It is my pleasure to present to you the first of two Honorable Mention winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Andy” by Laura Holian.
This was a strong, well sold story, as you will see.
Don’t think somebody gets Honorable Mention as a sympathy vote. They don’t. It’s my way of saying, out of the all the entries, yours was way up there. Not quite enough to take the top spot, but you need to know it was in the running because it’s a good story.
This Honorable Mention winner will be invited to be in an upcoming anthology. (Soon, too.)
Andy arched up, gasping for breath. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears as she fought a rush of water down her throat, choking out a scream. She flailed wildly, tangling her sheets. Struggling for breath, she opened her eyes into the darkness.
“Mommyyyyyy!” Andy wailed as she sat up in bed, still trying to cough up the water from her dream.
Dahlia rushed in, wearing a white, cotton nightdress.
“Mommy . . . Mommy . . .” Andy reached for her mother’s familiar shape, hiccupping through her tears.
“There, there, my Sweets,” Dahlia cooed, “It was just a silly, old dream.”
“No, it was bad. I’m scared. I was in the water.”
“Look,” Dahlia fluffed up Andy’s cupcake-themed comforter, “Nothing but soft, pink blankets and . . . oh, look who’s here?” Picking up her stuffed bunny, she sat him on her lap and held him looking up questioningly at Andy.
With her mother’s help, Bunny took a little hop closer, sniffed suspiciously at Andy’s arm and hopped up.
“Bunny wants to know why you woke him up.”
Andy sniffed, reaching out to stroke his fluffy ears. “He knows.”
Bunny shook his ears left and right.
Andy buried her face further into her mother, pretending to ignore him.
Soft fluff tickled her wet cheek. Stifling a giggle, Andy peeked out and bonked Bunny on the head. He took an exaggerated fall backward landing on the pink comforter, rear paws sticking straight up in the air. Andy laughed, picking him up by his ears.
Dahlia rubbed Andy’s back. “All better?”
Andy hugged her bunny tight. “The black water scared me.”
“What black water?”
“The one that covered me.”
“My, that was a bad dream.”
“Can I sleep with you?”
“Tell you what, I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep, ok?”
Andy nodded and snuggled up close, clutching Bunny tightly.
Dahlia reached over and clicked off the lamp.
“No! It’s dark, like the water!”
Clicking the light back on, Dahlia soothed her daughter, “It’s ok, Sweets, Mommy’s here. Mommy will keep the dark water away.”
Dahlia held Andy close feeling her hiccups start again. Gently rubbing her back, she softly sang, “Hush little Andy, don’t you cry . . .” until her hiccups stopped and she heard Andy’s steady breathing as she lulled her back to sleep.
“Ponies or braids?” Dahlia secured her daughters straight, brown hair with an elastic band while Andy finished the last of her pancakes.
“Mmm . . . no ponies,” she smacked, dipping her pancake in more blueberry syrup.
Twisting her hair into two neat plaits, she secured a neon hair tie at each end and kissed the top of her head. “Have you finished your pancakes?”
Two twisty braids bobbed up and down as Andy licked the syrup off her fingertips.
“Good. Get your shoes on so you don’t miss the bus.”
They walked hand in hand to the corner of their apartment complex, with Dalia waving goodbye until Andy was safely aboard the bus and it pulled out of view. On her way home, she passed the community pool and paused as she recalled Andy’s nightmare. It was still late winter. The kids wouldn’t be in the pool for at least two more months. Shaking off the feeling of ill boding, she headed back to their apartment to clean up the morning dishes.
That evening, Dahlia thumbed through the shirts hung on Andy’s closet rod. “Let’s see, we have white? Pink? Orange?”
“The American flag is not orange,” Andy giggled.
“Well, it has white.” Dahlia said, swinging a white shirt enticingly in front of Andy.
“But Christy and Mel are wearing red.”
Getting down on her knees, Dahlia said, “So you can, technically, wear another color? Right?”
