CONGRATULATIONS to Rob Boone, winner of the Esse Diem flash fiction contest to write a great story under 1,000 words about this photograph:
What made Rob’s story the winner?
There are the simple things that anyone who wants to have his writing published anywhere needs to have in place. He followed directions. His work was in on time, in the submission format requested, topical, and within the word limit.
But that’s just enough to not get thrown in the round file. Rob’s story goes well beyond the minimums with a variety of effective narrative techniques.
Rob knows to put the reader right into the thick of things from the beginning, especially when you only have 1,000 words. Who is “she”? We never really know. Neither does the narrator. Maybe. Maybe he does. How do we define who someone is, anyway?
And how about those four caves . . .
How’d she do it, exactly? They seem so young. We know why she did it. She changed his life forever.
Forgoing the quotation marks around dialogue is not something that would work for every story, but it works beautifully here by creating a kind of quiet that supports the setting and overall tone of this narrative.
That’s all I’ll give you for now.Read on and enjoy this terrific spooky, gorgeous tale by Mr. Boone. You won’t forget it.
“Darkness” | by Rob Boone
She always felt more comfortable in the darkness, she said. Said it was more honest than the light.
We spent a lot of time in those woods back then. We relished the freedom of it: no walls, no parents, no rules. We hiked during the day, though- that’s the thing.
We’d converge at the corner of the neighborhood, where the asphalt gave way to the pines. Where the road—and, as far as we cared, the rest of the world—ended, there was a small patch of grass and dirt, about 20 yards square. Just beyond that, the woods opened up into three dirt trails that forked off in different directions, then descended over the hillside that couldn’t be seen unless you walked to its edge.
On the Other Side, there were four caves. These were our destinations, on those days that we chose to have a destination. We named each one: Fisherman’s Cave was the nearest and sat next to a creek bursting with small fish (we didn’t know which kind of fish back then).
Dwarf Cave made everyone feel small; it was cavernous, but dry, which made it a good spot for making out. Angel’s Cave was a hike, and when the sun shone through the trees after a rain, it produced a halo effect just above the cave that you could see if you stood 28 feet northeast of it.
Billy’s Cave was miles out. We’d named it after Billy when he got lost trying to find his way back and was grounded for being out three hours past curfew. By the time he got home, he was covered in mud up to his knees and scratches up to his elbows.
But that was daytime. The few times we ventured into the woods at night was always on a dare. Boys will be boys, we said, but the girls never backed down from the challenge, though they were always the first to give in and head home.
So when she came along, I didn’t know much about darkness. Just that most people didn’t want anything to do with it.
She’d come from Wisconsin, some said, but the guesses were numerous: Alabama, Oregon, Maine. Some even said she was born in Russia but had moved to the States so young that she’d lost all trace of an accent. Her mother was a psychiatrist. No one knew what her father did.
It was June, and I was trying to find my way back to Angel’s Cave. I’d made a rare wrong turn, and was lost.
I heard her before I saw her. Don’t move, she said, and I turned to find her sitting on a lopsided rock with her knees in her chest, a drawing pad resting on her knees.
I didn’t move. Two minutes later, she stood and started towards me, holding out the drawing. She’d been drawing the forest, and since I’d entered the picture, she drew me, too.
Now you’re part of it, she’d said.
We met in the woods every day for the next three months. We met later and later, until one September night when she asked me to meet her at one in the morning.
There’s not a boy alive who would admit to a girl that he’s afraid to go in the woods at night, so I went.
She’d built a fire to help me find my way, and that tiny glimmer of light was my compass. When I reached her, she was laying on a blanket, reading a Nancy Drew novel.
Trying to sound more curious than afraid, I asked her why we were meeting at night.
I like the darkness. I’m comfortable in it. It’s so much more honest than the light, you know? The light makes everything visible, it lays everything bare, but life isn’t like that. Life is mystery, it hides things from us and leaves us to fill in the gaps.
I nodded and muttered, not knowing how to answer.
I’d looked at girls, but had never really seen them. That night by the fire, I saw every movement she made. She moved her hair our of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, letting the shadows dance on her face. I watched her eyes, normally brown, but yellow by the firelight, move towards the fire, and I found my eyes moving with hers.
The middle of the fire was a slightly darker orange than the ring of light that surrounded it. I inched closer to get a better look. Eventually, my eyes settled on an object in the fire pit: the smouldering bones of a rib cage.
I looked at her with the obvious question in my eyes.
I killed it a few days ago, then skinned it and took it apart, she said. I feel like if you want to know about life, you have to know about death.
We said little before I walked her home. That night, I lied in bed thinking about the fire, about the deer that had been sacrificed in the name of knowledge, and about the shadows dancing on her skin.
We moved the following year, but I still consider that place home. I went back as an adult, fifteen years later, and made it official. My wife, my three kids, and my terrier now call this place home, too.
She left ten years ago, and no one knows where she went. Some say she went home, but I think this is still her home. I think she belongs here.
If one day she does come home, I’ve made sure she feels welcome when she gets to the place where the asphalt gives way to the pines. Dangling from the U-turn sign that marks the end of the road, a ribcage hangs, the darkness made visible.
Rob Boone loves silence, coffee, and great books. He hates small talk, despair, and game shows. He believes that we each have a duty to be a better person than we were yesterday, and he believes that laughter is the most fundamental element of life. Connect with him on his website, http://www.rboone.com, or on Twitter, https://twitter.com/robertsboone. He pretty much rocks.