Well, everyone, I participated (and survived) yet another round of an NYC Midnight (NYCM) writing contest. If you’d like a behind-the-scenes look at what I went through to produce the story below, click here. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy my first round entry, La Jolla.
As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:
Thanks in advance for reading, and thanks for any feedback you might have.
By Jenna Willett
Brief Synopsis: A catastrophic disaster strikes during a train tour through La Jolla Cove. Cole must save himself and his brother from the deep blue.
“Welcome to Windansea’s Nature Tours, sponsored by Scripps Institute of Oceanography. My name’s Cole and I’m pleased you’ve joined us on California’s newest and most unique attraction.” He flashed his kilowatt smile at the tourists. One of them, a woman sporting a hot pink fanny pack, snapped a photo of him.
It wasn’t the first time.
Cole gestured to the foggy landscape swaying past their single-car, electric powered train. Palm trees on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other. “Thanks to Scripps Institute’s eco-friendly, state-of-the-art rail system—all constructed upon suspended bridges and stone outcroppings—we now have a way to experience the seven underwater caves of La Jolla. And thanks to the low tides today, we’ll be able to enter…”
As he regurgitated the memorized spiel, Cole glanced at the back row. His nine-year old brother, Finn, smirked at him and mimed taking a photo. Cole squeezed his fists. He regretted agreeing to babysit.
Ignoring his brother’s ongoing mockery of the other passengers—an old man blowing his nose; yet another middle-aged woman snapping a photo—he continued with his rehearsed speech. “La Jolla Cove is best known for its kayaking and snorkeling…” A cute blonde in a Cal Poly t-shirt caught his eye. He stumbled over his words and grinned at her. Finn made a gagging noise.
Smothering the urge to boot him off the train, Cole refocused on his captive audience. “As we enter the first cave and begin winding our way—”
The train’s lights flickered.
Off. On. Off.
A blanket of murky darkness descended and a distant rumble overtook the train’s gentle hum. It shivered along the tracks and quivered up the wheels. Everyone went quiet and still, even Finn.
“What’s happening?” Fanny Pack placed a hand against the vibrating window.
Cole couldn’t find the breath to gasp the single, horrific word.
His gaze flew to Finn’s. His brother half stood, as if to run to him.
“Sit down and stay buckled!” Cole flung himself towards the back of the train. “Everyone hold on!”
The rumbling grew louder, the vibrations harder. A chilling screech tore through the train, followed by a metallic groan and cracking glass. The train sped over a bridge and lurched sideways. Cole staggered into the old man. He grabbed Cole’s arm. “We’re gonna die!”
Cole pried himself free and struggled on. He had to get to Finn.
The bridge heaved, like a briny belch had blown out of the waters below. Cole’s knees buckled. Cal Poly made a mad grab for him and missed.
“Cole!” Finn’s shrill voice cut through the metallic booms and wails.
The tracks collapsed.
The train plummeted.
Gravity’s force lifted Cole off the ground and smashed him into the ceiling. Purses, cameras, and backpacks whipped past him.
“Grab my hand!”
He looked down.
Finn strained to reach him. Their fingers brushed once, twice—Finn lunged and grabbed his wrist. As he yanked Cole down, the train plunged into the water. The impact tore Cole out of Finn’s white-knuckled grip and catapulted him into the rear window face first. He stared through the spider-webbed cracks spreading across the glass, down into a deep, black chasm.
“Shit.” He rolled over. With the train vertical, everybody, including Finn, hung above him. A symphony of sobbing pleas, splintering glass, and grinding metal deafened his ears. He struggled to his feet and unbuckled Finn. “You okay, buddy?” He lifted him down.
“Good, cause we gotta go.” He struck the damaged window with his elbow.
“Watch out!” Cal Poly peered over the top of her seat with a five-pound dumbbell. He didn’t ask her where or how she’d found it. People packed the weirdest shit. He shoved Finn back.
She dropped it.
The dumbbell struck the center of the window and shattered it. Icy saltwater rushed in. Cal Poly wasted no time leaping from her seat and vanishing through the gaping hole. Cole grabbed Finn and urged him to follow her.
He balked. “Ar—Are there sharks?”
“No,” Cole lied. “We’ll be fine. Just swim as fast as you can.”
“We’ll go together on the count of three. Ready?” Cole held up a hand. “One, two, three.” They inhaled and went under. Keeping a firm grip on Finn, Cole launched them through the window, away from the wreck, and towards the surface. It seemed a million miles away.
With each stroke and kick, Cole’s lungs burned, his legs seized, and his arms weakened. Dark shapes floated around them. Passengers? Debris? Sharks? He refused to look. He didn’t want to know. He clawed his way towards the shimmering daylight streaming through the blue.
Finn went limp.
Cole clenched his jaw and used his last bit of energy to propel them to the surface. Air bubbles billowed from his mouth and nose. Just a few more feet. One more kick, one more stroke. One more—
He burst through the surface and sucked in a sweet, sweet breath. Then another and another.
Finn remained limp.
“No!” Cole spun around in the water. Cal Poly clung to a nearby rock. “Help!” He struggled towards her. “Please—My brother—Help!”
She pushed off the rock and swam to him. Together they dragged Finn over to a rocky shore.
“He’s…not…breathing.” Cole collapsed next to Finn’s motionless body.
Cal Poly thrust her hands against Finn’s chest and began CPR. Cole watched, terrified by Finn’s blue lips and white face. He’d give anything—anything—to see him goofing off and mimicking passengers again.
Suddenly, Finn’s chest jerked, his shoulders heaved, and water shot from his mouth.
Cole closed his eyes and buried his face against his brother’s curly hair. “Oh, thank God.” He looked at Cal Poly. “Thank you.”
As Finn’s coughs and sputters quieted, and the few surviving passengers joined them on the shore, an alarm echoed through the cave’s opening.
“What’s that?” Finn sat up.
Cole couldn’t find the breath to tell him or Cal Poly.
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