Andy shrugged her shoulders.
Rubbing her temples, Dahlia said, “How about you wear white and then we can go get reddish-strawberry ice cream afterwards to celebrate?”
Andy grinned. “With sprinkles?”
Taking the white shirt off the hanger and pulling it over her daughter’s head she said, “With lots of sprinkles! Now hurry . . . we still need shoes!”
The class presentation on American history went beautifully with the proud parents giving a standing ovation while the kids on stage all took their bow.
After saying their goodbye’s, Dahlia and Andy headed out to their car for their ice cream celebration. Andy tugged on the car handle repeatedly.
“Sweets, wait, please. Let me get the keys.” Dahlia dug into her purse, having trouble seeing the keys in the dark parking lot.
Andy tugged at the door handle again.
Dahlia whipped her head around, narrowing her eyes.
“I thought I heard it click,” Andy said, holding her hands up.
Rummaging further into her purse, Dahlia shrugged. “Let’s go back in the auditorium.”
“But Mommy, the ice cream.” Andy stuck her lower lip out.
“We can’t get there without keys.” Dahlia headed back to the side exit where they had come with Andy shuffling her feet behind her.
Finding the side door exit was locked, they walked around to the front of the building, towards the school’s office where some of the staff was still lingering.
With Andy skipping through the halls, they eventually did find them . . . about an hour later. The custodial staff had very efficiently collected all the chairs and had stacked them neatly in the closets, presumably picking up all lost articles with them. Dahlia and Andy had then been passed off to Mr. Larry, who informed them that lost items were usually placed in the Lost and Found at the end of the 3rd grade hallway, only to find out that those were the Lost and Found for kids’ items and that adult items were probably given to someone in the office. After checking back with the receptionist, the assistant principal, the principal, and the registrar, the missing keys were eventually found in the tardy notes inbox.
“Are we still going for ice cream?” Andy asked as she re-buckled her seat belt.
“After all that?” Dahlia looked at Andy in the rear-view mirror. “Definitely. We doubly deserve it!” She slumped back into the seat, laughing.
With a belly full of strawberry sprinkled ice cream, Andy fell asleep in the car on the drive home. As Dahlia turned the corner of the apartment complex, she saw the flashing of red and blue lights. Parking out of the way of the police and emergency vehicles, she scooped Andy into her arms, shushing her back to sleep as she carried her in.
After tucking Andy safely into her bed, Dahlia locked the front door behind her and went to investigate the commotion outside.
“Did someone have a heart attack?” Dahlia whispered to a female onlooker standing nearby.
“Drowning? Was it a suicide?”
“No. In the pool.”
“But the water must be freezing. Who would go in this time of year?” Dahlia stood on her tip toes trying to see through the gathered crowd.
“It was a child,” the woman told her in a hushed voice.
“Oh, my goodness.” Dahlia put her hand to her heart, looking over her shoulder to her own building where her daughter lay sleeping.
“. . . and they suspect murder. See how the police have taped the area off?”
Dahlia peeked through the crowd, catching glimpses of the yellow tape she had only ever seen in movies. Thanks.” Dahlia nodded to the woman and raced back up to her own building. Reaching the top of the landing, she looked over the railing into the pool area in the center of the complex. The pool lights that on any other night lit the pool in a turquoise glow were not functioning. Dark, ominous water stared back at her. Black water. Feeling a chill up her spine, Dahlia unlocked her door and raced to Andy’s room.
The following day, Dahlia decided to use the parking lot entrance, to keep the pool and the investigation away from Andy’s view as she loaded her onto the school bus. Heading back to her building, Dahlia walked around towards the inner courtyard to see what else she could find out about the crime.
She could see several officers standing around, probably keeping lookie-loos just like her at bay. Keeping her distance, she stood wondering if she should try to talk to the police. She decided against it and went up the rear staircase to at least get a bird’s eye view of the situation. As she leaned over the banister she heard steps descending behind her.
