(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)
Natalie awoke suddenly to noises coming from down the stairs.
Carefully, she crept out of bed and peeked outside.
She caught sight of reindeer on the roof.
Excitedly, she hurried out into the hall.
He was in the living room.
Placing presents under the tree.
They were for her.
She was certain.
This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
Back to the story
I boarded the plane with a racing heart and tears in my eyes. Goodbyes are never easy, especially with family. You just have to keep telling yourself that it isn’t farewell for good; you’ll see each other again on holidays and special occasions. In the meantime, the separation will make future reunions all the sweeter.
That’s what I told myself as I settled in my seat, what my subconscious whispered in the back of my mind through the whole flight as I read my books, watched in-flight movies, and struggled to fall asleep, tossing and turning under my blanket. The dark sky outside had never looked so welcoming and intimidating at once.
It wasn’t until the great city came into view below that I really started to feel excited. The end of my journey was drawing near. What was waiting for me on the other side? I already knew what to expect as I stepped off the plane. It was why I couldn’t stop smiling as I stood in line at Passport Control or shaking as I pulled my suitcase off the conveyor belt.
I knew that the moment I stepped through the doors to the Arrivals deck, I would see his face smiling back at me, his loving brown eyes just as bright with hope and happiness as mine. The feeling of running into his arms was the most comforting in the world, knowing I’d never have to leave them again.
Time for a fresh start. My new life was about to begin!
To my loving family,
I know you’re all still in pain, and you’re sad because you miss me. The truth is I miss you all too, but the time has come to move on. I’m in a much better place now, and I promise I’m comfortable and happy. But since I got here, I’ve been told that humans have trouble accepting the loss of loved ones, so I hope this letter will put you at ease and give you peace.
Please understand that this was not your fault. I know you did everything you could to make me stay, but there was nothing you could have done for me anymore. I didn’t mean to hurt you by leaving; it was just my time to go. Don’t blame yourselves, because you did exactly what you should have done: you gave me a good life and made my last hours as comfortable as possible.
I want to thank you all for giving me the best life I could ever have asked for. I know I was too small when you found me to remember living on the street, but I’m grateful that you took me in and gave me a comfortable place in your home and in your family. I always had plenty of room to play, a warm lap to curl up in, soft beds to sleep in, and all the food I ever needed – even if you didn’t always get the flavor right or put as much in my bowl as I wanted, no matter how much I cried. Maybe I wasn’t good at making it clear (I hear humans express their affection differently), but you all meant the world to me, and I did care for you all very much.
I also want to thank you for the comfort you gave me in my last moments. Curled up in Mom’s arms was exactly where I wanted to be, and your goodbye kisses were the perfect way to send me off. I’m sorry you had to suffer by seeing me go, but I’m glad I could be with you all in the end.
So please don’t be sad, dear family. Remember the good times we had, and think about all the joy we shared in my ten years of life. I hope I’ve enriched your lives as much as you’ve enriched mine, and I’m sure you won’t forget me any time soon. I’ll certainly never forget you. This isn’t goodbye forever; we’ll see each other again soon. So be happy, and know that no matter where I am, you will always be my family, and I’ll love you forever. Until we meet again, a loving purr and great big meow to you all!
Your Little One
P.S. The dog sends her love. She and I have put in a good word for you all with the Caretaker!
So our family cat passed away last month, a tragic day for us all. I wrote this letter in loving memory of her as my way of getting closure; though we all still miss her terribly, I like to imagine she’s in a better place now and still loves and remembers us wherever she is. We love you, Piccolina!
Oh, and the dog mentioned in the postscript is the same dog from “My Last Bark“, another “loving memory” story I wrote a few years ago. Yes, I really love my pets!
Welcome to the conclusion of “The Monster Under The Porch”. If you haven’t yet, read Part 1 here. Otherwise, enjoy!
