For Round Two of the short story competition the field was slashed from 1,440 to 240. Those of us remaining had three days to write a 2,000 word short story with new prompts. After comedy I was happy to tackle anything so couldn’t grumble when I was placed in Group Three and asked to write a ghost story.
Unlike the last round, I actually felt this effort was decent. This of course means the judges will find it terrible and my run of luck will come to an end. Already I’m worried its ambiguous nature could result in it being dismissed out of hand. It’s been a great process though, and I’m already looking forward to the Screenwriting Challenge which is a few months away.
Until then I’m going to enjoy reading the efforts of the other competitors, the standard has been very high, an indication many would-be writers are already good enough.
Heat 3 – Genre: Ghost Story; Subject: Statue; Character: A Waitress.
A nervous waitress, Jenny, is in a secluded park stood at the base of a statue, waiting for her date to arrive. Thomas is sat at his statue, on the other side of the park’s library, wondering where Jenny is.
Set in Stone
Jenny waited at the base of the cold statue. It towered behind her back, offering some protection from the wind as the night closed in. She was ignorant to its form as her eyes became fixated on the park below. The hue from the tall green trees offered a weak illumination, fighting the impending shadows from taking over. Birds circled nests above whilst odd solitary figures walked along paths below, heading toward the exits.
A shiver ran down her spine, as if the statue behind had performed a sly tickle. She felt as if she had been tricked into a surprise party where she was the only guest. Nobody was about to jump out and yell, “Surprise.” This was a solo act with the promise of fun disappearing like the day’s light.
The automated security lights from the tall stone building behind the statue flicked on in response to the shift to nightfall. They failed to serve any useful purpose. Nobody would have considered breaking into the antiquated library nor did they fill the surrounding grounds with artificial light. The security guard only carried a torch, in response to this, so he could watch his footing on the thin concrete paths. There was a greater chance of falling on an uneven slab than spotting a potential intruder.
The monuments and statues required even less care. The park was secluded but respected by local residents. Vandals had highways offering bridges for graffiti and places to dwell. The park had become a mausoleum that everyone left in peace.
Its calm did little to settle Jenny. She hadn’t noticed the security lights in the same way she hadn’t given thought beyond what would happen after the next fifteen minutes. It was with butterflies she waited for her date. The silence of the park concerned her. Instinct told her such places – however well respected – shouldn’t be ventured alone at night.
There was also the worry she was underdressed. An understandable concern for any young lady before a first date. Jenny’s was heightened by the unavoidable problem that she smelt of cooked food and grease. She’d headed to the park straight from her job in the diner.
Her clean clothes, well, clean at the start of shift before spending eight hours in a bag at the back of the kitchen, failed to cover up a day’s hard work. She was worried her sweat from tending tables couldn’t be disguised with perfume and all day her skin had performed acts usually reserved for table cloths.
It had left her feeling drained. The memory of the day as a waitress felt far removed, yet its lasting effects prevalent.
It was the job that introduced her to this man. Her duty that required she spoke to the dark, handsome stranger. When he asked to meet her she’d given an automated response. “Yes,” came before she could contemplate the consequences. The reason she said the park must have come from the same place because she was now cursing the idea: It just had to be here.
Jenny had a hazy idea why but it was now just out of reach, some internal connection that she just went along with. She was too shy to even debate with herself. Her timid nature was so carefully constructed it became hard to believe the Jenny in this form would go on to become the strong public speaker for millions to adore, revere, celebrate, honor.
This young Jenny had her head in study books. Unlike many waitresses in the area, she had no illusion – or desire – to be rich and famous. Many were “actresses,” Jenny saw herself as a political observer.
As the cold set in she observed only herself.
She heard the faint voices of people moving through the grounds like ghosts. Lunar light offered the statues and monuments the only other form of company aside from these fleeting interruptions. Jenny was included in this slow desolation of life.
Five more minutes, she thought. If he’s not here by then, I’m leaving.
Across the park Thomas stood with equal uncertainty. His statue was in a direct line with Jenny’s. The problem being, the library was inconveniently placed between the two. Blinded by the stone of one creation, inextricably linked by the mineral formation in the corresponding features they sat at. It never occurred to him that there was another big statue on the other side of the building. He was aware there were multiple erections within the grounds, but his mind always assumed people meant this one when they said, “The big statue by the library.” It was the one with a greater degree of importance in his eyes.
This callous side to his nature would serve him as a strong leader, if slightly uncaring husband, over the years. He wasn’t entirely self-absorbed, Thomas was aware other people existed; they were the ones beneath him. It was important to come first.
Tonight he had arrived before his intended. Punctuality was one of his strong traits. His mother used to claim Thomas’ sister would be late for her own funeral. He wouldn’t, it was a case of being on time, every time. He was a servant to routine and discipline. Further positive prerequisites for a life in public office.