“Hey Brent, how’s it going?” Smiling she turned towards her upstairs neighbor. Attractive and a musician, she had work to feign nonchalance.
Giving her a hug, he said, “I’m ok. Are you and Andy ok?”
“Yea, yea, we’re fine.”
“Good, I was so worried about you both last night.”
“The little girl. She was about Andy’s age.”
“I was afraid it had been her, when I saw the body, but it was just that her hair looked darker because it was wet.”
Dahlia clasped her hands over her mouth.
Shaking his head, “The little girl, turns out she was more of a dusty blond.”
“When? How? What happened?”
“The rumor is, it happened around seven last night. Seems like some whack job had it in for a little girl that was playing outside. Hard to believe he took her in the pool and drowned her. There’s no sign of him, as far as I’ve heard.”
“That’s awful.” Dahlia swallowed hard, looking over to the taped off area again.
Putting his arm over her shoulder, he says, “I’ve got to head into to work, but you have my number if you need anything, right?”
“Yea,” leaning her head into him, she sighed, “Thanks, Brent.”
He gave her an extra squeeze, “Seriously, girl. Take care of you and Andy. The neighborhood just got ugly.”
She watched as Brent descended the rest of the stairs. It happened around seven last night. She had never been more grateful to have lost her keys.
Dahlia shot up in bed, shoving the covers away as she raced into her daughter’s room. With terrifying screams, Andy slapped at her mother, fighting the demons in her dreams.
“It’s ok. . . It’s ok . . .” Dahlia put her arms around Andy, holding her tight, “Sweets . . . it’s Mommy . . .”
Andy opened her eyes. She looked around, confused.
Dahlia cradled her, trying to soothe her ragged breaths. “It was just a dream. You’re safe.”
“Mommy.” Andy sniffed. “He pushed me.”
“Shh, it was a dream. Nobody is here.”
“But the man, he pushed me down. He got dirt all over my dress.”
“Okay, honey, . . . you’re awake now. No dirt. Just blankets and Bunny.”
Andy hugged her tightly. “Please stay with me.”
Dahlia leaned back on the headboard, holding her close. “Mommy’s here, Sweets. You don’t have to be afraid.”
“But what if he finds me?
“The man,” she looked up, still teary-eyed. “The one by the broken heart.”
“Is he someone we know?”
Andy shook her head.
“Someone you saw on T.V.?”
Tucking the blankets up around them, Dahlia soothed Andy. “Shh, it was a just a dream. Dreams are made up things. They’re not real.”
“It felt real.”
“That’s what makes them scary.” Taking Andy’s palm, she lifted it to her lips and gave her a smacking kiss, making Andy giggle at the sensation. “Feel that?”
Andy squirmed, nodding.
“That was real. When you’re dreaming, you can’t feel things like . . .” reaching down she tickled Andy’s toes causing her to squeal. “See?”
Andy nodded, then shook her head.
“Hmm, doesn’t seem like you quite understand.” Tapping a finger on her lips, she thought out loud, “What else could I do to help you understand?”
Dahlia tickled Andy until they were both laughing in a tangled heap of cupcake sheets and blankets.
Andy came over and laid on top Dahlia. “I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you, too, Sweets.” Bad dreams, momentarily forgotten, they curled up together and slept.
Rain reverberated against the window panes as they both sat at breakfast the next morning. “You’re going to need your rain boots today,” Dahlia told Andy over her bowl of cereal.
“Aw, that means we won’t have recess today.” Andy said, crossing her arms over her chest, pouting.
“I’m sure the teachers will think of something fun for you to do.” Picking up the dishes and walking them over to the counter she said, “Now go find them, so we don’t miss your bus.”
Andy hopped off the stool and ran to rummage in her closet.
“Found them!” Andy came back to the kitchen wearing her red and white polka dot rain boots. Grabbing raincoats, they raced down the stairs, splashing through puddles just as the last kids were boarding the bus.
