IU Week #4 Writing Exercise: Sudden Death

Photo by K.S. Brooks

Your character walks along a dry creek bed, lost in thought, paying little attention to the surrounding environment.

It is a fatal mistake. In the picture to the right is the last thing he sees before he dies. What happened?

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, January 24th, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

For a more detailed explanation of the contest & its workings, please see the post called “Writing Exercises Return with a Twist” from 12/24/11.

By participating in this exercise the contestants agree to the rules of the contest and waive any and all further considerations or permissions otherwise required for any winning entries to be published by Indies Unlimited as an e-book, showcasing all the photos and with the winning expositions credited appropriately and accordingly.

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13 thoughts on “IU Week #4 Writing Exercise: Sudden Death”

  1. She’d come here one last, lonely time. It wouldn’t be the same without him. Nothing would ever be the same.

    They’d met here often. How they’d loved being here in the woods, alone together. One spring day, beside the creek gurgling with spring melt, they met here by sheer accident, moving from strangers to lovers in just weeks. They were both so terribly alone until they met. She felt another of many stabs of sadness since Peter’s death.

    Peter was often in his clinic after closing—avoiding going home. One morning, they found him shot to death. The police suspected a junkie looking for drugs had found him there unexpectedly. They only had one clue.

    She was very careful that Gary didn’t figure out what had been going on for the past two years, but she almost didn’t care anymore—not about anything. She wished she’d been brave enough to just tell Gary that she had never loved him and to have filed for divorce.

    She set the bouquet of fall mums beside the now dry creek bed. Suddenly, she noticed the leaves caught up in the rocks and remembered what the police had told her about the leaves found trailing through his office. The only clue left behind by the killer. Why hadn’t she…

    The shot to her heart stopped her thought.

    As he walked away, Gary felt satisfaction knowing she would spend eternity in the place where she had driven him to murder.

  2. Jonas’ mind flitted from one thing to another as he stepped carefully along the rocks of the dry creek bed the town fathers had created to divert the floodwaters from the higher elevations. What was he going to do? His whole life could be over—all because of one moment in time. That moment when he saw the movement of the leaves, when he should have minded his own business.

    Now, it was too late. The shadowy figure that had emerged from the trees in the park had surely seen him. Nothing else could explain why he kept seeing flashes of someone following him, except perhaps that he was losing his mind. He should have gone to the police, he thought with regret. How did this specter know who he was?

    The last two days Jonas had spent in the midst of others, sleeping in the frat house surrounded by drunks, hanging out in the train station. He couldn’t keep this up. His ponderings this morning had led him off the downtown walking path into the dry creek bed where he usually went to work out his problems. The quiet serenity of being alone in nature always worked in his favor. Until today. The splash of water hitting the rocks caught his attention. Looking down at the puddle of water looking incongruous among the parched rocks, he first thought the autumn rains were causing an overflow from the mountains. He paused, turning to look upstream. It was a fatal mistake.

  3. She had always loved cats. Siamese, tuxedo cats (black and white, the little white paws, soft bibs), big orange toms. The big cats, too. Even when the farm-family neighbors, over the road aways, told her–just after, already aging, she had moved into the countryside here–about the resident mountain lion, the one that every autumn stalked the young calves on the creek banks near the pond, her thoughts had been not "Gotta be careful" but "I gotta photograph this kitty." Well, she had.

    Now she couldn't reach the camera, couldn't crawl. The breath was hot upon her neck. The image, in the cold and wet, could be destroyed.

  4. ‘We worry about you Dad, you’re all alone now, and you’ve taken to wandering.’ That was how the conversation with his son had started yesterday.

    They wanted to move him into an old folks home. Damn stupid kids. He was still as sharp minded as he’d ever been. His sons might be content indoors banging away on their computers and such, but not him. Why couldn’t they realize, wandering was just what he enjoyed doing. Elle had liked it too. He wasn’t lost, and he didn’t believe he was back in the war, like the old kook his son lived next to. The boy was just grief stricken he guessed.

    Elle, his sweet Elle had been gone for nine months now. Nine months hadn’t seemed to last so long when she was pregnant with their children. Back then they would walk and watch the leaves turn together. They were beautiful, the fall leaves. He kicked over a stone in the creek bed, its surface as unblemished as an egg. It was time that did that. Eons and eons of time. How long would he have to lie around waiting, losing his sharp edges before he could see his Elle again.


    In the logging camps of his youth they had called the falling branches ‘Widow Makers.‘

    As he lay there broken, coloring the fallen leaves a deeper red, he smiled his last thought. Today, instead of a widow made, the forest would reunite a husband and wife. Elle I am coming.

  5. What a wonderful day, he thought as he strolled along without a care in the world. The sun was shining warmly on his back and his belly was full, something that rarely occurred. Best of all was today was the first day of his "Great Adventure".