As in direct contrast to the young, timid Jenny, the brash youthful Thomas was the antithesis of the benevolent soul he’d become. Time changed all things. Even ignorance brings about a stubborn, bitter response. Being open to the change is the only way to allow a life of continual improvement to take place. Jenny would be a bridge way to help forge a better future.
The young Thomas could not predict this. He was in the moment, and this particular moment, the long drag of a dull, chilly night, preceded one of the most defining points on his path to success. It would be this lull in proceedings he’d freely recall, even with the onset of dementia fifty years later, without any strain or effort.
The calm before the storm. It was as if now, sat between the two gangly legs of the carved man behind, he understood he and Jenny would shake the world. The recollection of her, almost trembling as he asked her on the date, was a prelude to greatness.
It was more than a first love, or love at first sight. It was premonition. Thomas was too pragmatic to believe in a guiding light, yet, with his thoughts on the wind’s breeze, he believed there must have been a guiding hand.
To break his train of thoughts a dog bounced over to the statue and stopped below his elevated feet. The terrier had a perky way about it, as if it was happy with the world, and knew a few things others didn’t. The dog cocked his well-travelled rear leg and started to empty its bladder on the man-made monolith.
“Go on, shoo, boy,” Thomas shouted. It suddenly felt highly inappropriate to be sat on the statue, let alone allowing a dog to use it as a lavatory.
The terrier finished, wagged his tail – and Thomas was certain – flashed him a wide smile as it panted and strutted off to the left.
Thomas watched as the patter of paws disappeared around the side of the library. For a few long seconds, the settled park held its breath as Thomas pieced together a new series of thoughts. These were murky, much like the ones an old person with dementia would tussle with, but dots were slowly being made.
There was an important statue around the corner, one that could be seen as equally grand and important. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume a person could be waiting there. Jennifer, he thought.
Five more minutes and then I’ll look, he decided, with a degree of uncertainty that was unnerving.
The freshly relieved terrier trotted past Jenny a few minutes later. It brought her back from a land of wandering thoughts, ones that had probably taken her beyond the previously agreed time limit. She was apt to break deals with herself, this one was no different.
Unlike some, she never said hello to dogs or wanted to stroke them. She liked animals; her worry was they might not like her. A dog bite would be the fitting end to a night waiting in the dark. Until now she thought waiting on tables was the worst thing in the world.
The dog had a mutual disinterest in her. Jenny felt it was more out of place than she was. Normally the good folks here wouldn’t let an animal turn stray. It looked well-kempt, but still, it was a little savage to allow a beast to roam alone.
It did give a jolt in another way. Just like the dog she was now drifting, uncertain of a defined destination. Stuck rigid to this place based on the weight of expectation. It was her duty to appear brave as she waited for life to unravel.
Just like Thomas there was a degree of intuition working for her. Normally she’d never endure extended periods of apprehension for anything. Even at work she’d bail to the toilets if the tension rose too much. In congress this would never be possible, but while she was serving waffles it was intelligent to take the perks – how little they may be – whenever she could.
It was this unseen but much felt prophecy that allowed her inquietude to subside. The excitement in the butterflies, which fluttered like her dress in the wind, cleared away the dense mist of fear. Suddenly she saw this as a scene in a movie. Aside from some rain for romantic effect as two lovers kissed, she was seconds from the big gesture, the defining moment.
This belief made her play the scene a few times. It was suddenly inconceivable Thomas would embrace her at this statue, there was no such object as she played the first kiss in her mind’s eye. She needed to be lower, on the path near the carefully tended flowers, heading to street level. Thomas would rush toward her, seemingly appearing from behind a tree.
Two figures wearing hats came from the same direction the dog had. The taller man held the dainty lady’s hand, their faces obscure within the shadows their showy hats created; they walked with a grace not usually reserved for people on an uneven path, instead resembling skaters on ice.
Their voices spoke in bellowing tones. Jenny couldn’t make out words but it was enough to make her feel out of place. These intruders into her plot provided the catalyst required to walk the steps, to what she hoped would be a first kiss. As she moved, her cold behind peeled away from the stone.
The statue’s unmoving eyes watched as she walked toward the steps. As Jenny started to descend it was if she disappeared like smoke within fog.
Thomas jumped down from his statue in tandem with Jenny leaving hers. The big hats had disturbed his peace. As lonely as he’d been it was Jenny he’d wanted to break the monotony, not unwelcome guests.
Who’s in a park this time of night anyway? Thomas wondered.
He too walked down the steps, disappearing into the night, into memory.
When the voices subsided, the night had fallen a little further, beyond twilight to a darker, more ordered place, and not even dogs took a late night stroll, it was only the chiseled sculptures left.
Jenny waited at the base of her statue, as it once again towered over her, a symbol and reminder of what could be after that very first kiss.