Dahlia came back up to her apartment and barely had time to shake off her own wet raincoat and boots when she heard a knock at the door. She reached for the doorknob and stopped. What if it was the killer? She looked through the peep hole instead. A familiar-looking head of floppy brown hair moved over the opening. Dahlia grinned and spied for a moment longer. He seemed to be holding something in his hands.
Opening the door, Dahlia smiled as Brent held up two coffees and a slightly damp paper sack. “Oh Brent, you chose a fine day to get breakfast. You’re soaked.”
“You don’t mind if I get your floors a little wet, do you?”
“With hot coffees and whatever you might have in that bag? Who could resist?”
Walking in and setting the items down on the entry table, he hung up his sodden raincoat on the hooks by the door. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, good. You know the usual morning race to the bus.” Dahlia brushed her hand over her hair.
Brent nodded, grabbing the coffees and taking them into the kitchen.
“Mmm, smells good.” Dahlia gave the bag a gentle shake. “What did you bring us?”
“Cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins and a strawberry roll for Andy.”
“That’s so sweet,” she said, turning away to hide the warmth she felt creeping up her face.
Brent shuffled to the living room. “Can I turn on your T.V.? I want to see if it’s going to rain all day. I’m supposed to play downtown tonight.”
“Yea, the remote should be on the coffee table.” Dahlia grabbed two plates out of the cupboard.
Setting the television to the news channel, Brent walked back to the kitchen. “Here, let me. I can warm them up a bit in the microwave.”
Their fingers brushed as Dahlia handed the plates over to him. Averting her eyes, she took two placemats and set them on the coffee table.
Brent’s eyes followed her as she walked back to the kitchen for the coffees and some creamer from the refrigerator.
The microwave beeped. Grabbing the warm plate, he came and joined her, their knees casually bumping as they settled on the couch.
“These are delicious, thank you.” Dahlia said, leaning back on the couch.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“We should do something this weekend?”
“We could head over to the beach. Andy would enjoy finding seashells.”
“Brent, you don’t have to.” Getting up off the couch, Dahlia began to pick up the dishes, “I know you know Andy and I are alone and there was the murder recently.”
Taking the plates off her hands, he set them back on the coffee table. He took both of her hands in his and stroked the tops of her knuckles with his thumbs. “I know I don’t have to. I want to.”
“Oh my god.” Dahlia sucked in a breath.
“What’s the matter?”
Dahlia pointed, her hand shaking, staring at the screen on the television.
A news announcer stood in the pouring rain as an excavation crew worked nearby, “Police officials may have never found the body had it not been for the strike of lightning, splitting this great oak tree in half, . . . emergency crews called to contain the fire discovered what seems to be remains of a child’s body . . .”
“It’s a broken heart,” Dahlia said in shock.
Brent looked back at the television as the camera zoomed in on the tree at the scene of the crime. A large heart shaped carving, split by lightning, filled the screen.
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: I like the authentic yet engaging family interaction, and it’s going along, I’m saying, okay, i like these characters..
Then I was like, oh f*ck.
That phrase “black water,” got me. I can’t say why, I was like, oh crap something bad is going to happen. Probably to the kid, Oohhhhh crap!!
And that’s what you want. You wanna make us like the characters, then put them up a tree and throw rocks at them – or in this case, slowly unravel the suspense. It was very well done.
Laura Holian has a great storytelling voice, a nice, easygoing style, and she is going to be a force to reckon with very soon, trust me.
JENNIFER RUFF: “But the water must be freezing. Who would go in this time of year?”
– These are good realistic lines. They say a lot about the situation and have me intrigued.
“The little girl. She was about Andy’s age.”
– It’s getting scary. Good!
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for the profiles of our two Honorable Mention winners.
Right now, please join me in congratulating our first of our two Honorable Mention winners, Laura Holian.
See you tomorrow!