Writing Exercise Competition #7 – Remorse

Photo by K.S. Brooks

Your character is flipping through an old photo album. She comes upon this picture and the memories of what happened on that day so long ago come flooding powerfully back to her. Her heart is heavy with remorse. What happened and why did she keep the picture?

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, February 14th, 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!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted.

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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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17 thoughts on “Writing Exercise Competition #7 – Remorse”

  1. I was on my first vacation in many years, alone. Some whimsical person had built a bed and breakfast on the very edge of a rocky stream in the middle of a thick forest. The building could have been from any medieval period. It included the traditional tower, in which I was lodged in the top most room.

    The scene was lovely: golden leaves on trees surrounding a clear cold blue-tinged rushing stream. The sound of the water rippling over rocks was the only disturbance in a stereotypical picture, until—It suddenly appeared.

    Riding the surface of the rough water face down, kept on top by the air—or gases—within the tight brown leather jacket it wore. No rotting body smell originating from it reached my window, but I turned away from the sight in nausea.

    When I gathered my courage enough to look again, it was gone. Out of sight beyond the building. I knew I should alert the authorities. I didn’t.

    Instead, I reached for my camera and took this picture. It remains my only memory of that instant. The camera never lies, does it? But I have become very proficient at lying to myself.

  2. Losing Halliegh is the only memory I have of that day. Yes, most of us found solace in that tiny building that sits on the bank of the river. It’s the only real safe place any of us had known in so long. But we couldn’t stay. We had to leave so that others would have room in that temporary safe haven. Halliegh never even made it. I did. But she didn’t.

    The Dead Ones won’t cross the river. The water hurts them and they are too mindless to figure out that a few miles down, a bridge of land will bring them right to us. Good for us. It’s given us time and we’ve almost destroyed the bridge that would kill the few of us that are left.

    Halliegh is one of them now. She caught the virus when we were so close to the river. So close. And now she’s one of the Dead One’s; the only goal in her mind is to infect the rest of us. Why? We haven’t figured that out yet. Those of us who are still alive, really alive, are too afraid and won’t even go near enough to them to find their motive. To find out where they came from. To find out what Halliegh wants now.

    But we’re safe. And there are enough of us left to make a way. A way that will hopefully one day eradicate the Dead One’s. To really kill Halliegh. I’m so sorry Halliegh.

  3. Her fingers lightly traced the faded image. She hadn’t opened this album in years. Memories flooded forth in an unrelenting tide of emotion. The photograph seemed to break and waver as her eyes welled with tears.

    Trembling like a fall leaf’s last clinging effort, she fell, pulled into her haunted remembrances. Never truly leaving that old floral couch draped in its colorfully crocheted afghans, she floated downwards landing softly in a pool of her own memory.

    It had been so peaceful there, she thought. No serene sound machines had been needed. The brook that ran behind the resort provided all the relaxing ambient noise a group of addicts could tolerate. While it hadn’t been the ‘Betty Ford’ Clinic, it still promised success, and in her case, strangely delivered.

    Trees loomed menacingly from the shadows. Her memory sharpened and the time worn photo became clearer, crisper. It became real again.

    Back on the couch, the coin she still kept in her pocket shifted slightly, pressing reassuringly against her thigh.

    She hadn’t behaved there. With her stash hidden in the shadowed wood, she managed to float outside her troubles, while others inside had struggled against demons. Perhaps those very demons led them to her secret that fateful day. Four overdoses was a scandal the clinic hadn’t overcome.

    Those four deaths followed her to the next clinic and kept her straight. She would always credit the ‘Brook Lodge’ with her recovery.

    She would always be haunted by four souls and an old photograph.

  4. It was late one night or early in the morning depending on how you look at it. I was flipping through one of my old photo albums for some inspiration as to my next art project. I was never that great at photography but my partner was. As I was looking in my photo album I came across the one picture I absolutely loved of hers.

