Winner of the August 2018 Writing Contest!
Our prompt for August was:
Your character has always desired one specific thing above all else. Now they receive it... and it's nothing like they'd imagined.
Gina Burgess did great with this prompt, capturing high-school fantasies in vivid and authentic language and delivering a twist that was like a punch to the guts. Great writing, Gina!
The winning entry:
The bottle spun between us, a blur of emerald green.
My high school friends and I sat in a circle on the lounge room floorboards at Gavin’s house. Earlier, we’d eaten birthday cake, downed stolen beers and danced. But when it grew late, we’d killed the music, dimmed the lights and picked out a bottle.
The floor was chilly beneath us, but no one complained, too focussed on the bottle to care. It had been guzzled dry, but now it held something far more valuable than beer—our fates.
It was the second spin of the night. Tim and Tracy were already in the big, old, empty wardrobe in the spare bedroom, but I had no interest in what might be happening between them. I only cared about Ruby. I ached for the mysterious new girl’s spin to stop on me.
Ruby had wandered into school midweek and she’d been on my mind ever since. She didn’t have the uniform yet and I hoped she’d never get one. Her torn jeans were a delight and a torment, revealing slivers of perfect flesh and making me wonder about the parts still covered.
The teachers were also keen to see parts of Ruby—her parents. Her mother and father sent her to school on her first day with transfer papers and a note that said they’d pop in to sort out the paperwork soon. So far, they were no-shows and crazy rumours spread that Ruby had no parents, which made her even cooler. Kids without parents were way hotter than the ones with oldies tagging along.
But it wasn’t just the rumours and her looks that scrambled my brain, making it impossible to think of anything but her. The moment I saw her, everything around me took on a soft, hazy finish. Only Ruby kept her edges. It was like she was the only thing real in the world, or maybe she was my world and she just didn’t know it yet. God, I hoped so.
As we sat in the circle, Ruby had the birthday boy, Gavin, by her side. Fuelled by beer, his hand roamed. A stroke of her forearm and then his palm rested on her knee. I sat on the opposite side of the circle, relieved by how unmoved Ruby appeared. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but it seemed like she didn’t even notice Gavin as she watched the bottle spin and spin.
Eventually, it slowed. As the air grew hot and heavy, I held my breath, hoping, wishing, praying that fate was on my side. Then finally, the bottle stopped, and it pointed at me. Me!
As my schoolmates huffed, sighed and quietly swore, I lifted my eyes to Ruby. Her lips curled into a hint of a smile and her eyes lit up. I dared to believe we shared a thought: fate has spoken—you’re mine.
“Jay’s so lucky,” someone whispered.
“Ruby could do so much better.”
That remark might have stung except I knew it was born of jealousy. I’d have said the same if luck had favoured someone else.
Everyone stood and shuffled to the spare bedroom. Ruby and I were shoved to the front of the group, closest to the wardrobe’s mirrored double doors, and I caught sight of our reflections. Ruby looked amazing as always with her jeans and eyeliner and perfectly scruffy, give-no-shits hair. Beside her, I looked like a rabbit caught in headlights, trembling and paralysed at the same time. Seeing myself, it was hard to cling to the belief we could ever be together.
With each passing second, my hope and courage shrivelled. I needed to get inside the wardrobe before it dissolved all together. But Tracy and Tim still had ten seconds to spend inside.
Ten, nine, eight.
I tried to breathe. Couldn’t. I needed to hold it together, just a little longer.
Ruby tapped a foot, impatient.
Someone shoved a glass into my shaking hand and I downed a gulp of beer, then choked.
Ruby took the drink, grinned and emptied the glass in one go.
Gavin thumped the wardrobe. “Time’s up! Disentangle tongues, we’re bringing you out!”
He should have given them longer to prepare. When he shoved the door open, Tracy and Tim stood together with faces flushed and clothes crooked. As Tim fumbled with his shirt buttons and Tracy smoothed her hair, wolf whistles and whoops broke out. Not from me, though. I couldn’t make a noise around the lump in my throat.
