Contest #1 shortlist ⭐️

Hollows of Your Heart

Submitted into Contest #1 in response to: Write a story about a birthday party with a major plot twist.... view prompt

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General

Amelia leaned against the kitchen counter and raised her arms over her head in a weary stretch. Most of her fingers were coated in sticky, blue cake frosting. She was a messy baker. Max's cake had been the final task for their trip into the Sequoia National Forest tomorrow. She forced deep breaths to suppress the roiling anxiety lapping her guts. It didn't work. Her body still had that thrumming undercurrent of anxious energy that made her chest feel tight enough to stutter her breathing.

Max padded into the kitchen in his pajamas and climbed onto a kitchen stool to admire his cake. It looked more green than blue under the weak glow of the kitchen light, but she could tell by his shy smile that he was pleased with her efforts.

“Thanks, Mom. Can we eat it now? Even though I don’t turn seven until tomorrow? You know, technically?”

“Of course, we can.”

Amelia smiled down at her son. Max used the words, “technically,” and “literally,” correctly these days and it charmed her. On a camping trip a couple years back, Max had passionately told her that he was, “literally going to explode,” because he couldn't convince her to allow him to move his sleeping bag outside, in the middle of the night; so he could slither around the dark forest floor and pretend he was a slug.

Max enacted the ritual of blowing out his candles after Amelia’s soft rendition of, “Happy Birthday,” with careful performance. He made his birthday wish with all of the raw and wild will his small being possessed. Then, he dropped into his chair at the table to eat with his mother and sneak furtive glances her way. He noticed she kept staring intently into her cake without seeing it. She never looked at him that way though. They always saw each other.

“Are you worried about tomorrow, Mom?”

Amelia sighed and reached out a hand to stroke the back of Max’s head. She wasn’t surprised that he had picked up on her anxiety, consumed by it as she was. Sometimes, she regretted how observant he was of her moods. It didn’t allow for him remain a free and careless child in the waning years of innocence. He took on his mother's burdens.

“I’m just tired, baby. I promise. I’m excited for our trip tomorrow! Aren’t you excited?”

Max set his fork down and fixed Amelia with a solemn gaze.

“I’m excited but I’m also a little bit scared.”

He whispered this last bit as if also afraid to give too much voice to his fear and invite empowerment through acknowledgment.

“It’s OK to be a scared, Max. New things can be scary. I'm scared too.”

Amelia brushed some of his dark hair out of his eyes.

“Let's try to remember that this is an adventure! The Jeep is packed and we can be there be there in a few hours. Some parts of the park will probably have hundreds of people watching together! But I know somewhere just for the two of us. Just for our adventure. I am really hoping that we love it, Max. But I also want you to know that if you find it scary and want to leave at ANY point, just say the word and we are gone.”

Max smiled and let out a breath, reassured. Amelia relaxed, too now that she had reminded herself they could leave after it started if they wanted to. She took her son’s hand and led him to his bed.

In the morning, they made the long awaited trip into the Sequoia National Park. Deep in the forest, Amelia navigated the Jeep up a narrow trail to the elevated site she had scouted earlier in the month. Max had his window rolled down and was leaning his head out to smell the air and try to see as much as he could.

“Has it started yet, Mom!?”

“I don’t think so. We would have noticed, baby. It’s going to be very loud and you will be able to feel it even if you can't see it yet.”

Max nodded a few times but Amelia noticed he continued peering through the trees and cocking his head to listen intently. She had barely brought the Jeep to a stop when Max flung the door open and jogged around to the back to grab their hiking packs.

Even though the steep hike up to the site was challenging, Max accomplished it with a display of boundless energy that motivated Amelia to reach the top as soon as possible. The site was high over a valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They had a breathtaking and expansive view of the entire valley for miles around. The view made something ache inside of Amelia. She kept shifting her perspective back and forth between considering herself part of her surroundings and considering herself an outsider among this strange, vast space. She felt too big and too small at the same time. Expansive and humbled.

Max stood planted as close to the edge of the mountain cliff as he dared with his hands on his hips, surveying the valley of trees. He turned back to his mother.

“Have you ever seen one before, Mom?”

“Nope. Nobody living today has seen one, Maxie. This only happens every one hundred and fifty years! It will never happen again in our lifetime, baby. Now, come sit with me on the blanket and let’s have our lunch while we wait.”

It was another hour before they noticed anything. First, came the sounds. Loud, groaning sounds that galloped and echoed around the valley. The sounds multiplied and gathered until they rolled into each other; building to a constant, heavy sough that Max and Amelia could feel deep in their chests.

Max scooted closer to Amelia. She took his small, damp hand in hers and gave it a fierce squeeze. His face was animated with excitement an apprehension and Amelia knew she must look the same way to him. Her heartbeats shook her.

Movement started in the forest below and a tide of rustling sounds washed over the valley. The giant trees were swaying and creaking in the still air like a fleet of wooden ships in a storm. Sharp snapping and cracking sounds rang jarringly out across the valley. The ancient sequoias were pulling their thick, deep roots out of the earth.

Amelia swept an arm around Max and felt him lean his trembling body against hers. She knew he did it to bolster her just as she meant to for him.

It look a long time for the sequoias to extract their extensive root systems. Bone white roots erupted from the ground like skeletons freeing themselves from the confines of their skins. Sequoias that already had their roots pulled up and splayed in a dusty circle around their trunks became still, patiently waiting for the others to emerge. Eventually, complete stillness settled over the valley for several minutes after the last tree pulled its roots. Amelia could somehow feel a patient power looming in the atmosphere above the forest.

“Mom! It's happening! It's literally going to happen right now!” Max screamed into the deafening silence.

Amelia just squeezed Max harder and gasped out an exhilarated laugh. It was all she could manage in that moment.

The sequoia migration began. Mighty roots grasping, pushing and pulling the earth to lift and move the trees Northward.

The sun slid behind the clouds; shamed in the splendor of the traveling trees.

Everything in the path of the questing giants was crushed or killed. A high perspective spared this harsh truth. The sequoias appeared to the two on the mountain to move in synchronization as one forest at a slow and deliberate pace. Max and Amelia watched the sequoia migration until they disappeared over the horizon as the sun set on Max's seventh birthday.

August 10, 2019 03:51

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3 comments

Waverley Stark
09:49 Aug 19, 2019

Sweet and sad, at the same time.

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Dhananjay Sharma
09:38 Sep 21, 2020

Beautifully constructed. Simply amazing. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/59/submissions/34852/ give a read to mine. also I would love to interact with you and discuss writing as a profession provided we could share contact details.

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17:49 Aug 17, 2019

Hi Morgan, 16 readers had come along before me but not one left a comment or a note of thanks. They liked your story. That's always a bonus, I hope you won't mind if I make a couple of comments (that is what it says, right?) 'It didn’t allow for him remain a free and careless child in the waning years of innocence.' - This sentence bothered me. 'He whispered this last bit as if also afraid to give too much voice to his fear and invite empowerment through acknowledgment.' This is so lumpy and laboured – 'bit'? 'The Jeep is packed and we ...

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