Sunday, December 30, 2012

Writer's Digest Contest #47

Write a short story of 750 words or less based on this prompt:  A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.

The 5.1 seismic tremor clapped him awake with a cold sweat. Instinctively, Stanley, a volcanologist, just knew.
He also knew the risks of lingering long enough to confirm what he could feel in his bones. He knew this wasn't a dream, and that maybe, if he kept it together, it wouldn't turn into a nightmare. Move! screamed through his brain. He grabbed his coat and the hand held radio Wes had given him when he started working with his fellow volcanologist, and best friend, in the Cascade Mountain Range. Then he heard it, Wes's voice yelling through the radio he had just picked up. "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" Wes was manning the Coldwater l observation station closest to the crater on the dome of the volcano. North Side.
Stanley launched out the door of the cynic with footprints that were already there. It half registered. Footprints already there! Who's? A man's. The footprints were about his boot size, and saved him from being lugged down by soft uncut snow. "Wes!", he was screaming into the radio when an extra breath allowed it; his feet nearly ran out from under him driven by epinephrine; a fear of death. If he could reach the highway he had a chance. The terror of a juggernaut lahar avalanche catching him accelerated his flight. The quiet was deafening; no sound caused by the motion and temperature of the air. The “quiet zone” Wes had told him about. Stanley felt as though he were in a black and white silent movie, but in slow motion.
Then there was a catastrophic explosion; the lateral blast that Wes had predicted and reported to the USGS (United States Geological Surveyors) who were monitoring Mt. St. Helen's. They didn't take Wes seriously because he didn't work for the USGS, so they blew him off. He was just a university know it all to them. They should've listened.
Visibility was almost nil for the plume of ashy smoke and projectiles. The puke smell of sulfur gases choked any ability to breath normally. He saw car lights approaching through the smut filled air. A USGS truck. It was David from the Johnston Ridge observation post. He leapt into the bed of the truck as David slowed for him, and knew now that he had reached HWY 504. Frozen from running through the snow, emotionally frozen by the realization Wes wasn't going to come down that mountain.
David stopped the truck long enough for Stanley to jump around and get in the cab out of the ash smoke, and scoria. "Dave, did you see a guy coming down right ahead of me?"
"I barely saw the road, just thinking about all those people." David broke down , crying like a scared little boy. "All blown to hell. And Wes!"
"I know." Struggling to stay in control, a lump in his throat. "There were these footprints leading from my place. I followed them down."
Dave hugged the road, hands firm on the wheel bawling like a baby. Stanley watched the road and started calculating possibilities; tried to mentally track down where his other friends were. Dave and I survived the pyroclastic surge front from the initial blast. But who else did?
Get to Castle Rock.” Dave nodded yes through sobs.
Stacy, Gus? Not much chance they made it, but it's possible. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of Wes. It sounded like the truck was getting stoned to death, and the road was disappearing in ash and debris. None of this was good. It had become a full blown nightmare now.
They pulled into Castle Rock where a makeshift search and rescue camp had been set up. The buzz humming through the crowd was that the mountain's north flank where Wes would have been was simply gone. Stanley felt numbed by the reality of what was happening; what must have happened to Wes, his friend and college, and the others.
Then, through the crowd and confusion, he saw a man that had been camped above him the night before, wrapped in a blanket, being cared for by a lady paramedic. Crying worst than David. Stanley exhaled an inaudible,"You saved my life dude."
He looked at Dave sitting there in the truck near atrophied by the terror of what was happening. “Come on Dave. Can you hold it together? Let's go see if we can help the other ones who made it.”
(741 wds)

Any critics out there?  This is my third draft.  I haven't submitted it yet.  The deadline to submit my entry (you could enter) is January 14th, 2013.  That's either next year, or you could say in 15 days.  I would LOVE a comment or two.

1 comment:

Zane Varnum said...

I loved this story! So exciting from the very start! I wish the word count was longer so I could keep reading about Stanley's adventures. Great writing!