Contest #106 shortlist ⭐️

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Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age Friendship

I won’t be at home for half as long as I’d like. There are some days here, in the house I grew up in, during which it occurs to me that living with my family forever wouldn't be so bad. Don’t let that get back to my little sisters—who bully me relentlessly—but it’s true. 


Maybe that admission is a little unbecoming, or at least makes me seem somewhat immature; but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. This is the only place in the world where I love everybody and everybody loves me.


That being said, I’m not always happy here. I don’t think there's anywhere I could always be happy. I believe you know a little something about that, but I could be wrong. It’s been a long time since the two of us have spoken.


Sometimes, after a sleepless night, I’ll go out for a walk just to lose myself in the silent harmony of a sunrise. My route is always the same: I can’t help but visit this pretty piece of the Green Circle trail, where a neat row of towering sugar pines stripe the path with long, thin shadows. 


I lean on the low chain link fence at the edge of your backyard and take it all in. Some things have changed, some haven’t. The wooden playground appears dilapidated and unsafe... but the sunflower garden at the edge of the adjacent Vue plot is in full bloom, so there’s that.


There are a few reddish objects spread out and half-hidden in the wild grass. It seems to me that the silvery sprinkler heads have been steadily rusting over since the day you left. 


They’re a little ugly now. But boy, do they take me back.


Back then, we knew that when a rainbow painted the mist over the sprinklers, a portal would open to another world. A world of myth and magic. Sometimes we allowed the other neighborhood kids to tag along on our adventures, but most of the time, it was just the two of us.


And do you know what? That suited me just fine.


***


I remember the first time I came to your house, because no matter how much I knocked or spammed the doorbell, nobody would answer. Then, right as I turned around to walk the long block home, you grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me into the backyard. I pointed at the personal playground and started asking questions, but you brushed them aside.


You wouldn’t say another word until I agreed to follow you through the sprinklers. 


That was the day we met Florabella, a wounded pixie in search of a pair of brave knights who could defeat the ogre that had ravaged her home. You showed me that the playground was not just a playground, but a treehouse kingdom run by mischievous monkeys; that the ogre was waiting for us beneath the oak across the yard; and that the grass between was rife with weed monsters that would pull us into the ground if we didn’t watch our step. Your enthusiastic voice translated effortlessly into those of the creatures we faced, and as far as we were concerned, the back edge of your property marked the very end of the world.


In a matter of hours, we escorted Florabella back to her forest and freed the fair folk of the ogre’s oppression. We detoured only once, to share a plate of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Knights get hungry too, you said. Never once in the course of that quest did I feel lost, because I had you to guide me.


Years passed like that before the world in your backyard began to feel small and stale. I took the lead for once, suggesting that we expand our efforts. Your father really didn’t want you straying away from the yard, but eventually he agreed, on the condition that you were home before the streetlights came on.


We knights errant became modern soldiers, taking our battle to the Vue brothers next door. Our warring factions barked orders, fired at one another with rifle-shaped branches, and tossed pinecone explosives over the fence, taking care to steer clear of Mrs. Vue’s sunflowers, which were sacred. Of course, the majority of each engagement was spent arguing over who had been hit, which parts of the body were considered lethal targets, and how long it actually took for a grenade to explode once the pin had been pulled.


You always seemed older than me. At first I thought it was because you were a few inches taller, but I passed you up pretty quickly in that regard. Then I thought it was because you were so sure of yourself, but you weren't always sure. No; slowly, I realized you were struggling with things I couldn’t understand. I saw hints of it sometimes, when I showed up unannounced or forgot a house rule. You weren’t walking on eggshells; you were walking on broken glass.


We tried not to bring that kind of thing through the sprinklers. In the world we made, good guys were supposed to be good, and bad guys were supposed to be bad, and that was all there was to say about it.


But the older we got, the blurrier the lines, and the harder it became to leave our personal conflicts behind. We decided that could be a good thing. Our emotions were burgeoning, maturing, and they needed an outlet. The sprinkler made them superpowers, if only for a little while. 


Anger gave us strength. Fear gave us speed. Pain gave us shields.


One overcast mid-August day, after a fair bit of arguing, you challenged me to a duel. This rarely happened, as we usually fought side by side, but when it did, we took it seriously. As the challenged, I got to choose my power first, and picked teleportation. Predictably, you chose super strength.


