A couple of years back I joined a writing group where the goal was to win a monthly competition. The kicker, for me at least, was the story could only be 750 words long. Some of you reading this might have been part of the same group. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do short. I love the 700 page epics spanning planets and filled with hundreds of characters. Confining my creativity to a page and a half was surprisingly daunting.
I buckled down and followed the monthly prompts. Turns out I wasn’t that bad at it. I don’t think I ever won any of the contests but I came in 2nd or 3rd a few times. Pretty cool being judged by my peers and associates. Those same opinions can be seen in the few hundred reviews my books have gotten so far.
Out of the ashes of this contest was born the tale of Edmund Sorenson in what I call A Matter of Life and Death. Early last year I met a lady with a vision. She was just starting her new magazine and I made a connection. She read my piece and asked “where’s the rest of the story?” Ummmm. A Matter of Life and Death suddenly grew into a full story that reached 10,000 words. For the next few months I have decided to publish the full story here, for all of you. I do hope you enjoy, as this is not my comfort zone. Read on, my friends.
Edmund Sorenson couldn’t stop shivering. For the hundredth time since leaving Santa Fe he found himself wondering what he was doing so close to the Arctic Circle. Numaykoos Lake Provincial Park provided a winter wonderland he’d rather do without, despite the pristine scenery. A big game hunter, Edmund knew there wasn’t much of anything to hunt this deep into Manitoba.
But he wasn’t hunting big game this time. Hired by the elusive philanthropist, Haysbert Rolstein, Edmund had specific instructions to bring back the rare Arctic lotus plant. Rolstein briefly explained he needed the plant for something called the Regeneration Wheel, an old device from biblical times. When Edmund asked why he was brushed off. His questions and doubts were dissolved by the amount of zeroes at the end of his check. He’d never been paid so much for so little, though quiet doubts lingered in the corners of his mind. What could possibly be up here that required a professional hunter?
His snow shoes crunched across the inches thick layer of hardened snow, barely leaving any signs of his passing. He’d been in bad areas before, but nothing so desolate. Alone, he knew if anything happened he’d never been seen again. The thought disturbed him, though not as much as he imagined at first. Edmund trudged on across the endless expanse of untouched wilderness.
Thick stands of pines blocked much of the wind and offered him a place to settle in for the night. Edmund quickly established a small camp site and was warming his frozen hands and feet over the small fire in minutes. The sun was already setting, an event that happened far too early up here, and he was exhausted. The cold had sapped much of his strength, leaving him sore and fatigued. He hated the cold.
Winds howled across the park, reminding him of horrible images from past nightmares. Darkness dropped and steadily crept his way. Yawning, Edmund pulled the thin yellow envelope out of his pack and broke the seal. He’d been given explicit instructions not to open until reaching his destination. He gave his surroundings a quick look. Seems like a good a place as any. Red, tired eyes scanned the pages. Most of what he read was nonsense. He wasn’t a doctor or scientist.
Several things popped out. There was plenty of mention of the lotus; what it looked like, where it could be found, etc. He already knew all that. He paused to glance at the small pack already holding one of the precious lotus plants. Not that much to look at it really, but a job is a job. He continued reading. He paused again when he read the warnings about the plant being guarded by the wendigo and laughed. Children’s rubbish. There is no such beast. Edmund repacked the papers and drifted off.
He awoke to the nightmarish sound of a tree crashing to the ground nearby. Edmund instinctively reached for his rifle and scanned the perimeter. His heart quickened. His mouth dried suddenly. Another loud crash. Another tree. Edmund was confused. There weren’t any natural predators this far north capable of knocking large trees over. Footsteps carried on the winds; heavy and oppressive. His finger curled around the trigger.
A scream shattered the moment. He winced. Pain lanced through his flesh in ways he’d never experienced. Another scream, followed by an answer from far away. Edmund wiped the half frozen tears from his eyes and stared hard into the darkness. Something moved. Massive. Angry. He clicked the safety off. A great figure darted from tree to tree, always in the shadows. Edmund smelled rotted meat and an overpowering musk.
He aimed but the beast was too fast. He fired anyway, the round striking the nearest tree. The beast roared and charged. Edmund barely caught the flash of pale white fur as the beast collided with him. He managed to clutch the lotus before darkness took him.
Rolstein met Edmund at the baggage area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The old man waved off his attendant and greedily said, “Did you get it? Were you successful?”
Taken off guard, Edmund jerked back. “Yeah, I found it. You didn’t tell me it was guarded.”
Rolstein frowned. “Of course I did. You read the packet I presume? Why else did you think I sent the likes of you?”
Shaking his head, Edmund tossed the pack containing the lotus plant into Rolstein’s lap and walked away.