Autumn watched anxiously as her mother walked around the porch, peeking under the boards on her way to the far end by the side of the house. Try as she might, the child couldn’t stop imagining what sort of monster might be lurking under their house. Was it a troll? A gremlin? Or what if, with those bright eyes – she shuddered – it was a wolf? The girl shut her eyes tight to keep from crying, but after a minute, she looked up again at the sound of a woman’s voice exclaiming.
“Autumn, come quick!”
Suddenly curious, Autumn hurried to the edge of the porch and looked down over the railing. To her astonishment, she saw her mother kneeling on the ground and smiling up at her. Next to her, a black kitten was sniffing at a few pieces of candy that had rolled off the porch.
“He must have gotten lost and wandered under our house,” she said, stroking the cat as he pawed at the candy. “I think you scared him more than he scared you!”
Autumn grinned as the kitten looked up at her, no longer afraid of his bright yellow eyes. Just then, a group of costumed children appeared in front of the house, heading up the walk toward the front steps. The girl’s mother gently scooped up the cat and rose to her feet.
“Sweetie, can you keep an eye on this little guy while I hand out the candy?” she said as she returned to the door. Autumn eagerly agreed, taking the animal in her arms so her mother could distribute the sweets. The cat was surprisingly calm around her, considering the fright she had given him a few minutes ago.
“Can I please keep him, Mommy?” the girl asked after the other children had left with their candy.
“He might belong to someone,” said her mom, taking a broom by the door to sweep up the mess of confectionery left on the porch. “We’ll wait until Daddy gets home, then he can hand out the candy while you and I go door to door looking for the cat’s owner.”
“And if no one claims him?” said Autumn, her eyes bright with hope.
“Then Daddy and I will talk about it.” And that was the end of the discussion.
For the next hour, Autumn played with the kitten on the porch while her mother sat beside her with the bowl of candy, handing out sweets to every trick-or-treater who stopped by. When her father came home, the girl set off with her mom in search of the cat’s owner, but after knocking on every door on their street and on the neighboring streets, they hadn’t found one person who had ever seen the kitten before, and mother and daughter returned home with the stray animal still purring softly in the child’s arms.
Autumn sat on the living room floor stroking the sleeping kitten in her lap while her parents talked in the kitchen. By the time they returned, her heart was pounding. She was ready to cry and beg to keep the little cat to which she had grown so attached in the last few hours, but to her immense relief, she noticed when they asked her to join them at the table that they were both smiling.
At ten o’clock that night, Fred returned from his friends’ party to find his family seated around the living room waiting for him. He was about to ask what was going on when he caught sight of a small mass of black fur on the carpet, staring up at him with round yellow eyes. When he took a step toward it, the animal hissed and scurried off to jump into his sister’s lap. Stunned, the boy looked up to see his parents laughing from the couch.
“Welcome back, Fred,” said his mother. “I see you’ve met the newest addition to the family.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll warm up to you soon,” said his father, though his smile suggested he looked forward to seeing their new pet put his rambunctious son in his place.
“Yeah,” Fred muttered, realizing that a lot had happened since he deserted his sister on the street. “So, um… what’s his name?”
Autumn, still in her costume, smiled from the armchair across the room, stroking the black cat affectionately as they both eyed her brother like a real witch and her loyal companion would a frightened child.
Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!
“Mommy, I don’t wanna go!”
“But it’s Halloween, Autumn! You love trick-or-treating!”
“I know, but I wanna stay home this year.” The ten-year-old girl turned nervously to the front window as her mother placed the finishing touch of her costume, a witch’s hat, on her head.
“Let her stay,” said an older boy standing by the front door in a werewolf costume. “Then I can hang out with my friends without having to drag her around.”
“Fred, you promised to take your sister trick-or-treating this year.” His mother gave him a stern look as she handed a pumpkin-shaped candy bucket to her daughter. “You can meet up with your friends after you and Autumn visit all the houses on this street and the next one over.”
“Mom, I’m 13 now! I’m too old to go around begging for candy like a baby! Can’t you take her?”
