I’ve been entered into a local writing contest. The criteria: An original piece of fiction, no more than 1,600 words. The story must be “uplifting.” No politics, religion, erotica, or other controversial subject matter.
It turns out, that when you tell someone, “Write something with a happy ending!” the first two hundred and nineteen stories that will run through that person’s mind next have grim or sad endings. But eventually, I got an idea.
So here’s what I came up with, clocking in at just under 1,070 words. Your constructive criticism is welcomed.
Georgia was six years old, hungry, thirsty, and lost. She knew she was lost, and probably a long way from home. She blamed the cat – he’d got away from her when she chased after him. Now he wasn’t anywhere to be found, either.
The sun was high in the sky, and beating down on her relentlessly. She felt hot everywhere. Georgia walked down the street, looking at the houses, hoping to recognize one as her own. None of them looked right. Frustrated, she began walking faster, almost jogging.
She smelled it first. Kind of like the sausages Louis liked from the grill at home. Her mouth watered at the smell, and she turned to look. Sure enough, just inside a house there was a man eating the sausage. She sat and stared at him through the window. But this was not her home; there was no tree in the front yard, and she did not dare approach. She sort of grunted in frustration, but knew better than to approach a strange house and ask a strange man for food.
Somewhere in the distance, an ambulance siren wailed.
It occurred to her that she’d probably be in a lot of trouble whenever she did get home. But she couldn’t help that now. She couldn’t remember how she got here and she couldn’t figure out how to get back where she’d come from. She couldn’t remember how far she’d run when she’d been chasing the cat; it had been such fun, she’d lost track of time and distance. One way was as good as another, then, so Georgia turned to the right and walked that way – the street she was on certainly wasn’t where she wanted to be.
Two children walked down the sidewalk. One looked at her, pointed, and smiled, but the other screeched. The scared child stood still, straight as a post. A woman came out of the house behind her.
“Sarah! You’re fine,” she chided her daughter. Then she looked up at Georgia. “But who are you? What are you doing here?” The woman walked quickly towards Georgia, moving to cross the street.
Georgia turned and ran away, as fast as she could.
About a block away, she smelled something else. Amazing how a smell could trigger a memory – it smelled like Louis’ old sneakers. Not a bad smell at all, really – more like the aromatic scent of the rubber on the soles than the pungent sweat from Louis’ socks, and the soap that Christine used to wash the shoes. But it reminded her of Louis, so she turned.
A pair of sneakers was on the curb. Not Louis’ sneakers; these were taller and bigger, shoes for a boy or a man playing a sport. But light-colored all the same. Georgia wandered over, hoping to learn more. She sat next to the sneakers, and looked around. There was a noise, a gurgling noise. That was water.
Sure enough, on the porch of the house with the shoes was a hose that was running. Desperately thirsty, Georgia took a drink from the garden hose, until she felt thirst no more. In fact, she felt less hungry after she drank, at least for a moment. Strange how that happened. Maybe it was just relief at getting anything in her belly at all. But it felt like it had been a long time since her last meal and she knew she’d have to eat soon.
Where, oh where, could home be? Why couldn’t she remember?
She stepped forward again, looking around. She thought she saw movement and turned her head, but no. So she pressed on again, crossing another street while looking nervously in either direction. She could hear a motorcycle, one of those loud ones, but it was a long way away. She did not react to it, but finished crossing the street and walked on some more, hoping to find… She didn’t know what she hoped to find but she went to look anyway. She wasn’t going to do any worse than in that other neighborhood she didn’t recognize.
Then she heard it. The hiss. The roll. The rhythmic clack-clack-clack-clack. A skateboard, like Louis’. She ran towards it, and there was a boy on it. He looked to be about Louis’ age. She chased after him, calling out for attention. The boy looked back at her and smiled. Oh, no, he thought it was a game! He was going faster! The boy pushed off on the sidewalk. “Catch me!” he called out to Georgia, and Georgia began running as fast as she could.
“Trevor!” a man’s voice called out. The boy looked to the right, and put his foot down. He stopped suddenly, and Georgia stopped in her tracks too. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just playing, Dad!” the boy said back, plaintively.
The man stooped over and approached Georgia, slowly. Georgia stood still, transfixed by the soothing words. “It’s okay, no one’s gonna hurt you. See?”
Georgia leaned forward and smelled. She licked his hand, and the man began to scratch her behind the ears, right where it felt good. Georgia wagged her tail.
“Now, let’s see who you are.” He reached down to Georgia’s collar and read her name tag. “Georgia, huh? Where do you live, Georgia?” That was exactly what Georgia wanted to know. The man reached into his pocket and took out a phone, one that looked like Christine’s.
“Hello? I think I have your dog here. She – Yes, that’s her… I’m at Maple and Seventeenth with my boy. I can… You are? Sure, no problem.” He put the phone back in his pocket and petted Georgia some more. A few minutes later, Christine and Louis drove up in the car! Georgia was overjoyed to see them and barked as she ran in to the car, licking and pawing at Louis with all her might as she danced in his lap.
Trevor, the boy on the skateboard, had disappeared. But Christine and the man exchanged a few words. She tried to give the man something and he waved her hand away, he was happy to help. Then Christine got back in the car.
“You scared us!” she said, rubbing on Georgia’s brisket. “Don’t you run away like that again, girl! Leave those kitties be, you little mutt!” Not only was that the only trouble Georgia got into, but she got to ride in the car all the way home.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.
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