    We were on a vacation away from the madness of New York. It was the vacation we had both saved up for and it was supposed to be all about us. However, I never expected sorrow to strike while on a vacation. My partner had Crohn’s disease and I had always taken care of her, best I could.

    My partner became very sick during the night and had a high fever. I did my best to take care of her. I put her in the bath and tried to cool her down since her body temperature was passing the 100 mark. Her breathing was taken in deep gasps as if she was fighting for air. I called an ambulance but they didn’t get there in time. My partner died in the bathtub in my arms. I didn’t know it at the time but her health issues had led to cancer. She never even told me that she was in the late stages of cancer by the time we went on our vacation. Had I known, I would have done a lot of things different.

  5. Looking through the pages of her dad’s album, Jackie sighed when her eyes settled on the picture. Within an instant she was back on that bridge, looking down on the rocky stream, trying to reason with her father. She could almost hear the whooshing sound of the water again as it flowed across the rocks.

    She had to admit, nestled in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains, the old abandoned mill was the perfect spot for a Bed and Breakfast, and as a bonus for the guests, would have its own Winery. But Jackie had worried that running such an establishment would require more than her dad could endure. A seventy year old man should be retiring with less responsibility, not more!

    She removed the picture with growing sadness and wished she would have handled the whole thing differently. In spite of her discouraging words, she loved him. She hoped he had known that.

    “I don’t need you!” he had argued, “I can do this myself!” His pride dug in and he was not to be doubted. The haunting image resurfaced. Her dad turned in anger and slipped between the rails to his death on the rocks below.

    Jackie felt the burden of grief weigh on her heart as she looked upon her dad’s marker. Clutching the picture she retrieved from his album, she placed it purposefully at its base and wept.

    “I got it for you dad” she whispered softly, “Heaven’s Door is now open for business.”

  6. So – anyways, I was flipping through one of the old albums… Flippety-flip-flip… Ignorin' the pictures. Sometimes, when it’s hot? And, you’re flippin’ through an old album, it’s good, when the album-page-wind, makes it all seem a whole lot cooler.

    Technically, it’s the Zero’th Law of Thermodynamics, and wind-chill, and the evaporation of perspiration, but – more romantic to think of it as: some sweet old nostalgic zephyr, wafting up through the lost vaults of Time – from old polaroid reminiscences, of days gone by…

    And – anyways, I came upon that picture…(!) And the memories came flooding back, of that fateful day…

    And, I felt sorry… Sorry for me – sorry for all Humankind – and, sorry for whinging like this. (It’s probably depressing.)

    We’d been out walkin' by that river, in the desert… That day, those stinkin’ aliens invaded Earth…(!!!)

    – Them ones that look like a big 2-storey pink-brick building-! And – they brought their `Alien Republican Guard’, who all looked just like trees, to us simple Earth-folk…

    Them tree-shaped alien-troops was brutal – while we was all just sittin’ around, havin’ us a nice-old picnic, in the shade of their leafy fronds – they’d suddenly pick you right up, with their big-old branchy arms, and bite your head clean off, as you screamed…

    But – on the plus-side, I guess, that’s a pretty interesting way to go. And, also, they sort of had a nice piney scent.

    In short; ARMAGEDDON…

    But – still; it’s a pretty good photo..?

  7. I remember how the grey mist hung above the spiky conifers, painted with the golden colours of autumn. Sparkling water lashed below, washing the stones as it surged. We hung out of a window, Jacob and I, whistling, watching the world go by.

    Our parents brought us here every October. We called it the Migration of the Parents. Like birds, they soared off, leaving us behind. We didn’t mind. No homework, no chores – bliss. Grandma Gilda left us to our own devices while she sat glued to the TV screen – her world existed there; the players more real than us.

    One day, Jacob and I had worn out our games, wanted something new. I should have noticed the dark seeping in like a shroud of ill omen. This day we took a key and stole down the stone steps to the room. The game invited us – how could we refuse?

