24 Hour Fiction Contest

I submitted my first short story to a writing contest! YAY! Here is the contest (now closed): http://www.writersweekly.com/misc/contest.php

The prompt seems to be gone now so I’ll put that first. I actually found the prompt a little difficult, maybe because I went in expecting less rather than more. They delivered a whole scene. Either way it was fun!

Holding the sleeping infant on her shoulder, she gazed peacefully at her surroundings. Tourists wandered in and out of stores, an old man was setting up his easel by the lakeshore, and a child's balloon escaped into the breeze. A moment later, she looked up as shouts startled her and the baby. Everybody was running in her direction...

And here is what I submitted.

A Mother's Love

Anna scrolled through her phone’s contacts desperate to find an eligible name she may have missed.

“Damn.” She muttered as tears prickled her eyes.

Absentmindedly she rocked the stroller back and forth in the crook of her nicest heels. Her cuticle was raw, but she continued to gnaw as she watched the waves tumble to the lakeshore before receding. A boy screamed as a girl released his balloon into the air.

“Anna?” a man’s voice shook her from internalizations.

“Gary! Hi.” She stood to casual-hug a man dressed in khaki shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstock's.

“You doing okay?” His brows crinkled with concern.

“Not really. I have an interview in-” she glanced at a watch with a strap worn thin. ”Twenty minutes and my sitter just backed out. I have nobody to watch her.” She gestured to the stroller that Gary eyed curiously.

“Where’s your interview at?” Gary craned his neck to see inside the stroller, but Anna knew the pink blanket blocked his view. It was weird to her how many perfect strangers tried to look at her baby. Only minutes ago she shooed away an elderly woman who was determined to get a peek.

“Across the street.”

“I can watch her.”

Gary hesitated on the word “her.”

Anna was taken aback by his offer. Gary was an acquaintance at best. He was a regular in her circle of friends, but she nothing about him.

“Her name is Cecilia, and I couldn’t ask that of you.” Though even as she said it, Anna felt desperation clouding her views on absolutes. She could never leave her baby with a complete stranger. But that was before. Before she was two payments behind on almost all her bills. Before she had been a single mother.

“I was just going to sit here and read for a while. It sounds like she is sleeping contently and if anything happens I will cross the street and come get you.”

Anna glanced her watch again. She couldn’t believe she was even considering this. What sort of mother leaves their child with a man they hardly know? Desperation had backed her into a corner.

“I don’t know. Don’t take this the wrong way but I hardly know you.”

He nodded like he seemed to understand. Half his mouth pulled up into a crooked grin while Anna studied his face for some clue as to the man beneath.

“Okay. I can’t believe I’m saying this but okay.”

Her mind flashed to a vision of horror as it often had in the last two months. She saw Gary holding her precious Cecilia, smiling down lovingly as she cooed in his arms. Around him tourists shopped and children played. An old man was down at the shore painting and a rickety easel. Then suddenly the air would change and the hairs on Gary’s arms would stand straight up. Seconds later the streets would be crowded with screaming people running right at them. Before he could even react a giant wave would crash down on Gary and her sweet Cecilia.

Anna counted back from ten and took a deep breath the way the doctor had instructed before Cecilia was born. She researched online that a lot of new moms envision horrific what-if scenarios.

Gary put a hand on Anna’s arm, “Only if you’re comfortable with it.”

“Right. No, I’m fine. She just ate so she’ll probably just be sleeping. Just leave her in there. Don’t try and take her out.” She sounded sharper than she meant, gently she added. “I just don’t want to wake her.”

He smiled and nodded.

Anna began the long walk across the street. With each step the weight of her choice pulled at her, as though she were attached to Cecilia by a rubberband and would come snapping back at any moment.

She made it to the other side when she realized the mistake she made. He could kidnap Cecilia. He could hurt her or worse. She turned back towards them, but heavy traffic blocked her view. She couldn’t see her baby. Panic seized her chest. Her silk top clung to the sweat dripping down her back. She was a horrible mom. She needed to get her baby, to hold her once more, and feel the familiar weight pressing in her arms. She was on the verge of chaotic tears when traffic cleared and she saw Gary with his back towards her. His hand reached into the stroller.

“No!” she screamed, running across the intersection and barely missing a car that came to a screeching halt.

Gary sat up slowly, the pink blanket clutched in his hand. He turned to Anna as she came running up. His face lost all its jolly glow, now showing only ghastly terror.

“I told you to leave her alone!” Anna screamed and grabbed the blanket to cover her baby back up.

Gary struggled to find words, “This is not okay. You need help.”

She did not hear him.

“My baby.” Anna picked up the swaddled form and clutched it close to her chest. Rocking on her heels, she caressed the boney bundle.

“Listen to me.” Gary stood up and pulled his cell out of his pocket. “I’m going to call the police, they’re going to help you.”

She gathered her belongings as quick as she could. The eyes of the other patrons watched her. Judged her. She ignored the small gasps and whispers as Gary’s hushed baritone reported her. She pushed the stroller away, walking first then running.

“Anna come back!” He yelled after her.

She wouldn’t let them take her baby. She couldn’t lose her, not again.