One Award

This week’s challenge from Chuck:  Five Words.  In short, write a short story of under 1000 words using 5 words out of a list of 10.  I used just over 800, but managed to squeeze in six of the words.
I started this one out intending to write something a little happier.  WHY CAN’T I WRITE A HAPPY SHORT STORY.
Anyway, here goes.
One Award
A light glinted in the hermit’s cave atop the cliff, hazy in the mist of the salt spray off the ocean. It was the third time Henry had seen the light this week.  His bedroom window, at the back of his house just across the inlet from Marbler’s Bluff, afforded him a perfect line of sight on the nook: a craggy opening carved into the side of the cliff face a hundred feet below the trail that led to the peak, and a hundred feet above the sharktooth rocks pulverizing the surf.

Henry had visited the cave again and again as a child, leading secret adventures up there.  He’d follow the nigh-invisible dental floss path down to the cave and pretend to be a pirate or a bandit while his lazy hound dog watched with weary eyes.  He chuckled to himself; he had probably left a stash of lollipops in the box he’d buried in the back.

And now, there was a light twinkling up there.  Almost like a flashlight winking at him from a neighbor’s window in secret code, but there was no message hidden in its luminous semaphore.  At least not one that he could decipher.  He wondered if anybody else even knew about the cave at all.  It didn’t seem likely.

His parents had bought the house just before he’d been born, an enviable little split-level right on the waterfront, with nothing around it for a mile.  There had been other houses, once, but their supports were cracked and sagging and one by one they had tumbled to the earth.  This house, too, would not last long — it already had deep fissures in the foundation, caused by shifting topsoil or something like that, they’d said — but he couldn’t bring himself to leave it.  He’d inherited the house when his parents had heart attacks within two years of one another, leaving him alone at the age of twenty-three.  Jobless and broke, it had seemed to him a fortuitous misfortune, and he had moved back to his childhood home after only five years away.  For twenty years since, he’d stayed here, never thinking of leaving.  The town was nice enough; sleepy, dull, safe.  Just what he’d needed after his years in the field.

As the sun descended, the flashing of the light grew less frequent and finally stopped altogether.  Perhaps he’d only imagined it.  He made his rounds of the house, checked all the doors and windows, and let himself drop off to sleep.

Next day, his thoughts wandered up to the cave once more, to the times he’d used it to hide from bullies, to hide from his parents, to hide from his friends.  In retrospect, it was easy to see how the troubles he’d hidden from were no different from anybody else’s, but like they do for all kids, the troubles had seemed all encompassing to him at the time.  That cave had been his sanctuary, his hideout, his refuge.
At twilight, the twinkling started again, beckoning, signaling, like runway lights on a starless night.

At daybreak, he packed a bag for a hike and set off for the old cave.  The whooshing crash of the waves on the rocks accompanied him all the way to the summit, and the old familiar vertigo seized him as he wended his way down the craggy path to the cave.  It was deserted, of course.  No sign of anybody having been there in years.  Just some old brittle bits of driftwood, bleached as whalebone, littering the craggy recesses.  Henry collected a few twigs and lit a fire, felt the warmth seep into his face and his hands as he traveled back in his mind to a time before he’d known about evil, before he’d known about death and guns and landmines and night attacks and suicide bombers and the horror of making a five year old into an orphan right in his own living room.  Before he’d forgotten how to smile.  He exhaled thickly, the chemicals swirling as they always would in his lungs.  He massaged the shrapnel scar in his side.

He left his pack and walked to the mouth of the cave.  There, to the right of his shoulder — about as high as he would have been able to reach at the age of 11 — hanging on a tiny outcrop, was the medal he’d won for “Outstanding Performance” in his youth league soccer team, the only award he’d ever received.  Somehow it had remained shielded from the elements and, in the last moments before sundown, reflected a tiny beam of light down toward his window.

In the distance, he could see his house, the orange glow of flames behind the downstairs windows, fingers of smoke prying their way out around the panes.  Henry took off his shoes and his shirt and stood with his toes hanging out over the sharks’ teeth a hundred feet below.  They had never looked so inviting.  The sun’s light mingled with the mist collecting on his face, warming and cooling him in the same instant.  He smiled.

4 thoughts on “One Award

  1. Making the rounds from Chuck Wendig’s blog to see what everybody’s written. The mood is great, and the prompt words didn’t beat me in the face. I really enjoyed this!
    I share your “why can’t I write a HAPPY story?!” pain ^^


    • Thanks for the read. The tricky part of this challenge, I think, is to make the sore-thumb words not stick out as such, so I’ll consider this pretty high praise!


  2. Agree–both that you made the prompt words truly part of the story, and that it’s hard. I also think that writing happy is harder than not–at least, writing happy that’s not sappy. And for things this short. I find that though my long fiction is humorous, my first tendency with the Chuckie Challenges is to get all grim and horror-filled. I’m working hard to go against that.
    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian


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