December 2012

“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” -Yousuf Karsh

In exactly 500 words, what is happening here?

Michael Lejeune says:

The cold wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d worn the fleece under her coat. But he said she wouldn’t need it, and she believed him. Always did. She never thought he would deceive her, never imagined he’d lead her into danger.

Perhaps I should have.

The walk to the estate had been too long. Her legs were frozen under her new jeans. Still she kept them pumping, kept prodding her feet into the snow, no longer feeling it crunch beneath her but hearing it still.

The cold stabbed her lungs. She’d brought her scarf, but it kept falling down when she turned to look back, hoping to catch a private glance without the squinting glare of the garbage bag man fixing on her.

The hike was long. Over and over she recalled the conversation with her love. “You won’t believe it,” he’d said. “It’s the biggest you’ve ever seen.” It had seemed so comical. How had it become so frightening?

He hadn’t said a word since the garbage bag man joined them at the forest edge. She asked who he was, and he claimed to be their guide. And when she looked to her love in confusion, he just stared at his feet.

Well, he’d been right about the bowl. It was the biggest she’d ever seen. But frozen over as it was, there was no way to know what it contained.

Soup, he’d said. The biggest bowl of soup she’d ever seen.

Damn it, I thought you were taking me here to ask me to marry you. To show me some beautiful plot of land, and a cabin in the woods, give me a hot bowl of chicken noodle and say, ‘Baby, all this is ours’.

But there was no cabin. And the giant bowl of soup was looking more and more like a pretext for something else.

Something she didn’t like.

“Honey,” she said, turning to face him. “What are we doing here?” The smile was forced, the tone in her voice subtly but clearly different. He would notice. He had to.

A moment passed, the tiny ice crystals sparkling in the breezeless winter chill. It was the garbage bag man who replied.

“You’re here for the soup, sweetskins.” His voice was a cackle caught in a trash compactor. “Why don’t you give it a toe or two and see if it’s marvelous?”

She didn’t look at the old fiend. She held her gaze at the man she loved. The man she’d imagined taking a ring from this morning, deep in the tranquil forest. The one who grinned and made up a flimsy story about a giant bowl of soup to get her all the way out here. She would stare at him until he looked back.

But instead he turned, and began walking back the way they’d come. She stood stone still, and watched his figure vanish into the trees behind the garbage bag man, whose smile spread and spread.

And soon there was nothing else.


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