Contest #238 winner 🏆

Five Turns of the Hourglass

Submitted into Contest #238 in response to: Set your story at a silent retreat.... view prompt

68 comments

Speculative Sad

I tow my dead father with me to the scorched heart of a desert.

His body guilts down my shoulders, heavier each time he doesn't tell me that I took the wrong turn, that I need to straighten my elbows, that I never do anything the right way so why does he even bother. My jeep sputters and chokes under our weight as it brings us to the parking lot in front of the hotel.

Vipassana, reads the sign above the glass door, melted open at the hinges. The Silent Retreat.

Heat slaps me across the face. I backpack my father around my waist and march to the door before time turns the road into quicksand.

There's nothing here. Just miles and miles of red sand yellowing into glazed waves, and the mirage of an industrial glass giant towering in the middle – sand and post-sand, glass made of sand, sand made of glass. 

All the hotel’s walls are transparent; on all floors people go through the motions of the day and if they can see me, they give no sign of it. Inside, the light warps, skitters off the grains of chimes suspended on the ceiling and sinks into the terracotta floor. I can’t quite help waiting for the building to flip.

They take my name — my father’s name — and check me in. They roll the suitcases away for me and try to take my father too, but I don’t let them unwrap him from my neck.

My father doesn’t speak a word as I make my way up the staircase, but neither does anyone else, which is exactly why I came here.

We cross the corridor. A man waves at me through the doors to the left, as he hovers a few inches off the floor. I don’t wave back and I don’t stop. In my father’s voice, I think that’s a cool party trick, but it’s a lot of effort for very little gain.

The door reveals a tiny bedroom – just a bed, not a corner free to leave your slippers on the side. I lower my father to the floor and crouch to get in — the door snaps shut behind me before I can drag him inside. It’s hot, sauna-steamy; my back drools sweat, my fingers slide off the handle. It’s locked.

What kind of hotel does that? I bang my fist on the glass. How could they lock me inside? Looking around the room, I find no emergency button, no keycard slot, no lock. There’s barely space to breathe. I bang on the door with both hands now until my knuckles hurt and the door foams up from my breath so much I can barely see my father scowl. We wouldn’t be here if not for you. I don’t know which one of us thinks that.

I slide down to the overheated floor, back turned on my father, and claw into my thighs. Maybe he’d speak if I didn’t stop calling him dad in high-school, just because my friend said calling him father will make his shouts hurt less.

It’s too hot. I can’t get out. I don’t want to be here alone.

I fall right through the door and land on my back. Before I can so much as gasp, the ochre tiles cave and swamp me in. I grasp my father’s wrist and in a stream of light, we plummet down.

Wet. Lukewarm water whips my back, only to tear easily as a screen door. We sink right through it.

I open my eyes to deep blue. The water’s salty on my lips, burns my eyes. My father weighs me down. I try to shake him off — if only he lets me go, I can swim up. I’ll come back for him later. He clings on — maybe he’d trust me to come back if I ever returned his calls like I promised. If I ever got that second opinion.

Don’t panic. If there’s a pool, there’s a ladder. We can get out.

I see it. To the left, not far at all. Weighted down, I swim towards it frog-style. I never did learn the crawl like my father wanted me to, even though it was better for my crooked spine and would be much faster now. The ladder dissolves in my fist, as if it was never there at all. Why did I trust it even for a second?

I can’t swim up — above us, the water’s molasses-thick. Inch by inch, I let my father go. He’s light, full of air, his face so puffed out he looks like no one at all. He could float up. If only he floats up, maybe I won’t drown. But no matter how hard I push him up, he won’t go. He’s waiting for me to apologise, I can see it in his frown — doesn’t he know I’ll get water in my lungs as soon as I open my mouth?

Glancing down, I can just about make out a shape, an edge of a silhouette. Swimming there is easier, especially when I hook my arm around my father’s ankle to take him with me and, for once, he doesn’t fight back.

The lower we get, the more the dark disperses into light, the more it yellows out like an old bruise. There are sand dunes here, a lake’s bottom — bare and gray. But not empty. Right in the middle, there’s a bed and on the bed, shrouded in white, a man. He’s not lying down, just drifting above it, arms crossed on his chest. His hair floats up, tangles around my leg, slimy like seaweed. He reaches out, waves at me. I’ve got no choice — I clasp his wrist. He pulls me down and throws the sheet over my head.

It’s night. Cool, dry.

