It is my pleasure to present to you the second of two 3rd place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Dreamers” by Heather Kindt.
I liked this story a LOT. Heather has entered our contests a few times and always done well, coming in 1st a little while ago with an absolutely terrific story that swept me off my feet – Ruby Slips And poker Chips, a Wizard Of Oz parody. (Get it? Swept me off my feet?)
This story is equally good if not better. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read from Heather, and I hope it finds its way to becoming another one of her terrific full length novels.
The other judges didn’t know she wrote it, though, since I take the names off the stories once they become finalists, so you can rest assured that the following story is a good one.
Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner
Hugging my knees to my chest, I struggled to push the agony aside, betrayed by the sweat-drenched sheets wrapped around me like a chrysalis of iron. The hollow sound drummed through my head . . . solitude . . . isolation . . . panic. The sounds wanting to escape from deep within had to be suppressed out of fear of lengthy explanations to the higher-ups. The neon red lights of the clock alerted me to the fact that I only had a precious few hours of sleep before I had to face the dreaded day looming before me.
But the sleep that lay behind my drooping eyelids filled me with more dread than my first day at a new high school, so I rolled over to turn on the light and read a book. Flipping to my bookmark, I tried to focus on the fictional world before me, but my dream refused to give up its hold on my thoughts.
I tossed the book to the side and stormed into the bathroom. My hair was in a state of disarray from the tossing and turning. My eyes pointed to my sleeping deficiency—hollow, bloodshot, rimmed in an unflattering shade of gray. Sure, they still held on to their turquoise. My father told me once that they reminded him of the ocean at the family’s get away in the Caribbean. Now the water of my eyes seemed to be shark infested. Nothing that eye drops and a little dab of cover-up couldn’t fix.
I had a dire need to stay awake, even though my eyes threatened to close half a dozen times reading my book. There was no way I was going back to the place I had just been, and had been every night for the past month. It haunted me. Every time I dreamed, I found myself in a tiny room, gagged and bound. The room reeked of sewer. The odors vivid even in my conscious state. But the persistence of this dream scared me more than anything. I didn’t dream in black and white, I didn’t dream about random images, and my dreams didn’t connect the loose ends in my life. From as early as I could remember, I dreamed about the future.
The alarm woke me at six, but my sleep had been dreamless. I took a shower and then opened my closet and sighed. Hanging, neatly pressed, on a wooden hanger was my school uniform—the green and navy plaid skirt, the navy sweater vest and my white polo picked out by my mother from some high-end catalogue. Wearing the hideous uniform at high school in DC would have me shot. My parents insisted that I attend Woodland Academy, a private school that the country’s elite sent their stuck up children. Back in Washington, I went to public school, because my parents trusted the teachers with my education. Here, in Colorado, the school of my parents’ dreams was right down the road. How convenient.
From my top desk drawer, I removed a tattered spiral notebook and opened it to the page marked with a paperclip. I wrote down the date—August 20th. Doomsday. To the list I added click. Tiny room—bound—gagged—sewer stench—click. Possibly a door handle opening? If this were my future, I collected every clue I could recollect to the page.
“Lucy. Breakfast’s ready, hun.” My dad poked his head in the doorway. New fancy suit. New job. He’d started a month ago at some high-powered, top-secret military position in Colorado Springs.
“I’m coming,” I grumbled, trying to secretly let him know with my eyes that I’d rather walk across hot coals on top of a nuclear warhead than step one foot into Woodland Academy. To start a new school as a junior with the country’s so-called elite was suicide.
Mom cooked up a full breakfast in our fancy new kitchen listening to some self-improvement podcast on her phone. Through the sliding glass doors off the breakfast nook, Pikes Peak stood in all its grandeur. The landscape was definitely an improvement on the beltway, but I’d take my friends over the mountains any day.
“You could learn how to ski.” My father was forever trying to convince me why this move would make my life better. The moves always made my dreams worse—move vivid. Whatever was coming was getting closer.
“I’ll probably fall and break my leg.” I rolled my eyes. “In Washington, you wanted me to bike to school. We all know how that turned out.” The first time on the bike path, I hit a rock and flipped over my handlebars, ending up in the ER.
“I know this move is going to change our lives, Luce. To be able to live so close to nature after living in the city will do something for our souls.” My father was a tree hugger at heart, despite his outward appearance. He grew up in a wealthy home and had to live up to his parents’ expectations. Christmas at Grammy and Pa’s house were what one would call interesting, and not in a good way.
“Whatever.” I threw my favorite pillow into the cardboard box that would be picked up by the movers later that day. I loved my room looking out over the Potomac River. Now I was going to be buried in snow nine to ten months a year. Maybe a sled dog would be more appropriate than a bike.
I scooped scrambled eggs and added a couple of pieces of bacon to my plate. Sitting down in my Colorado kitchen, I felt alone in a vast wilderness. My mom would drop me off at the Academy each day on her way to her new job at a local boutique. It was the kind of place that sold high-end clothing to the tourists and local snobbery.
