I participated in the Writers Weekly Winter 24-Hour Short Story Contest. A prompt is given and the contestants are asked to continue the story in a 24-hour time period. It was challenging, but fun. I received an honorable mention for my story, “His Way Back Home.” It was inspired by Mike Turner’s song, “Midnight Sun.”
The small stove kept the tiny chapel warm and their snowy footprints had already melted by the door. The dim light from the candle nubs played on the faces of the minister and his wife, and made the bride and groom’s shadows dance on the empty pews.
The minister’s monotone continued, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now, or else for ever hold your peace.”
All four turned abruptly when they heard a cough by the door, but Jonah could tell by the confused looks on their faces that he was nothing more than the settling of sound in the small church. Sara stared the longest, her head tilted to the side, her eyes narrowed, like she was looking through what everyone else could see to the truth hiding between the layers of life. The look had always haunted him.
Jonah hadn’t known where they were going when the interloper had jumped the wooden fence that surrounded Sara’s yard dressed in a white seersucker suit, daisies gripped in his meaty fist. The first snow of the season made what he wore the more ridiculous and Jonah chuckled, certain of Sara’s disdain for the obviousness of the gesture, but her laughing delight caused a ripping in his center that burned without relief. She wore the same yellow dress she had the day they had promised forever, not knowing that forever was a malleable concept, a trick of light and dark and selfish time.
He’d hesitated as they passed him, a phantom shadow perched on the wooden fence, unwilling to enter or leave, filled with an insatiable craving for the slightest nod from his love, letting him know that he had not been forgotten. As the couple rounded the corner, disappearing from view, he pulled hard against the tether of the familiar and fell behind, walking in tandem with their unhurried, joy-filled steps. He tried, again and again, to grab hold of Sara’s long, dark braid hanging down her back, only to slip through the twisted knot, left with only a handful of empty air. Her suitor, the man who had replaced him in her heart and person, tucked a wayward curl from her cheek, unaware of the frustrated blows Jonah rained down upon his broad back.
They climbed the steps of the white clapboard church where both Jonah and Sara had been baptized and played, a boy and a girl, crawling beneath the pews, while Minister Johnson told tales of love and faith threaded with judgment and sin. Neither paid the words any mind, cocooned in their innocence and belief in a purity that was their birthright.
They grew together, taking note of the changes, as each became more of the person they were meant to be. In the field on the edge of town, beneath the weeping willows, he’d asked for her hand.
“Why?” she’d asked, a playful smile on her lips.
“Because you feel like home,” was his only reply. In a time not now, they’d stood hand in hand, young enough to have hope, old enough to be brave, and been blessed in their union, a mere formality for Jonah; his true faith resided deep inside, hidden in the depths of his love’s good heart.
The many nights they’d lain together as man and wife, he’d risen above her, filled with want and fear and uncertainty, his desire for her a guilty temptation sanctioned by God that flooded his senses, sparks dancing behind his eyes.
“As I said, if anyone has a reason why these two shouldn’t be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
He tried to call out, but Jonah had used all his strength to force the first cough. Most nights, the only sounds he could make to garner her attention were the tinkling of the wind chime they’d pieced together out of collected sea glass from their honeymoon or the squeak of the garden gate as her suitor came and went. If the wind was right and the stars shined clear, a faint moan would well up from deep inside his bottomless soul and he would release a haunting howl that would bring neighboring dogs to the yard, digging up the red and purple flowers she’d planted the spring before it had all shifted. He had nothing left.
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”
The fire in his chest burned bright as the happy couple walked between the pews. As they passed, Sara turned, tilted her head toward Jonah, and gave him a beckoning wink. He had no choice but to follow. He didn’t know his way back home.