    A dark room, so sombre. An aching emanated from the walls. Ice-cold fingers skated over my skin, lifted my hair, chilled me through and through. A dark mist encircled little Jacob. It seemed to leave me alone. It didn’t seek me out. The voice in the mist breathed. It yearned, but it didn’t yearn for me. A rush of icy air pushed me back, out into the corridor. Jacob’s mouth opened wide, but no sound did escape, and the door slammed shut, the key lost inside. Locked tight. It was hours before it was opened and Jacob never spoke again.

  8. Mary had just been released from the Denver County Clinic for the insane after being placed there by Federal District Court ten long years earlier for criminal negligence. She was back in her own room again and was trying to make sense out of what had happened to her back in October 2002. She picked up her old favorite photo album and was leafing through the pages when the picture of what looked like an old mill on a mountain stream caused her immediate distress. ‘Why is this picture doing this to me and why am I tearing up?’ ‘Come on memories, why – what happened here?’ The picture was obviously taken in the fall as you could see the aspen with their yellow and red leaves glistening in the sun along what appeared to be a mountain stream with a building that could have been a mill of some kind.

    Then like a flash her memory banks opened with painful feelings of guilt and remorse. It all came back to her with a rush of emotion, causing tears to flow down her cheeks and her heart feeling like it was coming right out of her chest. ‘How could I have allowed this to happen?’ We left Danny in a tube just below the mill, and looking out a window we saw our four year old being swept downstream heading for the vicious Poudre River rapids. Too late, he was gone, and I will never forgive myself!

  9. The memories flooded back, like a tsunami of regret that whose undertow she could not escape. The pain echoed in her soul and the sadness etched itself upon her brow as she cradled the photograph. It's torn edges and tear stains clashed with unheard laughter of smiling faces. Those green pastures and that bright sunny day were but memories, now confined only to her tortured mind.

    "I'm so sorry," she whispered hollowly, barely aware of herself as she set the photo down. It fell from her hand, floating down like an angel's feather to rest upon the bare, stone floor. She knew they awaited her, and she knew it was almost time to join them.

    "Mummy's coming now, my dears" she mumbled through teary eyes as she reached down for the pistol. The cold metal of the gun's barrel suddenly brought back flashes of memories, of the crash and screaming and the fire. Tears trickled down, drops her sadness as she she let it all go. Yes, it was finally time, she had spent enough time suffering.

    "I love you all, so very much," were her last words as she departed to join her family.

  10. Lena looked down at the photo of the riverside cottage and tears sprang to her eyes. Was it really so long ago? Lena could still feel his arms wrapped around her. Feel his strength and the safety of his embrace. She could still see the love in his eyes.

    March 19, 1983 that had been their wedding date. April 19, 1983 had been his funeral.

    Lena and Mark Rittan, the golden couple, the couple destined to live in peace and happiness for the remainder of their days. They were going to live life in the trees running their own little bed and breakfast.

    Lena had so looked forward to the mornings of french toast and egg cassaroles, cleaning, and helping make dreams come true for other brides. They had the perfect setting. A riverside cottage set in the mountains of Vermont, surrounded by trees and whimsy. The interior had been exquisite. Serenity exuded from the home.

    Mark had been trying to replace an exterior light when his safety gear failed and he fell to the river bed below. They hadn't been there a full 24 hours. They had just returned from their honeymoon. They had just said their vows. They had just started life and in a flash he was gone.

    Lena cried for weeks…months…years. She sold the inn and never remarried. Now at 75 years old she sat in her little retirement apartment and held the picture to her heart. Remembering the loss of the love of her life.

  11. Shelly Wyndom sat staring at the old photograph remembering how they had first found the place. It was a rustic rental hidden away in the woods, far away from the eyes of paparazzi who had plagued her young existence since her billionaire father’s death.

    They had slept in front of a raging fire at night, walked the woods together during the days and made love as the mood struck them—it struck them often and more intensely than at any time since.

