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This first story is one I submitted for writersweekly.com's 24 hour short story contest. It's titled Into the Darkness:
I pull the jacket around me tightly and take cover in its warmth against the bitter autumn cold and wait. What could be keeping her? I think to myself as I glance at my watch and realize just how long I’d been staring down the driveway, awaiting the fiery red headed child I sent for groceries nearly four hours prior.
She had refused to allow me to take her in the coach; I attribute that to one of the many gifts of youth. While I see the hour walk as being a chore, one that can easily be halved by taking the 10 minutes to prepare the horses for a quick jaunt, she sees an opportunity to dance, sing and revel in the beauty of autumn leaves. I can’t remember the last time I truly looked at the leaves with anything more than a sense of mild indifference.
I turn away and approach the door wanting some warmth from the hearth. I suddenly hear a voice above the hiss of the wind, and I turn quickly to face down the driveway again. I feel a pull in my cheeks as my smile grows and my worries begin to subside slightly. The fiery red hair that hangs to her shoulders bounces to and fro as she bounds her way up the driveway.
My smile wanes as she gets closer and I see the mark on her right cheek, one that was not there when she left. I rush down the stairs and drop to my knees, pulling her to me. “Child, what happened?” I pull away and brush the deep red mark with the back of my hand, I can already feel a tear in my eye.
“Mommy, mommy come quick,” She pulls away from me and tugs at my arm. I brush the tear away before it can fall; she is so insistent that I obey her and allow her to drag me along towards the main road.
The thought that she was dragging me towards whatever caused the nasty bruise crosses my mind as we pass the halfway point of the driveway. I hadn’t even had a chance to ask her where the groceries she was to have picked up are.
The scene at the road is one straight out of a nightmare. Something must have spooked the passenger carriage’s horses for it to have overturned with the force required to reduce it to splinters. I swear I can still hear the horse’s hooves thundering in the distance.
“Stay here child, mommy will be right back,” I inch towards the carriage slowly, fearing the horror I would surely find. I call out softly, and then slightly louder, praying somebody will respond. I hear nothing, and proceed to what I assume was the back side of the coach.
My worst fears are brought to life as I see the young girl lying face down along the side of the road. I approach slowly and grip her shoulder shaking her gently in hopes that there is a little life left. I give up after a moment and begin gently turning the girl over.
The bruise on her right cheek causes me to jump to my feet and look back towards the driveway. The site I see fills me with a terror I’d never felt. There was a coach parked in the middle of the road and a man standing next to my daughter. I run to her side, pick her up and hold her away from the man.
“Are you ready?” The man sounds kind, fatherly even. I suddenly feel calm and at ease at his words and I release my grip a bit. At first glance the man seems normal, even the coach he is driving bears no special mention. Somehow, though, I know what he is here for.
*As if answering his command a man appears from the wreckage and approaches the coach. I assume he is the driver from the over turned carriage, coming to answer the call. He doesn’t glance our way, he only climbs into the open door and vanishes into the blackness of the interior.
I turn to my daughter who is smiling at me. Though I feel pain in my heart, I also feel a type of happiness from the carriage and I know it’s bound for heaven. “It’s your turn child, I will always remember you,” I do my best to hide my sorrow, my pain. I want her to stay with me, be my child forever but I know what is best.
She holds out her hand for me to follow, and I lose control. I sob uncontrollably as I shake my head, “I’m sorry baby, I don’t get to come on this trip.” The man by the coach clears his throat. I break my daughter’s stare and glance at the man. He is pointing to the carriage, specifically to a woman’s arm protruding from underneath.
I look back to my daughter. She smiles at me as everything begins to take hold, “The man was nice and let me come find you mommy. He said that if you didn’t come back you would be here forever. I would have missed you.”
She grips my hand and we climb into the darkness...together.