    He'd been walking for quite a while now. To pass the time, he made up stories about himself. In his world he was "The King". No one was as smart as he was; no one was as handsome as he was; no one was as brave as he was. Nope. No one. He giggled, making his face twitch a bit.

    He thought back to last night when he told everyone he was leaving. They were stunned. No one had ever ventured far from the safety of the group and survived. They warned him not to go but he'd laughed.

    The sun slowly settled in the sky as he skillfully twisted his feet between the rocks in the dry river bed. He'd picked the river bed because he liked the feeling of the time and weather worn rocks. What would he find while he wandered? Maybe a treasure!

    A brightly colored leaf caught his eye. As he stopped to study it he never noticed the eagle swooping down, his furry back an easy target. The eagle snatched him up, crushing him quickly. The leaf and rounded stones in the river bed would be forever etched in his brain.

  6. I feel him everywhere I go— Billie acknowledged her greatest truth.

    Billie lazily kicked at rocks as she walked along the dry creek path.

    For as long as Billie cared to remember, she’d always felt as if she were being watched. Everywhere she went, be it public or private; no matter how personal. She felt him there.

    She didn’t have a name for what he was; perhaps the man of her dreams, unfortunately so.

    Billie thought of him often, though as of late he seemed to all but consume her. She wished that he’d come to steal her away and furthermore prayed him into existence for fear that she’d be doomed to hope against hope forever.

    Billie picked up a large rock and skipped it across the other rocks as one might if there were water before them. She smiled; listening to the loud clacking of stone as it echoed into the distance.

    She hoped he heard it too.

    Onward she trudged, aimlessly so. A cool breeze blew through Billie’s hair from beyond the brush; Billie stopped in her tracks, welcoming it like a gentle whisper from a lover. Perhaps even from him. Her eyes shut tight, Billie allowed herself to be swept away by her fantasies.

    Fantasies of him caressing her neck, gently at first, but then not so.

    She could feel him everywhere. Eyes open; she aimed to speak. He slid his hand over her mouth. Vision blurred, the rocks faded with the scent of a moist cloth.

  7. Jake sprinted through the forest, trees whipping by him on both sides. He couldn't hear his tracker, the one who was following him, but Jake knew the other man wasn't far behind. As he bounded headlong through the greens and browns of the woods, he contemplated that fact that his life would very likely not last more than a few more moments.

    It had been worth it, though, to see her just one last time. Stella was probably already dead by now, but he'd made them pay. Now there was only one left, only one more to kill before his lover could be avenged. If he could only make it across the dry creek bed, the final trap would be triggered

    He'd no sooner finished the thought as the bullet from his pursuer's gun punched through his back, hurling him flat on his face into the creek bed.

    As Jake lay there, staring at the barren stones of the creek bed, he took comfort in the sound of his pursuer's screams as the man tripped the final wire and impaled himself upon the sharpened pole that had appeared from the trap hidden in the brush. When the rain came, Jake knew his body would wash away. No one would ever know that he had died, and that satisfied him all the more.

    "It's done, my love. See you soon," were his last words as the dry stones faded into oblivion.

  8. He'd walked until he saw spots before his eyes.

    Almost in the clear, he thought. By the time they find the body and realize I'm why it's there, I'll be on the other side of the mountain where they'll never find me.

    Damned preacher; always talking about divine retribution, and paying for sins. How dare he threaten to tell them about Myrna and me. Fixed his wagon, for sure. He ain't gonna be telling nothing to nobody.

    Just before he died, he said something funny, though; "You'll find your end where you least expect it, for the least of things." Hah, nothing out here I can't handle with my Winchester. Oh, I heard all them stories about the star scorpion, some kind of little critter that lurks in the bush, looking like any old leaf or twig, but so far, I ain't seen a thing out here than could hurt me.

    When the pain hit, his brain froze, and that was his last coherent thought.

  9. “Steppingstones.” The word flashed almost audibly to mind.

    Why not visions of Lake Jackson a half-mile trek beyond Dennison Creek? A mental snapshot maybe of a record-size rainbow trout he hoped to catch today? Instead, “steppingstones” now glittered in bright neon and, try as he might, Carlton Hensberry III could not dispel it.

    Suddenly his late father appeared menacingly to his mind’s eye. Hoisting that same word now dazzling on a huge red sign, the old man berated him, something he had done quite often when he was oppressively alive. “You’re going nowhere,“ he said, “You’re a damn failure.”

    “Great expectations.“ That was another favorite expression of his father. An incessant reminder of how he had broken the old man’s heart, how he had turned a deaf ear to his father’s dreams for him. “They’re not my dreams,” he’d tried to explain, but it was no use. The retort of “Unacceptable” made arguing a moot waste of time.