“Dad’s working late tonight, so I have to stay home to hand out the candy, remember? Just go, it’ll be a good chance for you to bond with your sister.”
“Fine,” the boy sighed, rolling his eyes as he idly swung the skull-shaped candy bucket in his hand. “Autumn, let’s go!”
Fred walked over to his little sister, who had been staring out the window through the whole argument, and took her by the hand. Their mother called after them as they stepped out the door onto the front porch.
“Fred, bring Autumn back before it gets dark, and don’t come home too late! Have fun, kids!”
And with that, the door closed and the children were left to enjoy Halloween on their own.
“Freddy”, the girl whispered as they walked down the front steps, “does the… kid-munching monster really come out every Halloween night?”
A week ago, Autumn had started hearing strange noises coming from beneath her bedroom window. Ever since asking her brother about it on the first night, she had been terrified of going outside for fear of seeing the monster he told her was hiding under the porch. According to Fred, every October the creature would choose a random house to stalk, then appear on Halloween night to gobble up the children who came back with buckets full of candy. Autumn had always been afraid of monsters, and it never occurred to her that the noises might be the work of the wind or a harmless animal, nor that her brother had made up the story to avoid having to take her trick-or-treating.
The siblings paused on the sidewalk and the boy looked down at his sister with a smirk.
“Only after it gets dark”, he assured her, “so we’d better get this over with fast. Let’s start over there.”
Over the next hour, Fred escorted Autumn to each house on their street and on the neighboring street. When the sun disappeared completely, they started heading home with buckets full of candy, and by the time they came within sight of their home, the moon could be seen peeking through the clouds. Before the siblings reached their house, however, they heard voices calling out from behind them.
“Hey, Fred! Ready for the party?”
The boy turned around to see a group of teenagers standing at the other end of the street and beckoning him over. Suddenly awkward, he glanced back at his house before turning to his little sister.
“Listen, I gotta go.” He handed her his bucket. “Take these back for me, ok? Don’t tell Mom I left early and you can have a piece.”
“But…” Autumn glanced nervously up at the darkening sky. “What about the monster?”
“You’ll be fine! The house is right there and it’s not that dark yet. You can make it if you run. Happy Halloween!”
And he ran off to join his friends, leaving his little sister trembling and teary-eyed alone on the sidewalk.
Autumn continued on her way home, trying not to think how much more enticing she would be to the child-eating monster now with twice as much candy on her. By the time she reached the front steps, the sky had grown dark and the street was lit by the full moon and the flickering glow of jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep. To a frightened ten-year-old, it was an eerie and unnerving sight.
The girl placed a foot on the bottommost step, ready to bolt up to the door and into the house, but at that moment, she heard the strange creaking sound from beneath the porch again. Autumn dared to peek into the dark space under the wooden boards… and jumped back at the sight that met her eyes: a pair of bright yellow eyes staring back at her!
Quick as a flash, the child leaped up the steps two at a time, screaming as she hurried for the safety of her house. She was so startled that she tripped on the top step and fell flat on the doorstep, dropping both buckets and spilling candy all over the porch. Two sounds followed: a loud screeching from under the floorboards and the creaking of the front door being thrown open.
“Sweetie! Are you okay?” Autumn looked up to see her mother in the doorway, bending down to help her to her feet. “What happened? Where’s your brother?”
“I’m okay,” said the girl, brushing some fallen candy off her witch costume as she stood up. “Freddy… dropped me off before he left with his friends.”
“Why were you screaming?”
“I…” Autumn looked down at the wooden flooring under her feet. “I thought I saw something. Down there.”
The girl pointed at the floor, still shaking from the scare of seeing those eyes. Her mother looked down in surprise.
“Well, let’s check it out.” And against her daughter’s protests, she stepped down from the porch to investigate, leaving Autumn shaking in anticipation of whatever horror was about to unfold.
To be concluded next Friday