    The cottage was now much less appealing than it had been when seen through the veil of those idyllic days of early marriage. It was so unattractive. She couldn’t imagine how they’d seen it as an appealing getaway. But, at the time…

    The argument had begun when she found out about the young debutante and the new getaway—a suite at the Plaza in New York. A suite paid for with her money—her father’s money. It ended when Derek suggested their getaway to heal their ten year marriage.

    This time there would be no making love in front of a raging fire, no cozy breakfasts in bed. There would only be one last walk into the woods.

    One last time she looked at the photo before tossing it into what remained of the fire and walked out the door. Did she have any remorse for what she had done? No, she thought as she slammed the trunk lid of her Mercedes. Not one bit.

  12. I had not thought about this for a long time but the picture brought it back with a jolt. Papa told us to be home by five for dinner. I, at eight years, was responsible for my six year old sister.

    “Hurry up! We’re gonna get if we’re late!”

    “I can’t let Wanda fall. She’ll get dirty.” The mud beside the stream was slippery and Liza stepped carefully to avoid getting her shoes muddy, her balance precarious as she clung to Wanda.

    I felt the rage build in me. If we didn’t get back on time it would be me would go to bed without dinner, not her. “’ll throw her into the water! Get going, now!”

    At my screaming she sent me a doleful look and clung tighter to Wanda. One more step and she stood by my side, still making no effort to appease me. I couldn’t take it any more. I seized Wanda, yanked her out of Sarah’s arms and hurled her into the mill race.

    Sarah uttered one long, “Nooooo” and froze stricken as we watched Wanda, her cloth doll float downstream, growing heavier as she took on water, and slowly disappear into the murk.

    No tears, just silence.

    I knew I had done wrong. I saved my pennies and bought her another doll, a better one. She took it in silence.

    “You can call her Wanda.”

    She gave me a long, reproachful look. “Wanda’s gone.”

    I have never forgiven myself.

  13. Autumn was knocking at the back door of Brandy’s mind as she donned her coat of many pockets. Struggling to locate a backstage pass, she dipped into one opening. Out tumbled a rumpled photograph of the “Backcountry Runaway” landscape painting that portrayed her honeymoon.

    On that fateful day, she had gathered her paints and journeyed with her Lhasa puppy into the wilds, wearing only a backpack and full-length overalls as shade from the blazing sun. Soon, more paint decorated her skin than canvas. Drawing body art designs felt as delightful as capturing wind and whitewater while balancing a palette. By the time she was ready to hike back to camp, she was thoroughly covered in circles, squiggles, swirls, and markings she wanted no one to notice.

    Sundown loomed and darkness was descending. Wet canvas made returning impossible. Brandy searched frantically for overnight refuge, eventually spotting an abandoned gristmill across the river. They splashed through a fairy forest of rocky whitecaps, trying to reach shelter before shadows ate their twilight.

    Inside the antiquated stronghold, their explorations trailed wet footprints throughout the rust-stained bricks. She leaned sleepily against the backpack to dream about her bridegroom.

    Soon the temperature dropped. Romantic tattoos provided little warmth; they were freezing. Taking canvas into the moonlight, she painted plush, fleecy blankets and snuggled with her puppy underneath.

    Suddenly she awoke, terrified and stricken with remorse. Woodland creatures surrounded the puppy’s lifeless body, staring reproachfully at the musket suspended precariously above Brandy’s head. Forgive his rage? Never.

  14. You look at the photo and remember when everything changed. The landscape’s the same, been so for hundreds of years. The old brick building may be more weathered, the trees a few inches taller, the snow comes and goes, but on the scheme of things – sepia, black and white, or colour – no-one would notice.

    Other than the stark Bavarian windows, it’s all very pretty. Just a random holiday destination flicked through in an album. Only it’s the only one you ever look at.