The ride in the car to school took all of three minutes, which I could have walked, but my mom said it would look better if we showed up in our BMW. I let out a breath, tired of the show that accompanied my dad’s status.
The large wrought iron gates that read Woodland Academy opened for our car after the man in the security gate found my name on the list of new students. My mother found a parking space near the building that read office.
“Good morning. May I help you?” The woman behind the counter wore a pantsuit in the same shade of blue as my uniform. Her nose literally stuck up so far I could count her nose hairs. I wondered if my mom would kill me if I offered the poor woman some tweezers.
“Yes.” My mom stepped up to the counter. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’s registered to start school here today.”
The nose hair woman removed a folder from a small stack she had on the counter, my name typed on the label. “I have a few things for you to sign, Mrs. Thorne, and then I will escort Lucy to her first class.”
We walked in silence across the campus to a brick building named after some wealthy benefactor. “This is where your Language Arts class will be.”
The classroom was on the second floor and when we reached it, the woman motioned the teacher to the door. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’ll be joining your class. Could you please send out Miss Johnson?”
“Hi, Lucy. I’m Mr. Hastings. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook my hand. Mr. Hastings appeared to be in his early thirties. I noted his receding hairline. We remained in the hallway while Mr. Hastings went to fetch Miss Johnson.
“Bree, this is Lucy. Do you mind being her tour guide for the day?” The woman plastered on a fake smile.
“Of course.” The girl turned to me. “I’m Bree.” She was tall with long blonde hair. Typical rich girl pedigree.
“I’m Lucy Thorne.” I felt self-conscious even though I knew my mom made sure before she left that my appearance was picture perfect. In Washington, I’d be dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, ear buds around my neck. At the Academy, I already sensed that I couldn’t have one strand of hair out of place.
“There’s an empty seat next to me.” Bree smiled. Was it fake? “We’re discussing Of Mice and Men.”
The woman from the office opened the door and every eye in the classroom was on me. Not normally being self-conscious, I had butterflies fill my stomach. I didn’t notice individual faces, but the class as a whole. It was like a giant, well-dressed wave ready to swallow me up.
“Students, this is Lucy Thorne. Her family moved here from Washington and she will be joining our class.”
In my peripheral vision, a couple of guys whispered something. One of them elbowed the other and laughed. Heat burned my cheeks. I followed Bree to my chair by the window.
I hadn’t read the book, so I took notes and then absentmindedly doodled death threats to preppy boys in the crisp composition book.
As time passed, I realized that my doodles began to represent my repeated dream. The word click was scrawled all over the paper along with words associated with it. But if I created a Wordle, the two largest words would be CLICK and DOOR. Who was coming through the door in my dream?
“Lucy?” Mr. Hastings raised his eyebrows, probably expecting an answer to some question that I had no clue how to answer.
I threw my hands over my drawings and directed my attention to my teacher. “Could you repeat the question?”
A few muffled giggles sounded throughout the classroom.
Mr. Hastings frowned at the class, and then smiled at me. “I asked you what book you were studying in Washington.”
“Oh.” I kept my eyes on my hands that were covering my notebook. “Animal Farm.”
He set his chalk down on the desk in front of him and ran his hand through what hair he had left. “I’d like to see you after class, Miss Thorne.”
The class shuffled out when Mr. Hastings released them. Using bells seemed below Woodland Academy.
“Here’s a copy of the book we’re discussing. Please have it read by Friday.” Mr. Spalding also handed me the syllabus and the rules of the classroom. Now I knew what I’d be doing every night for the rest of the week.
“What’s your story?” Bree asked on our way to lunch.
“You know. Dad’s got a high paying government job. We move around a lot.” I readjusted the leather strap of my bag on my shoulder. “They made me go here because we live down the street.”
“Do you live in Woodland Hills?” Bree stopped, wide-eyed. “That’s where I live.”
“Yeah. Do you want to walk home together once I get my mom over the feeling she needs to drive me?”
“She’ll get over it. They all do. And it’s not that bad here.” Bree waved at a couple of students passing by. “You’re going to get the cold shoulder from a some people. Especially Sam.”
“Who’s Sam and why will he give me a cold shoulder?” I wasn’t sure what I’d done to piss off someone already.
“Sam’s a girl. You know, Samantha.” Bree leaned in close as we walked up the stairs of a large historical looking building. “You’re dad being here made her boyfriend have to move.”
“What? How did that happen?” Great. A revengeful mean girl had it out for me and it wasn’t even lunch yet.
“Sam and Levi dated since freshman year. His mom held the job at the base that your dad just started. It was all a big conspiracy and things were supposed to remain confidential, but you know how rumors fly in a place like this.” Bree stepped into an alcove leading into one of the classrooms.
“Why did she lose her job?”
“She was getting all hot and heavy with one of her superiors. Instead of getting rid of her boss, they got rid of her. Levi had to move to El Paso.” Bree wrinkled up her nose in disgust.