I shed the cover and look up to a starless sky. Cold air is a relief before it starts to frost my breath. There’s sand here, too, sand everywhere, washed out to a midnight blue. Beside me, my father lays akimbo, the sand snowflaked in his hair, glimmering white. His merino wool jacket is unzipped.

We watched a Bear Grylls episode once, where he carves out a hole in a dead camel and spends the night inside. My father’s chest’s too small for that. I huddle beside him for the little warmth that it gives. The wind picks up.

I rake my fingers through the sand, scoop it out and raise my hand above my head to watch the breeze blow it out of my fist, grain by grain. We must be outside, or maybe underground. The longer I lie there, the more the wind sounds like footsteps. I’m tired, but I force myself to lift up on my elbows and look around. There’s people everywhere, walking with their gazes trained on the road ahead, wrapped up to the chin in robes and blankets — have they been here from the start?

My father never liked other people. He never liked me very much, but I think that’s only because I reminded him of himself. I never much liked him for the same reason. And the drinking. And that one time he hit mum. Even if he were to hit her again, I’d like to have him back.

He’s silent. People swarm around us. As they pass by, they all kick sand over our bodies and soon we’re half buried in it. I like how heavy it makes me — so heavy I almost feel safe here. I’d like to sleep.

My father smells of rot. His skin peels from his cheeks, from his jaw, flakes like old paint. I can’t keep him. He’s silent — the more people crowd around us, the more of them step right over our bodies, the more silent he is, the more he falls apart. He’s never going to complain about anything again. It’s peaceful, almost, the falling apart.

Someone stops next to us. I see the tips of their shoes, dipped into the ground, silver. I raise my head from my father’s disintegrating lap. Her face is moon-pale. She smiles, and when I try to smile back, she waves at me. I almost wish she’d speak.

Instead, she fishes out a small sachet from a pocket in her robe. It plops down on my chest. When I untie the silver string, all I find inside is more sand.

She crouches next to me, digs through her pockets again, and hands me my room card. I don’t know when I lost it. With a long, white finger, she points at me, then at my father, then at the sky. I can see now that it’s all glass, has always been glass. There’s no stars but there is a single crack, where the light gets in, from which more sand rains on us.

I spill the contents of the sachet into my open palm. Wind lifts most of it, but I manage to catch some in a quick fist. The pale woman holds my eyes in hers, but can't offer any words, so I don’t know what it is she wants me to do. I don’t know what my father would want me to do. I only know what I can.

I turn to him — his eyes are no longer my eyes, bleached out. I lean over him, hand to my chin, and blow the sand into them.

The sun hangs high up as I check out of the hotel, and the receptionist hands me a manilla card. Thank you for completing all the five stages.

I bury my dad in the middle of a desert along with a chunk of my scorched heart.

Sand crunches on my way back to the jeep — I think there’s more of it now. Through the glass hotel walls, I can see people moving inside. They still don’t pay me any mind.

The inside of my car overheated and now smells like fried plastic. I don’t pull the seat back the way my dad taught me to, all I do is adjust the rear-view mirror. In it, I catch a sliver of his face, rough with age and an unkempt beard. He’s only there for a glimpse, one grain, and when I glance over my shoulder, the seat is empty. I roll my neck and turn back towards the road; there’s no pain in my back.

I start the engine. My dad smiles at me from the mirror, from my eyes.

“Way to go, kid,” he says.

Or maybe: “Time to go.”


February 23, 2024 13:22

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68 comments

Chad Eastwood
18:49 Mar 01, 2024

Excellent writing. Well-deserved win.

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Weronika L
12:51 Mar 02, 2024

Thank you so much, so kind of you to say that.

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18:48 Mar 01, 2024

Amazing story.

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Weronika L
23:19 Mar 01, 2024

So happy you think so!

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Odile Glatz
18:26 Mar 01, 2024

Congratulations!

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Weronika L
23:19 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you!

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E.D. Human
18:25 Mar 01, 2024

This is so good, I could perfectly visualise this like a Twin Peaks episode . Evocative and mesmerising

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Weronika L
23:17 Mar 01, 2024

Oh my God, Twin Peaks is my absolute favourite show, you couldn't have given me a better compliment! Thank you so much.

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David Pampu
18:17 Mar 01, 2024

“Just miles and miles of red sand yellowing into glazed waves, and the mirage of an industrial glass giant towering in the middle – sand and post-sand, glass made of sand, sand made of glass.” The writing is beautiful throughout the piece, Weronika. And the mood— you kept it constant and pressing making the tone a character in itself. This is an exquisite story. Slow reveal

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Weronika L
23:16 Mar 01, 2024

I re-wrote that line way too many times! So nice of you to pull this one out, I'm absolutely tickled. Thank you for the high praise!!

