A huge thank you to all who took the time to enter the 2023 Solano County Library Teen Writing Contest!
We were honored to read your work, and encourage each of you to continue writing.
Please enjoy the winning entry below!
SHORT STORY WINNER
Hunted by Nathan Jar
Just as she began to drift off, a loud, booming roar startled Marcie awake. Immediately jumping from her chair, she tumbled over and dropped head first onto the musty floor of the convenience store.
“Oy, what in the…” she mumbled as she brought herself to her feet. “What in the world made that sound?”
Peering out the window, Marcie looked out for any sort of animal or car. But only the dark streets laid out in front of her. The bulb she’d installed outside flickered, barely illuminating the front of the gas station. The only other light outside came from the bright shining moon atop the sky, among the vast view of shiny stars that twinkled from above. She turned and sat back down in her seat, endlessly waiting for someone to come in. Marcie yawned, tired and sleepless. She desperately waited for the hour to end, when she knew her shift was over and she could finally go home. Staring at the clock, the time read 6:34 PM. Each second the clock ticked, Marcie could begin to feel the boredom fill her again.
A sudden rustling from the back of the gas station brought her back to reality. Perhaps it was some racoon or stray cat. She peered out the window again. The bulb was now dead, leaving only the shadows of the night to be seen. Deciding to go fix the light, Marcie reached under her desk and retrieved a new light bulb. She walked to the front door and exited the convenience store. The warm cozy feeling from the inside was contrasted with the sharp, cold winds of the outside. She wrapped her arms around herself and chattered her teeth. The sound of the animal scurrying around the dumpster was even louder now, though Marcie intended to ignore it. She didn’t want to have to deal with an angry badger. She stretched up to the dead bulb, and began to unscrew it from its socket.
As she did, she couldn’t help but feel an eerie sense, as if something was watching her. She didn’t know what it was, whether it was the isolation her town suffered from being deep in the forest, or if the cold bleak night had gotten to her head. Marcie hurried to screw the new one in. It lit up, brightening the outside just a little more. She stumbled back inside, still holding the dead light bulb in her hand.
It was then that she realized that the animal in the dumpster had stopped making a ruckus. The lack of sound was suddenly loud. The animal must’ve left. Looking through the window, Marcie stared out at the now brightened streets, noticing something strange. Illuminated by the light was the shadow of a large figure, just around the edge of the corner. Before Marcie could process anything, a large black scraggly arm swooped down and slashed the light, leaving the outside in darkness once more.
Marcie gasped, ducking down and hiding behind the counter. An ominous shadow swept across her face. She watched as the silhouette of what appeared to be a very tall, crooked figure flew from one end of the window to the other. Listening closely, she could hear a small cooing coming from whatever was outside. It was some large creature, possibly a bear. She peeked her eyes above the counter and looked around. The creature nudged at the glass door, slowly opening it. Marcie ducked down again, trying to control her labored breathing. She could hear the animal enter, its footsteps echoing in the room. With each step, it made a very distinctive crunchy, twisty noise. Like a fragile piece of squeaky wood. The creature continued walking around the room.
From the top corner of the store, Marcie looked at the circle mirror. She could see herself cowering, just a few feet away from a gigantic, imposing monster. This was no animal she’d ever seen before. Its body was skeletal yet muscular at the same time. It had skin made of a dark black bark, just like a tree. The monster was also covered in spiky thorns. She watched as the creature lurked around, sniffing into the air and searching. It began to walk the aisles, now out of view of the mirror and Marcie’s eyesight. She crept around the counter and scoured the store, trying to find where it went. For a moment, Marcie considered booking it to the door and fleeing while she had the chance, when suddenly she could hear the creature begin to growl. Looking back at the mirror, she could see the monster in view again, but this time it was looking right back at her through the reflection.
The monster extended an arm that looked almost like a branch, grabbing an entire shelf and flinging it above Marcie. The shelf hit the wall above her, and Marcie covered her head as it fell from above, about to crash on her. But the impact was stopped by the counter, keeping Marcie hidden under the shelf. The creature roared intensely, before resuming to silence. Marcie held her mouth shut, rolling into a ball beneath the toppled over shelf. She could hear the swift movements of the creature. It turned the corner of the counter, only its legs being visible. Roots protruded from its legs that twisted and squeaked with each step. Marcie attempted to scoot away. She had to be careful, any sound would alert this violent creature. She wondered if it’d seen her in the reflection of the mirror, if it knew she was there and was merely taking its time.
As the monster took another step closer, it made a harsh hissing sound, before leaping up and presumably landing on the counter. Now the creature was right above Marcie, and kept from her vision. She waited in anticipation, again having to rely on only her sense of hearing. She could hear it sniffing in the air, before letting out a small snarl. Before she could even realize it, a large claw flung the shelf to the side, leaving Marcie completely out in the open. She screamed, staring upwards at her attacker. The creature grabbed Marcie by the sweater, and lifted her upwards so that they were both to eye level. She looked into the monster’s beady black eyes, as it stared back into her soul. Its head was very similar to that of a tree stump, the main difference being the elongated, unnatural maw that spread across its face. From its jaw, a sticky gray tongue emerged, licking and slobbering all over her face. She squirmed and kicked, trying to free herself of its grasp. The monster opened its mouth, widening enough to chomp her head right off.
With some quick thinking, Marcie took the dead light bulb and smashed it into the tree’s face. It dropped her, glass stuck in between the grooves of its face. The monster roared upwards, seemingly in pain. Taking the chance, she ran for the door, just barely escaping a slash from the creature. She bolted out of the store and dashed across the street, not looking back. Entering the woods, she realized that the trees looked just like the creature, all made of that grotesque black bark. The deeper she ran, the more she realized her mistake. The night was as dark as it had ever been, and as all the trees suddenly began to move, the last thing she heard was her own scream.