I managed to get through to the second round of the Alexandra Writers Centre’s #ABWriters “Write Your Way Out of Isolation” challenge. Thanks to all the judges who helped out! I didn’t make the cut for the third round, but I thought I’d share what I submitted for the first two attempts. I’ll post the Round 2 submission tomorrow.
Genre – Open (fiction or creative nonfiction)
Setting – A summer outdoor gathering/event – think wedding, Calgary Stampede, K-Days, an amusement park, pool party, camping trip…be creative.
Maximum word count for Round 1 is 2000 words.
Of all the rides in the midway, Victor loved the Ferris wheel most of all. It didn’t spin around and make you dizzy, although that was fun sometimes too. There was never a big line for it, like the roller coasters. No, the Ferris wheel was at once calm and thrilling, his body slowly rocking in the seat while his heart pounded like the hooves of the horses in the evening rodeo. You could see it all from the Ferris wheel. The whole park spread out beneath him, shrinking the noise and the hustle, reducing people in size in a way that he found comforting. On the Ferris wheel, he was the biggest, the highest, the observer. Of all the heavenly delights of the yearly festival, the Ferris wheel rose like a beacon. He had never missed a year, never missed a ride.
This year was shaping up to be different. It was early July, and he could see the storm clouds rolling in from his hospital window. They’d reach the midway soon enough, and he could almost see how the people would scramble for shelter. They never let him ride the wheel during a storm, but he would stand in the rain, watching and waiting to see if lightning would strike the tallest ride in the park.
He imagined being up there, the wind rocking him back and forth in the pouring rain. He imagined his hair, soaked and wind-swept; his denim jeans black with water, his boots slowing filling. He would throw his hands up, feeling the wind whip his wrists back, as the lightning crashed around him. He would point, and the lightning would follow his command. He would rule from the highest point on the wheel, the weather taking him in as one of its own, high up in the clouds.
There was no rain here, now. The only moisture in the room crept from the corners of his closed eyes. It rolled slowly down his cheeks, absorbed in the mask around his nose and mouth, dark rings of sadness on the light blue paper.
Everyone else in his shared room had their mouths covered, but not with masks. The steady hiss of ventilators overlapped, creating a sound like constant waves on a small, rocky shoreline. Or heavy rain on midway pavement.
He wasn’t sick, but he wasn’t allowed out of this tiny, hot room, full of sadness and suffering. The others, the sick people, it was obvious that something was wrong with them. His uncle, the first to show signs of the illness, lay in the bed next to his. His uncle’s skin was pale and thin; he sweated constantly, and it smelled like mini donuts – sweet, but oily. Across the room, their elderly neighbour, frail and fading, his breathing small and weak. The other corner of the room held an empty bed. The hospital was busy, and the other rooms were full, but they didn’t want anyone else in here.
They had fallen ill within a few hours of each other, and both after having spent time near Victor. It’s just precautionary, they told him. But he saw the protective gear they struggled into every time they came to talk to him, and to check on the others. They spoke softly, like their words would hurt his ears. He wouldn’t talk to them, but let them take his temperature, and his blood. He watched the storm clouds roll towards the fairgrounds, and thought about the only thing that mattered, the thing they were taking away from him.
The Ferris wheel. The lightning. The power.
A nurse was coming to see him now, fully covered in a yellow suit, only her eyes showing. She was trying to smile with her eyes, Victor knew, but it was forced and phoney and it made him angry. Trying to be kind, but beneath her protective suit were a pair of blue jeans and a soft, cotton western shirt.
“You get to go, don’t you?” Victor asked.
She blinked; the smile from her eyes pulled back like rain on a windshield. “Sorry dear, what do you mean?”
“The grounds,” he said. “The rides, the pancakes, the rodeo. All of it. You get to go any time you want.”
She tried to smile again. “Yes, I’m going to go tonight. With my kids. You’d like them, I think. They love the rides – and the cotton candy!”
He turned away. Cotton candy. Rides. The wheel. He faced her again, her head highlighted by the storm passing behind them, out the window.
“I don’t get to go,” he said, flat and hollow. “I’m going to miss it.”
She reached out, as if to stroke his hair, but stopped herself quickly, her hand falling back to her side.
“I think you might have to miss this year,” she agreed, kindness and empathy in her voice. “But there’s always next year! And you should be able to…”
“No!” he screamed, his arms stiff and wide, his mouth a perfect wheel shape.
“NO!” he screamed again, and she backed away, the light in her eyes now bright with alarm instead of kindness. She backed away, a small tremble in her step, then out the door into the airlock.
“No,” he said, to himself. There is not always next year. All there is, all that ever will be, is now. Right now. His anger spread back from his face, settling warm into his chest like a hot coal.