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Mary Bendickson
16:55 Mar 01, 2024

Welcome to Reedsy and congrats on the win. lots of creative imagery as working through the five stages of grief. Well done and sorry for your loss.

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Weronika L
23:12 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you, Mary! This was a purely fictional creation, I'm lucky to say I haven't had to deal with a loss of a parent. I'm so happy you liked the imagery!

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Alex Roller
12:46 Feb 28, 2024

I admire how you can tell a personal, meaningful story through such gorgeous prose. Relateable for anyone who struggles with a parental relationship and anyone familiar with complicated grief.

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Weronika L
23:11 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you, you are the absolute best!

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Claire Trbovic
18:09 Feb 25, 2024

Welcome to reedsy Weronika, loved this, so much great imagery, particularly liked ‘But no matter how hard I push him up, he won’t go. He’s waiting for me to apologise, I can see it in his frown — doesn’t he know I’ll get water in my lungs as soon as I open my mouth?’ you can feel the internal battle through every line, great job!

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Weronika L
21:49 Feb 25, 2024

Thanks for such a warm welcome, Claire! 💕

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Barbara Kerr
21:00 Mar 01, 2024

Beautiful story, Weronika. Congratulations!

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Weronika L
12:48 Mar 02, 2024

Thank you, Barbara!!

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Kerriann Murray
20:15 Mar 01, 2024

Congratulations! ❤️

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Weronika L
12:48 Mar 02, 2024

Thanks!!

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Story Time
20:03 Mar 01, 2024

I really love the way your voice has this signature style to it. It really struck me as unique and engaging. Well done.

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Weronika L
12:48 Mar 02, 2024

That's the best compliment, thank you so much for reading and the comment.

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Marty B
19:49 Mar 01, 2024

The story has a wonderful voice, great descriptions of the weight of a Father, and how it affects the MC in small ways, and large ones. I love this line 'His body guilts down my shoulders...' Congrats!

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Weronika L
12:47 Mar 02, 2024

I was trying to experiment with verbs a little, I'm happy it paid off! Thanks so much.

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John Rutherford
19:28 Mar 01, 2024

Congratulations on a great story. Well done.

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Weronika L
12:46 Mar 02, 2024

Thank you, John!

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Victor Lana
19:04 Mar 01, 2024

I really enjoyed this story as someone who has lost a father. There is surreal aspect that kept me wanting to see where you were going with the story. I liked how the father is part of the narrator, as if his essence is still with her, and in parting with the physical it could detached the spiritual too. However, at the very end the dad smiles "from my eyes." He is always with her. Beautiful, unique story!

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Weronika L
12:51 Mar 02, 2024

I'm so sorry for your loss. What you describe is exactly what I wished for the story to get across - they are always with us, but we can learn how to turn the burden into something more of a teary-eyed memory. Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you're doing good!

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Darvico Ulmeli
18:22 Mar 01, 2024

Great story. Congratulations on win.

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Weronika L
23:17 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you!!

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Kajsa Ohman
18:10 Mar 01, 2024

Excellent work--full of feeling, imagination, intelligence, and even humor. The ending is a great relief. Good win!

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Weronika L
23:15 Mar 01, 2024

I'm so happy all the emotions spoke through the story to you. Thank you so so much!

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Stella Aurelius
17:56 Mar 01, 2024

Well-deserved win, Weronica ! Such vivid imagery and descriptions. A very unique take on the prompt too. Great job !

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Weronika L
23:14 Mar 01, 2024

Ahh thank you for the kind words! The idea stuck with me when I saw the prompt, couldn't let this one go.

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Sandy Bass
17:51 Mar 01, 2024

Hi Weronika. I just want to say…Wow! Your story is well written and the imagery was so well done. I could feel both the heat and the heartache. Congratulations on the win and welcome to the community!

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Weronika L
23:13 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you so much! I'm so shocked and thrilled. I'm glad the story resonated with you!

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Sarah Parker
18:29 Apr 19, 2024

Well-deserved win. Great job

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Erin Costello
22:25 Apr 03, 2024

AAAA I love this so much!!!!! It's about letting go of the past/ of people that bring you down isn't it? It gives me Cormac McCarthy vibes for some reason, probably the desert.

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