    You hoped you’d not get it back from the police. They usually kept evidence, didn’t they? But something made you keep it. The last reminder of your husband. The last photo he took before he gave you the camera, said he’d be back, only he never did. You’d had to. Come back home when the police said they’d “exhausted all avenues”. Liaised with the Embassy but “drawn a blank” – another cliché taken from the TV.

    You’ve studied every grain of the photo, trying to see what he saw, but to you it’s just a reminder of the holiday you wish you’d never booked.

    You returned twice a year, when you’d saved enough money to stay for a month or two. You thought you’d seen him once – the same red jacket – but it was a new warning flag at the rapids. Last year you thought you’d seen a face at one of the windows. Looked familiar. Happy. So you’d not gone again.

  15. "Hey Loony."

    "Stop it, Bobby. You’re such a pain in the butt."

    I choke on sobs as I run my fingers over the photograph in Mom’s old album. My brother and I were arguing as we hiked that day, barely even noticing the views that mom captured with her camera. We were twins, fighting was what we did. This image is burned into my mind. I can’t believe mom saved it all these years. I wish I could forget that day, or better yet redo it. Even after twenty years, the pain is still fresh.

    "Make me, Loony. Loony Louise."

    "I said stop calling me that."

    A little shove was all I gave, just to make him stop teasing. Bobby fell back into the railing, laughing the way ten year old boys laugh. I remember his eyes widen with surprise and then terror as he teetered farther back over the rail.


    I reached, but his fingers barely brushed across mine, like two feathers in the wind. Then he was gone, tumbling down into the water and rocks. He didn’t even cry out as he fell. There was a pause, then a splash and a crack. I stood there numb, watching a red streak taint the water below and my brother float slowly down stream. Mom screamed, but it sounded far away. All I could do was gape.

    Tears splash onto the plastic of the album. If only I hadn’t pushed so hard. If only…

    "I’m sorry Bobby."

  16. “You know, I haven’t looked in this particular photo album in over 50 years,“ she said as her arthritic hand slowly flipped through page after page of old photos.

    Suddenly, she froze. “Oh my God, who put this photo in here?” Her fingers rested against a photo of an old brick building that looked like it had perhaps been used as a mill or gold mining back in the day.

    She started to cry. Clearly seeing the photo again upset her.

    “Remember when I told you I had a twin? Well, it was New Year’s. It was huge party my parents held to not only celebrate the New Year, but it had been a good year for finding gold around town and everyone came to the party. Even the kids were allowed to attend and we were told we could stay up and welcome in the New Year but we also had to be careful, because the balconies around the doors had not been put in yet.

    My twin, Randy, always listened to me. The doors were open because it was hot with all the people inside. We loved to chase each other, in and around all the people, trying to hide from each other. He had gotten too close to one of the open doors as he ran past trying to catch me, but he’d slipped on someone’s spilled drink. He fell to the river below before anyone could catch him. It was my fault, all my fault.”

  17. Seeing Edward’s last photo again for the first time in a while, I’m instantly taken aback. It was supposed to be a wonderful time for us. We’d been on numerous backpacking trips, and this was our last vacation as a couple before we began our family.

    The air that weekend was crisp from the early dusting of snow lightly blanketing the roof of the structure below. The fragrance of evergreens reminding us of the upcoming holiday and the rustling of the dead foliage still hanging on before their descent to the damp ground beneath orchestrated beautifully by the wispy wind dancing with the rushing water of the river.

    Edward didn’t want to make the trip down the hill to the river’s edge. Knowing he needlessly worried about my safety, and our unborn child, I pushed. I couldn’t resist the temptation of feeling the river’s spray against my face. I promised to take no unnecessary risks.

    Unfortunately, what we didn’t see was a mama bear approaching the river with her cubs to fish. First glimpsing them, we immediately froze but Edward slipped and could not stop himself from sliding directly towards one of the cubs. The attack itself was probably not more than a minute but it felt so much longer. Edward had played dead and the bear left quickly, but there was so much blood; so far for help. I tried everything to save him but barely had time to say our goodbyes.

    We miss you, my precious Edward.

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