“Ewww.” Early in her father’s career, they’d lived in the Texas military town. It was warm, but their front yard consisted of dirt and scorpions. “So now she has it out for me? It was his mother’s fault, not my dad’s fault.”
“She wants to blame someone else.” Bree shrugged her shoulders. “Right now, you’re majorly on her radar.”
This was all I needed. First day of school and I was on someone’s hit list. Wasn’t it bad enough that I had to wear knee-high socks?
The cafeteria was surprisingly small and intimate with round tables scattered throughout the room. It also included docking stations for phones and laptops, a small lounging area, and a coffee shop. Bree claimed two seats at one of the tables near the center of the room.
I felt eyes on me, so I didn’t glance up on my way to the buffet. I call it a buffet because it was nothing like the food service at my high school in Washington—no lunch ladies, no hairnets, no liquid slop trying to be passed off as meatloaf. Most of the people replacing food on the line reminded me of waiters at the fancy restaurants we went to when my dad had a family business meeting.
The food was divided into sections—gluten free, vegetarian, dairy-free, and so on. “So where’s the normal human being section?”
“You’re not a vegetarian? I thought the schools in Washington were a little more evolved.” Bree used the tongs to scoop salad onto her plate.
“No, I like all kinds of foods.” I took the tongs and placed two leaves from the salad bowl onto my own plate to show her I could be progressive. “I’d just like to have a cheeseburger.”
Moving forward in the line, I left Bree and began my quest to find decent food.
A short girl with long dark hair and crystal blue eyes glared at me, leaning toward the girl next to her but speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Not only is her dad a job stealer, she’s also a line cutter.”
“Excuse me?” I held my tray in front of me, wondering if I should accidently dump it on her shirt. “Do I know you?” She was no match for me. I made it through public school.
“Sam.” The girl inclined her chin in my direction. “And I don’t care to know you.” She clicked her heels and about-faced. The other girl attempted to keep up with her as she crossed the room.
The rest of the day went by without any other uncomfortable confrontations with the infamous Sam. Syllabus after syllabus was crammed into my binder, to be poured over that evening or at least glanced at. I ignored the continuing whispers and stares, which I now believed all stemmed from the pint-sized troublemaker I’d encountered in the lunchroom. If I was going to survive this school year, things were going to have to change.
That night, I lay in bed flipping through page after page of boring syllabus. I picked up Of Mice and Men, thinking it would lead me into peaceful, dreamless sleep. Yeah, right.
I choked on the rag in my mouth. The rope around my wrists cut deep as I twisted my hands back and forth, trying to break free. There was no way to block the ungodly smell that permeated every pore in my body. But then it came . . . the click.
Tonight was the night I’d find out. I twisted my body against the ropes that held me to the chair, trying to see what was behind me, but it was no use.
Footsteps echoed through the room landing on the concrete near the door. They were coming closer. My captor? My heart was about to burst out of my chest. Squeezing my eyes shut, I feared the worst.
But then he spoke. “Lucy?”
He knew my name. I lifted my eyes to a dark-haired guy around my age. It was longer, and untamed. He wore clothes that would never be caught dead on the school campus—ripped jeans, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and a flannel. Not the dirty old man I expected.
He raised his hand to my face and I flinched. He drew his hand back away and used it to draw a switchblade from his back pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I’d heard that one before, at least on TV shows. I screamed, as well as anyone can scream through a gag in their mouth. I wanted to wake up—to be back in the world with mom and dad, Bree, Mr. Hastings, and even Sam. If this was my future, I didn’t want any part of it.
“Shut up, or they’ll know I’m here.” The guy started cutting through one of the ropes that bound me to the chair.
Maybe he was telling the truth. My heart raced with hope this time.
The ropes lay on the floor in a heap of gained trust. I didn’t move, but widened my eyes. He lifted his hand to my face again and untied the rag in my mouth. I gasped for air.
“How did you know I was here?” I wasn’t even sure why I was there yet. My dreams didn’t tell me what led me to this point.
He crouched down and his deep brown eyes peered into mine. This time he let out the breath. “I’ve been dreaming about you for a long time.”
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: For me, I love the snark! A main character that is three dimensional, flawed but aware of the flaws; pained, yet able to crack a joke – that goes back to what readers loved about detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – and again when Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe on the big screen. Classics are classics for a reason. They are worthy of emulation.
I liked the setup and the fitting-in awkwardness of the main character, but also the defiance. I wanted to read more – always a good sign.
JOHN WINSTON: Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. I got into the characters and story. Character development: Great job of developing the characters, especially Lucy through their dialogue, thoughts and actions = 9. Setting and description: This was the best part, great descriptions and settings mixed in with dialogue and action and it flowed well = 10
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us Sunday for more. Not sure what yet; I wrote these posts a week ago and scheduled them out. Hopefully I remember to put something in for Sunday.
- Next week, we’ll feature the profiles of our two 3rd place winners.
and much more! We have other stories you need to read, plus additional profiles. We’re just getting started!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our second of two 3rd place winners, Heather Kindt.
See you tomorrow!