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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)

TITLE: Missing
By Holly Westefeld


Mildred jostled for position on the least scorching slab of rock. There was, after all, no longer any point in being good. There never had been, actually, at least not for the purposes of tipping some phantom cosmic scale of justice in her favor. Her daughter, Rachel, had fruitlessly endeavored to impart truth to her, but Mildred was certain she had everything under control.

Attempting to moisten parched lips with what little saliva she could muster, Mildred elbowed the blistered ribs of yet another contender for her prime spot. Flailing at the thick smoke, she cupped her hands over nose and mouth, inhaling as deeply as she dared, unable to fully escape the fetid air. The essence of roses that she and the other garden club ladies had planted during annual town beautification was a distant memory.

She bit her knuckles to try and postpone the inevitable haze of exhaustion, which never amounted to rest, but did afford another the opportunity to shove her off the slab into one of the countless molten pools, initiating the cycle once more. Just as those near her became confident of her stupor, the sound they dreaded most scattered them as far from Mildred as they could retreat, without landing in a pool themselves. Thus it was that the scratch of scales and a sibilant voice roused her instead. "There'sss sssomeone you ssshould come and greet. Sssamuel hasss arrived."

"Nooo!" Mildred followed as though on a leash, lest some additional torment be devised just for her. Sure enough, her husband of forty-seven years, with whom she had reared Tanya, Sylvia and Rachel, stood before her with eyes wide in stark terror. "It's true? What Rachel tried to tell us all these years was true!"

Mildred turned and walked away without a word. There was no comfort she could give him now. "God, if you would listen to the plea of a condemned mother... Please help Rachel to reach her sisters! How I fear that they have not fallen far from the tree, though Sylvia does take her boys to Sunday school. Please?"

Distracted, she didn't notice the fissure belching flame, until her eye-brows trickled as ashes down her cheeks. Turning aside, she noticed a cleft between two boulders, just the right size for her to crouch and squeeze between, rocking and sobbing, though her dehydrated eyes could shed few tears.

She had no idea how much time had passed--did time have meaning anymore--when fingers slithered into her hair and jerked her from the crevice, slinging her into the nearest bubbling morass. Crawling out, Mildred tried to shake off the fiery slime as fast as she could, but blisters already puckered over much of her body. Her assailant smirked with cracked lips and laughed.

"You're so young!" How Mildred could tell in the dimness, through the soot they all wore, she was not sure.

"What's it to ya? Age don't got no privileges here," he sneered.

Mildred shook her head and moved away toward a darker, but seemingly less populated area. The darkness, however, was nearly as stifling, and had, if possible, a more oppressive presence than the ruthless mob. Still, she sought a place to try and recuperate from this round of blisters. Finding a boulder in deep shadow, she slumped to its base. She found blowing on the burns to be ineffectual, since there was nothing remotely cool about her breath. Feeling more intense pain on her foot, she realized that something was crawling on it. Flicking it away, she paced toward an area where flames gave a semblance of light--more smoky and malodorous, but also, apparently, less favored by creepy crawlers.

From behind, that chilling voice spoke once more. "There'rrre sssomeones you ssshould come and greet. Tanya and Sylvia havvve arrivvved."

"Nooo! Not both of them, and together!" Again she followed.

"Yesss, togethether. I arranged a niccce little accident for them on the way to sssee Rachel'sss daughter in the Passssion drama. That had the potential to be mossst dangerousss."

"And Sylvia's boys?"

"Too young for me to have, ssso I mussst be sssatisssfied with their mothersss."

"Yes!" Mildred's moment of exultation was swiftly followed by a howl of agony as the scaled tail whipped across her blistered legs.

"Tanya, Sylvia--I am so sorry. This is not a family reunion I ever wanted, though if there is any thankfulness remaining in me, I am grateful that Rachel, her family, and the boys are missing it.

Sylvia and Tanya turned, and walked away.

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This article has been read 831 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 06/12/08
Wow--this is crazy creative, and so very, very well-written that I almost started to sweat while I read. I'd never, ever attempt something like this--simply amazing, and should be widely distributed, somehow.
Benjamin Graber06/13/08
Oh, wow... This is really powerful! The images are fantastic - this one, especially, makes you think: "There was, after all, no longer any point in being good. There never had been, actually, at least not for the purposes of tipping some phantom cosmic scale of justice in her favor."
Great job! I don't have any constructive criticism, because I think this is very well done, but I appreciate your openness...
LauraLee Shaw06/15/08
I seriously had to use a kleenex to wipe my face. This was beyond moving, it was a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Your ending was absolutely perfect. Masterful.
Lyn Churchyard06/16/08
Creepy and terrifying would be two good words to describe this. Amazingly well written. The sense of hopelessness and 'lostness' oozes from the very words.
Joanne Sher 06/16/08
OH wow - this was so real and frightening. I hope MANY read this! Astoundingly powerful. I'm still trembling.
Chely Roach06/16/08
So disturbing. What a glispse at something we NEVER want our loved ones to see. Superbly written...wow.
Debbie Wistrom06/16/08
Holly,if this doesn't take first place I will be shocked.

Wow, girl, you hit the creative button hard this time. I absolutley loved this take on topic.

You inspire me, but you know that already.
Colin Swann06/17/08
Great job. Thanks for sharing!
Colin Swann06/17/08
Well done! Nice job! Thanks
Sara Harricharan 06/18/08
WOW! This is amazing, girl! Wonderful stuff-and very creative! I could feel the head and everything, wow! The opening descriptions were my favorite, made me feel like I was really 'there'. Very well done! ^_^
Deborah Engle 06/18/08
Oh, my goodness!
Joshua Janoski06/18/08
I have never seen an author bring Hell to life with such vivid and frightening realism. You had me gripped the entire time. This needs to be distributed, because it is an awesome witnessing tool.

I really hope you place high this week, because this was such a powerful and well-written entry. It's going on my favorites list.
Catrina Bradley 06/18/08
Oh....my... You've conjured some frighteningly real images. Is there a thing as descriptions being too vivid? What an imagination! Ssssuper job - I'll be surprised (and dissssappointed) if this doesn't place.
Beth Muehlhausen07/30/08
Gripping, disturbing, convicting...not sure I can pick just one "best" adjective! A creative take on the topic, and well-told with such involving emotional imagery.