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He Was Gone

Story ID:2592
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Blue Ridge Mountains North Carolina USA
Year:2004
Person:Fictional
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This weekend, I was entered in the "Writers
Weekly 24-hour Short Story Contest." They sent me
a topic and the required word length at 1 PM on
Saturday. I had to have my story written and
submitted within 24 hours.

I enjoy this contest. It makes me write
outside the box.

They run the contest every three months.
If anyone is interested, perhaps we could
get a bunch of us together, sign up and
post our stories here to be commented on
by the readers.
It's a great challenge.

Below is the topic I received and the story I
came up with.

Mike

TODAY'S TOPIC!

Mosquitoes buzzed, but kept their distance as the aroma of insect
repellent overpowered the smoke coming from the dying campfire.
The counselor was getting to the good part of the ghost story and
the campers were all quiet, straining to hear the raspy whispers
of the protagonist. The sudden sound of footsteps approaching on
the pine needle carpet silenced the group. All heads turned
simultaneously and the little girls screamed when a man emerged
from the tree line, dressed in torn clothing and carrying a pack.
The pack started to move as an infant's startled cry joined the
panicked chorus...

~~~~~

WORD COUNT Stories for today's topic must not exceed 1050 words.
(Your story's title is *not* included in the word count. We used
MSWord's word count function to determine the final word count
in submission.)

*Very Important* Type "24 Hour Contest" in the subject line
of your email entry! This will enable us to pull any wayward
entries out of our sp*m filter.







He was Gone

“Isn’t it beautiful, Larry?” Susan asked her husband.

“It’s incredible.”

They passed a warning sign with a picture of a deer on
it. Larry glanced to his left. The Blue Ridge Mountains of
North Carolina, separated by deep ravines and valleys,
stretched for as far as he could see. “I spent all my life
in Kansas. I didn’t have time to travel. I can’t believe
how beautiful these mountains are.”

“I love them. I haven’t seen them in close to twenty
years. If Daddy hadn’t taken that job in Kansas, I’d probably
live here.” She reached over and squeezed Larry’s arm. “Then
again, I’d probably never have met you.”

Larry reached out and massaged the back of Susan’s head.
“I love you!”

She sighed and leaned her head back against his soothing
hand. “I wonder if my cousins will remember me?”

“Susan, you talk to them on the phone all the time.”

“You know what I mean; will they recognize me? It’s
been so long.”

“Hun, you emailed pictures to them.”

“You’re right. I’m being silly.”

They passed a brown sign stating, “Girl Scout
Camp - 5 Miles.”

Oh my God, Larry! I forgot about the camp. I used
to go there every year. If I’m not mistaken, it’s over
there,” She pointed to the left. “On the side of that
mountain. I bet they’re camping there right now. I wonder
if Karen, she was our counselor back then, is still there.
She’d be in her 50’s now.”

A weak cry came from the back seat. Larry turned
to check six-month-old Amanda. “Susan, she’s so beautiful.
She looks just like you.”

“Larry, look out!” Susan screamed.

Larry turned to see a deer leap from the woods on
their right. He slammed on the brakes and turned the
wheel. The car spun out of control, flipped over a guard
rail, landed on its wheels, and careened down the
side of the mountain. Larry held onto the wheel and tried
to see through the cracked windshield.

Near the bottom of the mountain, they slammed into
a tree, spun and landed on their roof at the edge of a
fast moving river.

Larry woke to Amanda’s screams. Susan hung lifeless
from her seatbelt. He reached out and shook her shoulder.
“Susan?” He asked. “Hun?” He placed his hand on her
neck – no pulse.

The baby, strapped securely in her car seat, continued
to scream. Larry knew it was too late for Susan. He had
to protect their child. He pushed the button to release
his seatbelt and dropped to the roof of the overturned car.
He didn’t feel his head smash against the roof light.

Larry crawled to Amanda. Cradling her in his right
arm, he forced his way through the shattered rear window.
A jagged piece of metal ripped his shirt and cut deep
into his shoulder. He felt nothing.

He staggered to safety and stood with Amanda in his
arms. Susan’s pale face pressed against the window. Her
vacant eyes stared at him. In his mind, he heard her
speak, “Larry, save our daughter.”

He looked up the side of the steep mountain and saw
the torn trail they’d created in the brush. Larry knew
he couldn’t climb to the top, especially with Amanda in
his arms.

“If I’m not mistaken, it’s over there, up on the
side of that mountain. I bet they’re camping there right
now.” Larry remembered Susan saying.

He set his daughter on the ground, returned to the
car, and retrieved a backpack. With his daughter secure
in the pack, Larry followed the rivers edge. Before he
turned the first bend, he looked back to see his wife
staring after him. “Go! Save our daughter. I’m with
the mountains I love.”

Larry found a trail and followed it; the sun set.
He found a stick and stumbled through the forest like
a blind man.

A light breeze carried the scent of wood smoke.
Larry turned to the wind and followed it to safety.

********************

Mosquitoes buzzed, but kept their distance as
the aroma of insect repellent overpowered the smoke
coming from the dying campfire. Counselor Karen was
getting to the good part of the ghost story and the
campers were all quiet, straining to hear the raspy
whispers of the protagonist. The sudden sound of
footsteps approaching on the pine needle carpet
silenced the group. All heads turned simultaneously
and the little girls screamed when a man emerged
from the tree line, dressed in torn clothing and
carrying a backpack. The pack started to move as
an infant's startled cry joined the panicked chorus...

“Help my baby.” He said.

Karen rushed to his side. “Are you OK?”

“Help my baby.” He repeated. “We had an accident.”

She led him to a place near the fire and returned
to those tending the mosquito-bitten baby. “I think
she’s OK,” she said to one of the other counselors.
Karen turned back to the fire. “Did you say there
was an accident?”

The man was gone.

********************

Karen picked up the newspaper and read the headline.
”Former Resident, Susan Hill, Killed – Search for
Missing Child Ends”

“Susan Hill?” Karen asked out loud. The name was
familiar. She continued to read. The search for a missing
child comes to a happy and mysterious end. Former resident
Susan Hill and her husband, Larry Smith, both wearing
seatbelts were found dead in their car at the bottom of
a ravine, after family members reported them missing.

Authorities, alerted that Mr. and Mrs. Smith traveled
with their six-month-old daughter, who was not in the
vehicle at the time of the gruesome discovery, began
an extensive search.

Unable to find the child on the mountainside, they
dragged the river bed. The search was called off, when
local camp Counselor, Karen Grady, called authorities
and reported, “A strange man came to our camp. He handed
us a backpack with a young child in it.” She continued,
“As the girls tended to the child, I turned to ask the
man what happened, but he was gone.”



Michael T. Smith