Ruby was silent too. She didn’t even look at Tracy and Tim as they stepped from the wardrobe. Her focus remained on me. Could she actually be into me? Could it all be happening just as I hoped? Was there a version of real life where someone made of cool and hot and mystery could be attracted to a plain, tepid nobody?
Gavin smirked. “You don’t have to go through with this, Jay. I’ll stand in for you if you’re not up to it.”
Give up my one chance to be with the girl of my dreams? I’d never kissed anyone before and in moments I’d get to kiss the most perfect girl on the planet… if I held it together.
I pushed away my doubts and fears, squared my shoulders and reached towards Ruby. Grinning, she weaved her fingers through mine—wow, when did my skin become so sensitive?!—and to a soundtrack of whistles and cheers, we stepped inside the wardrobe. Gavin closed the door, locking us in.
It wasn’t as dark as I’d expected. Light trickled through a dozen gaps, softening shadows. I could just make out Ruby standing before me.
“I can’t believe I’m in here with you,” I whispered. “But at the same time, the moment I saw you, I knew we were destined to end up like this.”
There was a faint chuckle outside. The others were probably seated in the circle in the lounge room, setting up the next pair of two-minute lovers, but I couldn’t shake the feeling they were standing near the wardrobe, listening and laughing at me. Embarrassment threatened to paralyse my tongue, but I fought it off.
“I really like you, Ruby.”
I wanted her to say she liked me too, but all she gave me was a smile. As silence stretched out, despair crept up on me. What had I been thinking, rambling as if our fates were linked? She probably thought she was locked in a wardrobe with a lunatic. Any second, she’d turn to the door and bash on it, scream to be saved from the crazy freak. She’d—
She stepped closer and her body brushed against me. “You feel nice.”
“God, so do you.”
I could feel the rips in her jeans and visualise the warm, smooth skin beneath. She was so close, those slivers of skin, so near. If I could just find the courage, I could reach out and touch them, caress her, explore—
“Sorry for raving like a mad man,” I blurted in an attempt to stifle my fantasy. I breathed deeply. It was supposed to calm me, but her perfume sent my heart into a gallop. “I blabber when I get nervous, and the thing is, you make me more than a little nervous.”
Her lips curled in a smirk. “Good.” She pressed herself to me, which made me gasp and fall against the side of the wardrobe. So close, she could probably hear my cowardly heart pounding against my chest, trying to fight its way out of my shaking body.
“You don’t have much time, Jay. Do you really want to spend it discussing fears and fates?” Her lips grazed my neck. Her tongue brushed my skin.
Silent, I trembled beneath her touch.
“You’re right, though.” She moved up my neck, leaving a trail of kisses and electricity behind her. I hoped she’d move towards my lips next, but she grew still and whispered in my ear. “This is fate. Meant to be. So, what are you waiting for?”
The words were like a magic spell, compelling me to move. I slipped my hands around her waist then beneath her blouse, and when she made no protest, I roamed further. I travelled over curves and embraced her. She broke out in gooseflesh, which shocked me. I didn’t know I had the power to unsettle a beautiful girl. I pressed my face into her hair to hide my joy.
Ruby’s hands ventured beneath my t-shirt. Her touch was light, but she moved with confidence. She didn’t explore randomly as I was doing. She made a journey I could tell she’d already plotted. Her hand paused on my chest.
“I can feel your heart beating. So fast.” She pressed her ear to my chest. “Bam bam bam. Its going mental.”
“You have that effect.” I took her arms and coaxed her to straighten until we stood face to face.
“Bam bam bam.” She touched my heart again and tapped her fingers in time. “I like your rhythm, Jay. I like the beat of your lust.”
Her words were as alluring as the rest of her and I couldn’t fight my craving. I grabbed her more forcefully than intended. We toppled back, meeting the other side of the wardrobe.
Pinned, Ruby smiled. “You’re tougher than I expected. I like that. It makes this so much more fun.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“A few times. That doesn’t make it any less special.”
I couldn’t argue with that. They were by far the most special two minutes of my life.
Damn, those precious seconds must almost be over, and I hadn’t even kissed her. With my chance disappearing, I moved towards her lips.
