Every three months, Writers Weekly hosts the 24-Hour Short Story Contest. The rules are simple—use the provided prompt and word count to create a short story within a day's time. Strong writing is only part of the criteria. The judges also look for a unique slant on the provided topic and a strong ending.
I received an Honorable Mention in the Spring 2022 contest, using the following prompt:
All the townsfolk said she'd not survive out here alone. Yet, here she was, working the soil for the second Spring. After a frigid winter, she could finally dig her fingers into the warming Earth. She patiently sifted clumps, making way for the tiny roots her carrots would put down as they sought ancient nutrients left there by their rotted brethren. One clump did not feel like dirt at all. Puzzled, she grabbed hold of it, pulled, and..
Here's my story!
The Sapphire Goodbye
The townsfolk said she wouldn’t survive out there alone.
Yet, here she was, digging her fingers into the thawed earth after the long, frigid winter.
Meg pulled her long, boring brown hair into a twisty ponytail before settling on her knees. She patiently sifted clumps, making way for the tiny roots her carrots would put down as they sought the nutrients of ancient brethren.
A breeze blew gently behind her. Not too cold. Just enough to assure her spring was indeed here.
Meg thrust her hands further into the ground and shifted loose dirt around. She felt a large clump and massaged it with her fingers. Odd. It didn’t feel like dirt.
Puzzled, she yanked the clump from the ground. She opened her palm to get a better look.
A gust of wind slammed against her backside. This time, the air was chilled, not at all like the spring weather she just admired.
Meg tumbled sideways. The clump of dirt fell to the ground, and she grabbed her tiny bag of seeds before the wind could carry it away.
Tornados certainly were not uncommon around here, especially this time of year. Meg had survived her fair share, a resident of Tornado Alley pretty much since she could walk. But that’s not what this was.
There were no sheets of rain, no ice balls bouncing against the ground. Nothing but wind and darkness as the soil churned up around her.
Bits of ground flew at Meg, stinging her eyes. She screamed as a dark funnel overtook her, so loud she could hear herself over the rush of air. Her mouth opened wide as she choked on bits of the homestead.
And then it turned quiet. So still, she could hear the rustle of tall grasses in the dying breeze.
Meg stared into the large vortex hovering above. But she wasn’t afraid. Her heart rate slowed as her thoughts calmed. She had seen this before. The spring her dad passed. And one other time, too, when she was six. Just before her mom and sister departed.
Meg knew the vortex would come for her eventually. She just never thought it would be this soon.
Her eyes darted back and forth, beyond the vortex’s reach, to the familiar fields of her family’s land. The spot where she first kissed Dan. The place where she and Kimmy played the morning she left earth.
Meg looked up again. The sky shone a brilliant blue, like sapphires unearthed and scrubbed to perfection.
She closed her eyes as the vortex morphed into a willowy figure and reached for her with tendrilled arms.
Damn, she thought. The townsfolk were right.
Meg’s lungs felt cold as the blood thickened in her veins. Funny, she always thought Dan would be the one to save her. Not today, though. The rumors about him being with Genevieve must be true.
Meg’s imagination took hold as her body shut down. She pictured Dan. Taller by at least six inches. Brown hair, a few shades lighter than hers. Dark eyes she could stare into for days…
Wait! Was that Dan she heard from across the field?
Meg opened an eye, almost too afraid to look. It was Dan! He was here to save her, not with Genevieve after all.
But before she could scream a warning, the shadow shifted in his direction, turning him into dust on the horizon.
No! Meg wanted to yell, but her voice would not come. She could only fall backward again and wait for the shadow to overtake her.
There’s going to be no survivors, she thought. No legacy to carry forward. She was the last of her kind.
Mere moments passed, but it felt like hours. Meg lay there, waiting.
Suddenly, her breathing steadied. A breeze blew gently in her hair, the promise of a spring afternoon. The air around her felt warm, like it was trying to assure her everything was okay. That it was not her turn. Not today.
Meg’s fingers grazed the hard ground. She recalled that weird clump of dirt she pulled from the depths. Had planting her garden caused this?
She found the energy to sit up. Scanning the horizon, her mind filled with memories of her mom’s tall tales about black magic.
The land held some sort of magical power. That must be it.
Still, she had to get moving. The vortex had passed her by, saving her for another day. She had to check on Dan.
Meg got to her feet, bracing herself. But no blast of wind arrived, no dark shadow appeared to force her back to the ground.
She teetered, a hand over her eyes, shielding them against the brightness of the sky. Was that a figure in the distance? If this were just a hallucination---the product of an overactive mind---Dan might be okay, too.
Meg took one step forward, away from the ground she had disturbed. The wind kicked up and knocked her over with the force of a train. She fell face-first, her body unable to fight off the attack.
She rolled over and looked up as the shadow reappeared.