Our spars were verbal, describing one fluid movement at a time. Those were the rules.


I teleported in front of you, just out of reach. 


You took a small step forward and threw a right hook.


I teleported behind you.


You used the momentum from the first swing to turn around and grab me by the arm.


I teleported across the yard to get away, but we agreed that this would bring you with me.


Still holding me, you jumped straight up, hundreds of feet in the air, and spiked me at the ground.


As I plummeted, just about breaking the sound barrier, I teleported above you in the air and delivered a sharp kick with both feet.


You slammed into the ground, hard, and had no choice but to concede.


Suddenly, the air of magic we’d been playing in dissipated. I looked in your eyes and saw no wonder, no whimsy, but fury. It couldn’t have been aimed at me, not really. I was just the thing in your way at the moment. You walked up to me, and I braced myself, certain that you were finally going to punch me out.


Much to my surprise, you kissed me on the cheek.


I was sorry then, and I’m sorry now, but my jerk reaction was to push you away. I didn’t know much at that age, but I did know that I didn’t feel that way about you. Still, my response was a bit callous, wasn’t it?


You seemed to think so. You shoved me off of your swing set. Then, without saying another word to me, you ran into your house, slamming the door behind you. Your dad wouldn't like that. He wouldn't like any of this.


There were only two weeks remaining until summer’s end, but I couldn’t bring myself to come and knock on your door. I was a little weirded out, and angry, and afraid that if I saw your face I would say something I couldn’t take back.


I guess it didn’t matter, because on the first day of school, you weren’t there. You weren’t coming back any time soon, either. Your father was gone, and you and your mother had packed up and moved to Canada, which might as well have been in another star system.


Your house was soon purchased by an older couple who had no use for the nice wooden playground in the backyard.


In the decade since, it all came to look mangy, even post-apocalyptic.


Fair enough. There was a world inside that fence once, and it ended rather bitterly.


We haven’t talked since then, and now it's too late. We’re different people. 


I hope you’re okay.


***


There’s movement at the porch door. I bend down and pretend to lace up my sneakers, then continue down the path toward home. 


As the sky fades from orange to blue, I wonder whether you realize how much I owe to you. It was on our little adventures that I first fell in love with stories. We insisted on making those ordinary summer days extraordinary, and I pride myself on continuing to carry a sliver of that joy. The memory of what it felt like to live in a world of our own is among the very biggest reasons I quietly hang on to the foolish, childish, wonderful dream of being a writer.


I round the corner and head up the driveway to my parents’ house.


You know, it’s funny. After you left, I felt so alone. All I wanted was to leave this town behind, so I wouldn’t have to walk down the Green Circle trail and be reminded of the marvelous childhood that had been taken away from me. Now I’m a visitor here, a serious young man on his way to graduate school, and leaving is the last thing I want to do.


My littlest sister is only nine. She’s sitting in the window, scowling and waving at me with a purple cast over a healing wrist. I think of you as I turn on the sprinklers and beckon her to come out and play. I can’t really see things the way I saw them with you, when I was a kid, but she can. 


It kills me: she’ll be grown up in no time at all.


What a crying shame it would be if the only world she ever got to experience was the real one.


She and I run through the rainbow-painted sprinklers, disappearing to a place where time is insubstantial.

August 09, 2021 11:53

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34 comments

Blue Green
20:36 Aug 09, 2021

You can't improve it, it's perfect :-) Quite inspired to do creative non-fiction for this prompt, and brave to do it at all! Great writing!

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:38 Aug 09, 2021

Heartfelt and all-around enjoyable. The contestants are lucky you didn’t enter this. I appreciate how you talked about events like this being what justifies creative output. We all need fuel for the fire. Excellent writing as always 😙

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A.G. Scott
17:46 Aug 09, 2021

I might yet enter it 😉.

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Rayhan Hidayat
18:20 Aug 09, 2021

Good luck if you do decide to! Any chance Daysiders will make a return btw? All those stories seem to have disappeared…

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A.G. Scott
18:57 Aug 09, 2021

I got distracted lol. Had a solid brainstorm on a project that's bigger-faster-stronger and covered in prison tattoos ;)

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:41 Aug 09, 2021

Ooh I like the sound of that!