“Uh uh.” With strength that surprised me, she pushed me away. I tried to reach for her, but she lifted my t-shirt and paralysed me with her tremble-evoking tongue. I swallowed a groan as she weaved a tantalising trail from my waist to my sternum.
“Oh, Ruby,” I wheezed as she planted kisses all over me. “Stop.”
“Why? It’s obvious you like it.”
“Of course I do. But I’d like to kiss you before my time runs out.” She didn’t understand the importance. She’d done this before. I hadn’t.
She continued tasting my skin. “Not yet. A kiss needs to be earned.”
Her fingers moved over bare skin and her lips trailed after her touch. I followed her lead and allowed my hands to once again explore, never hesitating, refusing to fear I’d go too far. I added my lips to the game, tasting and nipping her neck and ear. She moaned and shivered.
Eventually, she pulled away. “Close your eyes.”
I did so, quickly. Time was running out. There was no room for hesitation.
She moved close again, and my heart pounded. This was it. Finally, I’d earned a kiss. The whole two minutes had been amazing, but I didn’t know how I could look my friends in the eye and admit after two minutes with Ruby, I still hadn’t experienced my first kiss. I braced myself. Eager. More than ready.
Something cold touched my stomach. Something sharp. I opened my eyes and peered down. Metal glinted in the shadows, smooth and silvery, running from my abdomen to Ruby’s fist. A knife. Ruby jabbed forward.
Pain tore through me, so severe I cried out. Hot liquid flowed over my legs. It was hard to see in the gloom, but I didn’t need to. I knew it was blood.
Through the wooziness of shock and pain, I watched Ruby ease the knife out of my flesh. As it left my body, blood flooded out of me. It disappeared into shadows, but I heard it spatter on the wardrobe floor and my shoes. I clutched my stomach.
Ruby shrugged and smiled. “I couldn’t help it. Couldn’t fight my urges.”
She lifted the knife and came at me again. I tried to hold her back, but my arms had no strength. She slipped between my blood drenched hands and pushed the knife between my ribs. The pain forced a groan from my throat.
“Time’s almost up!” Gavin called from outside. “You sound like you’re having the time of your life in there, but even good things must come to an end.”
Wincing, I groped for the door, but Ruby caught my hand and pushed me against the side of the wardrobe. She planted the knife in my stomach again. This time all I managed was a croak. I wanted to shout, scream for Gavin to let me out, but my broken body refused to help save me.
“You’ve… done this before,” I managed to wheeze. I could see it with crystal clarity. Ruby slipping into a school—maybe using another name, maybe with different coloured hair or a different backstory—snake-charming teachers and students, and when the opportunity arose, striking. I sagged, almost falling but Ruby forced me up and pinned me in place.
“Yes, I’ve done this before,” she whispered. “That doesn’t make it any less special.” She leant close and pressed her lips to mine.
As she tried to slip her tongue into my mouth, I found the strength to weakly laugh.
She snapped her head back. “I thought you wanted a kiss.”
I’d heard people say the first kiss never went well, that it was often disappointing, not living up to the hype. They were definitely onto something. I laughed some more, which infuriated Ruby and she struck me with the knife yet again.
The door creaked. Light cut the shadows. Gavin peeked in and the smirk fell away from his face. He gaped at the blood splashed everywhere, so much brighter than I’d realised, so much more of it than I’d imagined possible. Finally, he focussed on Ruby and I squeezed together in the corner.
Ruby pressed her lips to mine one more time—the briefest of touches—then she let me go. As I slid to the floor, she eased by Gavin and disappeared from view. Gasps and shrieks followed her.
“She must be hurt.”
“Ruby, come back.”
“Did Jay do something to her?”
Figures appeared around Gavin. Probably my classmates but it was hard to be sure. They looked fuzzy and faint, and their cries of dismay were distant.
“Call an ambulance!”
“Already have. They’re two minutes away.”
Two minutes. So much could happen in that time. It was so long and so short and so life changing.
A clock sat on the wall, barely visible thanks to the heads of my gaping classmates and the heavy fog that was moving in on me. I watched the seconds tick by, seconds trying to be minutes, as fog slowly and quickly consumed the world.
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