    “Go to college, learn the business, take it step by step, Son. One day you’ll be president of Hensberry Plastics!”

    Even on his deathbed, with hardly enough breath to speak, Carlton Hensberry II’s last words, whispered to his only son, his only regret in life, “Damn you!”

    “Steppingstones.” There it was again. Blinking didn’t help. Nor did thinking pleasant thoughts override the insistent word that clouded the almost-vision of a man about to fish away a happy autumn afternoon.

    All at once, tripping, Carlton saw the sharp creek rocks grow menacingly large.

  10. I tried teaching my kids how to skip rocks on the rivers, bays and creeks whenever I took them camping. My daughter tried, but only got lucky with one or two that magically went on and on of their own accord.

    People who knew me, knew I had a penchant for playing practical jokes on people. My daughter was always trying to get me back. She loved hearing about the time I hooked up a fog horn to my friend's furnance; another time, during a friend's wedding, I kidnapped the bride for a few hours; and during another friend's wedding, I put saran wrap on the toilet seat, short sheeted the bed and put millions of chads in the air conditioner and shag carpeting.

    My daughter came to visit me soon after my wife passed. She took me out to the bay and we skipped rocks and laughed until I couldn't stand anymore. I was really impressed with how she had learned to skip rocks after all the years of me teaching her and I couldn't figure out how she made almost every one skip three or four times. Many years later, during a low tide, I went for a walk, still lonely after my wife's passing. I walked among the rocks as best I could and looking down I saw a round rock, flat on one side and knew she had gotten me back after all these years with a man-made skipping stone. I smiled. I could now be with my wife.

  11. My heart hammered against my chest as I stumbled out of the brush into a small creek. End of the line. I didn’t have it in me to keep running. About a mile back I dropped their stinking bag of blood money. It had to be enough. What more did they want from me? They’d already broken my arm and smashed up my face, maybe more. The drilling pain in my gut had nothing to do with my frantic race through the woods. Early spring in bear country, with nothing but the clothes on my back, I’m dead in twenty-four hours.

    Once my heaving breaths and pounding heart quieted, the only sound left was a gentle breeze through the trees and the faint trickle of water between the smooth stones lining the creek bed. No crashing footsteps, painful grunts, or screams of profanity. I filled my nose with the delicious smell of new leafs, spring rain and damp earth. They’re gone.

    My legs buckled without warning, slamming my knees to the rocks. Uncontrollable sobs exited my mouth.

    I’m alive.

    The snap of a twig… the touch of cold steel to my head… I’ve always heard your life passes before your eyes right before you die. What a crock of shit. All I could see was dirt and rock as I slipped face first to the ground.

  12. The rocks were the last thing he would ever see. His broken and battered body had come into the creek with the tide and now it ran out, along with his last moments.

    The young boys walked along the shoreline, pushing at each other, and laughing as boys do when they’ve been freed from the chains of society—a fine autumn afternoon to be rambunctious.

    It was the youngest boy who found the body. He walked around it first, then poked at it with a branch torn from a tree. There was no response. He poked at it harder and brought his stick down on the head – no response. He became frightened and called to the others. As he did, they walked around it and prodded the body with their sticks.

    The boy asked, “Can we eat it? We can build a fire over there and cook it first.”

    “No,” said their leader. “We cannot eat him, it is forbidden. We must leave him here and tell no one. Swear to it,” he ordered.

    With that they made a circle, put their hands into the middle and grasping each other’s wrists they spoke the oath of silence. The leader turned them and they headed to the forest and the fruit trees. Only the youngest boy looked back, his empty belly aching in hunger.

  13. Smooth gray stones burn the pads of my feet and the sun sears from above. My tongue hangs loosely from my mouth as I pant, but it’s dry and cracked, granting me no relief. I long for some shade or damp sand to cool my burning paws, but there is only the dry creek bed and blinding light.

    Days ago a stranger took me from my home and left me at the odd den with noisy animals. They took me away from the girl, my girl with the long curls and misshapen paws that feel so soothing as they stroke. The angry man hurt her, hurt our pack, but he’s felt my fangs and can’t harm anyone again. She lay so still when the strangers came and hid her under a sheet. I must find her, keep her safe from others. It’s what keeps me moving past the hunger and thirst.

    I close my eyes and picture her smiling face and warm hugs. I remember also my nighttime escape over the chain link fence to find her.

    A sudden coolness brushes me. Opening my eyes I see a trickle of water running under my toes and through the stones. The feeling sends shivers all the way to the tip of my tail. I don’t notice the roar until it crashes into me. As I am tossed in the water I know I will never see my girl again.

    Yet I feel her arms embrace me as darkness encompasses.

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