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K. Antonio
19:02 Aug 09, 2021

I`m biased but considering the prose and the story behind this, I feel like this would definitely have a shot. I`m rooting for it!

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A.G. Scott
11:57 Aug 09, 2021

First creative non-fiction. Actually teared up a bit while trying to write the ending, which never ever happens, so I hope it comes across well. Love this one, so please let me know if there's a way I can improve it, from title to tail. Edit: you guys are so nice!!! Edit: decided to enter it :)

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K. Antonio
13:37 Aug 09, 2021

I deleted my last comment because I'm better now and got back to my cold-hearted self to offer some unbiased feedback. - (Being a bit nitpicky here) On the third paragraph this line: "I don’t think I could be always happy anywhere". I feel like always should come before the be, I feel like it just reads better. That's it.... I have nothing else to say. 🤣😂 I don't know if you have ever read anything by Ocean Vuong but this was very reminiscent of his poetry and novel. Just a lot of emotion. A lot of this resonated with me and some bits ...

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A.G. Scott
17:50 Aug 09, 2021

Thanks! Glad you got something from it :) Fixed that bit. I haven't read any Vuong but I've heard good things, maybe I'll add it to the interminable TBR

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Rachel Smith
13:09 Aug 09, 2021

This was beautiful. I genuinely have tears in my eyes. Sorry, no critique I can think of for this, it's wonderful as it is.

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Rachel Smith
19:20 Aug 20, 2021

Very pleased to see this one get shortlisted! Congratulations. Beautiful story.

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Beth Connor
16:52 Aug 11, 2021

This is exceptional. I have never been adept at critique, but this is one of the first pieces I have read from you that shows vulnerability. I connected deeply with the story. I agree with other posters and think that you should submit it.

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A.G. Scott
18:53 Aug 11, 2021

I'm a bit overwhelmed by how positive the response seems to be 😭. I bet it'd be tough if something this personal came out a dud.

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Shea West
13:43 Aug 09, 2021

Damn, this was great. An ode to what inspires you, and quite a tender, honest one at that. This was my favorite line: Anger gave us strength. Fear gave us speed. Pain gave us shields. I don't have any critiques, this is perfect as is.

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Lee Kendrick
20:01 Aug 26, 2021

A cute little story of reflecting on childhood memories. I was engaged throughout the story. Keep on writing. Lee Kendrick

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John Filby
07:42 Aug 25, 2021

Love it. The pace, the imagery, the relationships, all so well described. I could see it, I was there. Amazing, well done.

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Blue Green
16:16 Aug 22, 2021

Congrats on the short list, well deserved!

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Zilla Babbitt
13:16 Aug 22, 2021

Wow! Congrats on yet another shortlist!

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A.Dot Ram
19:43 Aug 21, 2021

I love that conclusion! You really painted the world with magic with your words. Congratulations on there shortlist!

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Amanda Lieser
22:43 Aug 20, 2021

This piece was such a great way to jump into the fantasy of childhood. I love how you captured friendship at a youthful age. This piece was such a great example of reminiscence. I love how you included this line: I hope you’re okay. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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Beth Connor
16:05 Aug 20, 2021

Yay! A well-deserved short-list. Congrats!

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H L Mc Quaid
14:50 Aug 20, 2021

Well done, and congrats. :)

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Amarillis G
14:40 Aug 20, 2021

An amazing and emotional story! I seriously have tears in my eyes!

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Shea West
14:27 Aug 20, 2021

This story deserved the recognition it got! Well done A.G.!

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K. Antonio
13:33 Aug 20, 2021

SHORTLIST NUMBER 3!! CONGRATZ A.G.!! I honestly could not fathom the idea of this story not getting any recognition. It was definitely one of my favorites from you and from among all the stories I read this week. I'm happy for ya!!

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Ryl J.
17:44 Aug 19, 2021

This story was so beautiful! I have no words, honestly. It was so wholesome and heartfelt and I can never get enough of stories that begin from the past and then to the present when they’re older. This was amazing. Thanks for sharing this piece with us!

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Michelle Gregory
19:26 Aug 17, 2021

Just beautiful and full of magic.

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