whispered of the cold night to come. Ruby slept peacefully at his feet. 

After a good night's rest, he woke again to Ruby smothering his face. She was active in the early morning and she usually slept during the day and most of the night. She pawed at his bag, he got the Spam out and fed her some before packing his things and moving on. 

The path, which was once heavily shrubbed, began to decrease until the path led only to an open field. In the field, wildflowers of all kinds grew. He thought of Isabelle. 


∆∆∆


“Isabelle, I know it’s difficult but we have to leave.”

“How do you know this shack is still there? We could be driving a long way for nothing.”

“Trust me. We have to go now, the streets are burning.”

“Fine, let’s go.”

They spent ten minutes packing all they could carry, then fastened masks to their faces. They drove through the streets, most were lined with fire, some with people, dying and dead. As they evacuated the city, the fires died down and soon not a single soul was seen. The shack was their only refuge. 


∆∆∆


He picked a rosemary stork, I will never forget you. Ruby, copying him, tore at the rosemary with her teeth but she didn’t like the taste. He put the rosemary into his pocket. 

Upon walking through the field he noticed a small town in the distance. The last settlement. He picked up Ruby and walked faster. He had never felt so excited to see civilisation. Although it was still in the distance, he felt relieved to have made it so far. 

As he approached the gate he kneeled to the ground and he started to cry. He had come so far and lost too much to be here, yet he was glad to have shelter, potentially a warm bed. Food.

He got up and walked in, there was no one on the street. “Hello! Anybody here?” The only reply was a small yowl from Ruby, who found it amusing to see him make so much noise. Then he collapsed, this time it was in pain, in sorrow. He’d come so far for Sanctuary and all he was met with was solitude. 


∆∆∆


“How could you have done that!”

“Now, son, she’ll find a home that doesn’t mind their shoes being chewed.”

“No. No. They’ll kill her! You killed her!”

“They won’t kill her, they’ll just rehome her.”

“No, the pound kills dogs, they kill them!”

He started to cry.


∆∆∆


He opened his eyes and Ruby was gone, he looked around for her, she didn’t like the strongly human scented town, so she left. 

Now he was truly alone. 


∆∆∆


It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

November 19, 2021 08:28

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15 comments

Anonymouse 1
02:19 Nov 23, 2021

pretty fricken hot. totes a winner

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Avery Conner
02:20 Nov 23, 2021

Thanks!

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Big Chongus
02:33 Nov 23, 2021

I really liked this story it was insightful and the visual imagery was enthralling. Do you have any other stories? If not you should write more!

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Missy Media
02:28 Nov 23, 2021

Wow! I am sharing this with all my friends. I think you should win the prize money

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Avery Conner
02:28 Nov 23, 2021

Thanks!

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02:24 Nov 23, 2021

This is really good I think you could be a real author.

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Avery Conner
02:25 Nov 23, 2021

Thanks!

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14:29 Nov 29, 2021

This made my heart ache, it was so beautiful! the description and the feeling is on on freaking point, totally deserved a win without a doubt

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Avery Conner
19:25 Nov 29, 2021

Thank you!

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Kevin B
20:49 Nov 27, 2021

I really enjoyed the way the story unraveled into these bursts of language and dialogue. Good job.

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Howard Seeley
04:47 Nov 27, 2021

Great effort. Keep up the good work!

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Keya Jadav
16:14 Nov 26, 2021

Oh my gosh...this really tugged at my heartstrings. Knowing that there's no one in this world you fall into... could be really depressing. The way of narration is remarkable and it impresses me how you switched through multiple situations so effortlessly, yet maintained the perfect flow. he sat at the bench and waited for Grandpa to come back… But he never did. --- This hit hard. I am glad this got recognised. Congratulations Avery!

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Avery Conner
11:10 Nov 28, 2021

Thank you! I, too, am glad it has gotten so much attention (certainly more than I expected). It's my first publish on Reedsy and it's gotten a lot of positive feedback, I'll definitely post more stories for you to enjoy!

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Keya Jadav
12:27 Nov 28, 2021

Great! I'd be waiting :)

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