It was an hour before the door opened again, wider this time, so that the gurney could fit through the airlock. The nurse, now stripped of her protective clothing, looked smaller beneath a clean hospital sheet. She was pale, her eyes closed. No breathing tube yet, but that might come later. The other staff transferred her to the last remaining bed in the room, their movements quick and nervous. They didn’t look towards Victor.
A beep sounded, far off in the corner. The nurses’ heads swung around, the hoods of their suits only turning half as far. His uncle groaned, a small and pitiful sound, as the machine beeped again, then again, quicker and louder. One of the three nurses moved towards him, pulling a curtain closed between Victor and his uncle as she moved to his side.
His uncle had been watching him this week while his parents went on vacation. A cruise somewhere far off. He hadn’t wanted to go, and to his relief, they hadn’t seriously offered. Oh, they had mentioned it, in a you-probably-wouldn’t-like-it sort of way. And then they said early July, and he saw what his part to play was. The child who wouldn’t, couldn’t miss the fair.
He had wanted to go on the first Friday – all the better to get onto the Ferris wheel, before the weekend and the other children made the lineups too long. But his uncle had said no, said he had to work. Victor had yelled, and stomped his feet, but to no avail. And then, a few hours later, they were here.
Victor had been at his uncle’s house, reading, when the neighbour came to collect him. A kindly older man, he had taken Victor to the hospital, where his uncle had been taken. He’d been at work, seemingly okay, but suddenly, he couldn’t breathe, and collapsed.
Of course, thought Victor bitterly. With his uncle sick, there was no way he would be going to the midway now. Depending on how sick his uncle was, Victor might miss out on days’ worth of time on the grounds. Maybe even miss the whole thing.
“Can we stop somewhere first?” he had asked the neighbour.
“I’m afraid not,” the neighbour said. “We have to hurry.”
“Just for an hour?” pleaded Victor. The neighbour looked over at the boy in the passenger seat of his car, small and sad, but seemingly without much compassion for his kin.
“No,” the neighbour said, more firmly this time. “Your uncle is sick.”
No, Victor had thought. No. No midway. No Ferris wheel. No.
“No,” he said softly, but the neighbour kept driving. It was only a few minutes to the hospital where his uncle had been taken, but it seemed to take a lot longer.
They had both come inside.
The nurse pulled back the curtain between Victor and his uncle, the beeping replaced again by the ventilator, rejoining the chorus of pulling, wheezing sounds.
“Can I go?” asked Victor, his voice high and small. “Please, I’m not sick. I promise.”
The nurse kept his back to Victor, and once he was satisfied with something on the screen of his uncle’s ventilator, he stood and walked quickly out of the room.
“Please,” whispered Victor, as the other nurses left, securing the door behind them.
Victor hung his head, more tears on his paper mask. He pulled the mask up, dabbing at his eyes with it, then letting it drop, wet and slack, around his neck. He stood, quietly, and walked to the window.
From the north, the storm was sweeping towards the city. He could see the misty part under the clouds in the distance, rain that was drenching the ground beneath. He could see tiny spots of lightning, high up in the clouds.
He felt that small coal of anger in his chest, hot now, the clouds acting as a bellows. It fed on the power of the storm, growing to fill his entire body. He felt his fingers prickle, and they felt like they were swelling from the inside out. His mouth was dry, and he could feel his teeth, sharp against his tongue.
Summer storms were nothing new at the fair. They would sweep through, soaking everything and scaring people with the incredible blasts of lightning and claps of thunder – but within an hour, they would be gone, and the midway would come back to life. People would come out from under trees and inside shops, and the grounds would continue, like nothing had ever happened.
No, he thought, as the storm moved over them, heading towards the midway. It wasn’t fair. He should be there. On the Ferris wheel. Controlling the lightning.
Rain began to bead up on the window. He felt the power inside swell again, and even through the big airlocked door, he could hear coughing. The three ventilators in his room, wheezing life, pumping air that was thick with ozone and fear.
He raised his arms to the passing storm, and imagined himself atop the Ferris wheel – not in the seats, but standing on the bare metal, the winds and rain surrounding him like a cloak, swirling majestically for miles.
No, and the thunder echoed his call, a pressure wave that bypassed the ears and pushed against lungs.
No, and the room around him grew silent and cold, the rain and tears obscuring the view.
No, and the power in him seemed to flash out like raw, wild electrical current, pulsing outward in all directions.
The surge faded back, pulling itself inward. Not back into his chest, but up behind his eyes, pushing a sweat to his brow, beading like the rain on the window. His arms fell weakly to his sides, as a small cough escaped his lungs.
If he couldn’t go, then no one could.