Something I’m not very good at is giving myself a deadline. If I have a timetable setup, I’ll get the job done. I can get pretty clutch when the minutes are ticking down. But left to myself, it doesn’t always work out. I’ve heard a speaker say he began to schedule time in his calendar to go to Starbucks, or lock himself in a room to make time to write. I’m working on giving myself hard deadlines to finish projects and get some rough drafts written. One such project was a 24-hour writing contest I entered.
This was quite the challenge for me. I know I can produce a short story in a few hours of concentrated work, but life and kids and conflicting schedules tend to stack on the pressure of a deadline. What the contest sponsor does, is send you the prompt and word limit at 12:00 pm Central on a Saturday, and to qualify, they must have your story by noon the next day.
I’m going post my story here, the contest sponsor doesn’t hold any publication rights for the story. If you’re interested in checking out this contest in the future, head over to writersweekly.com/ and challenge yourself!
I do not have the prompt anymore, but the word count was 950 words. Without further hub-bub, here is my short story In Time for a Birthday.
Esther slumped down in defeat. She thought it was going to be today. She crumpled up the piece of paper she’d read a thousand times, and tossed it in the yard. She didn’t hold back her tears anymore. She didn’t feel strong, she knew it was all pointless. She took one last glance down the dirt road to her Uncle’s farmhouse. Another birthday. Another disappointment.
Standing to her feet, Esther walked down the porch steps and grabbed the crumpled paper. She opened it and read it one last time: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY DEAR ESTHER. WE’VE ARRANGED TO HAVE YOUR BIRTHDAY PRESENT DELIVERED. WE LOVE YOU. MOM AND DAD. Esther tore the note to pieces and let them float off on a breeze. It was her eighteenth birthday, and now she knew the note had been wrong. No one loved her.
The note had been given to her on her ninth birthday. The man who gave it to her was a policeman, he had recovered the note on the night her parents had disappeared. Her parents were both brilliant scientists, working on a top-secret project for President Roosevelt. Esther had received a medal from him, expressing how important their work had been.
Their lab had exploded that night, leveling a city block. Esther had been sent to a small town in Kansas where her Uncle had a farm. To pay for her cost of living, her Uncle had sold most of her belongings and anything she received that had been her parents. That note was the last thing Esther had. Esther slumped back on the steps and watched the pieces of her parent’s last note blow away. The wind brought a scent of lilacs. Her mother loved lilacs.
It was then that she heard the truck.
Lifting her head, she spotted a trail of dust coming down the road. Esther watched as the elderly man stepped out smiled at her and began searching through his truck for deliveries. He handed her a small stack of envelopes and started getting back the truck. “Ah, one more thing,” he said and produced a large box, covered with brown paper.
Esther could hardly contain herself. She looked at the package and the only writing said: ESTHER MILLER. DELIVER ON 6/14/1939. Her eighteenth birthday. She hurriedly thanked the mailman, and rushed back to the porch. Esther dropped the letters for her Uncle by the door, and quietly rushed to the old barn on the far side of the yard. Once inside, she set the box down, and dropping to her knees she opened her treasure. Tearing open the paper revealed a strange machine inside. No notes, no letters, no birthday wishes. She pulled out the large contraption and began to look it over.
It had a rectangular base made of a dull metal and wires connecting the various pieces together. One side had a series of buttons and a red switch. The other side held a glass sphere and was covered in more wires. There were blue wires, and red wires and a couple of tubes that looked like fancy light bulbs. Esther had no idea what it was that she was looking at.
She decided to pick a button at random and press it. Nothing happened. As she rested her finger on the red switch to press it, she heard her Uncle calling out. She hurried over to the door; peeking out. She noticed three black cars in the driveway and several men in suits around her Uncle, who was pointing at her barn. In unison the suited men looked directly at her. Esther shrieked and slammed the door tight. Running back to the machine, tears began to well in her eyes. She didn’t know who these men were, but they wouldn’t take her birthday present.
Esther began pushing buttons at random again, and remembered the red switch. A heavy knock sounded on the door. She flipped the switch. The machine came alive! The sphere began to spin. It threw bright blue lights all over the barn and began to make a loud whirring as if it was winding up for something. Shouting at the door pulled her attention and she cried out in fear, unsure of what was happening. That’s when she heard a familiar voice.
“Esther, dear? Is that you! Happy birthday, darling!” It was her mother’s voice coming from the sphere with the blue lights. “I know you must be scared! I can’t see you right now, but if you listen carefully, ”
Esther’s tears erupted as she knelt down by the device! “Mother! Can you hear me! How are you doing this? What is this thing! Who are those men outside?”
Her father’s voice answered, “Esther dear, you need to enter the date 6/14/3039 on the machine. Once you press those buttons, flip that red switch back. If you can do that, Esther, we can answer all of your questions in person!”
Esther wiped the tears from her cheeks and began to enter the numbers: 6-1-4-3-0-3, as she pressed the number nine the door barn door burst inward and dozens of men in black suits rushed in. With a scream Esther flipped the switch and a bright blue light filled the barn. When the light faded, Esther was sitting in a green field, with lilac bushes all around.
Esther shielded her eyes, and as they adjusted to the light, two figures stood before her; a tall man in a tan suit, and woman in a grey dress. The man reached out his hand and helped her up.
“Happy birthday, Esther,” the man said. “We’ve waited so long to bring you here. Let’s make up for those birthdays we’ve missed.”
If you liked the story, please leave me a comment! Obviously, don’t copy this and claim it as your own. By submitting it to the contest, I hold the publication rights to this story!