Milwaukee Winters

Four times a year, I sign up for a 24-Hour Short Story Contest. It’s as crazy and silly as it sounds. But it only costs $5 for the contest. Those of us trying to break through the author ceiling know that $5 for a writing contest is NOTHING.

I submitted my 24 Hour Short Story Contest entry just now, a whole 9 hours after the contest opened. A new record for me. This is either a sign that I’m getting better at writing…or it could mean I’m getting more efficient at my shitty writing. Either way, here is my submission:

Milwaukee Winters   by Rene Mullen

Crossing the Wells Street bridge spanning the Milwaukee River, a sloshing sound caught her attention. She peered through the grated holes at her feet to see a small child flailing their arms to stay above a break in the ice. Her instinct kicked in as her rickety bones push hard against the wind and down to the riverwalk. The whipping snow pelted against her worn face.
At the river’s edge, the woman assessed her surroundings. In either direction, no other soul dared to attempt the frigid winter weather. The river was frozen white and unmoving, except for the black hole where the child screamed ‘Help’ several times before disappearing below the surface.
“Only one year retired,” she thought, “and already my body is too stiff for this line of work.”
Another look up and down the snow covered riverwalk and silent frozen city landscape, she whispered the same quiet prayer she always had before arriving to a call scene. She tore off her heavy coat and sat at the edge where the ice met the snowy walkway. With her heel she kicked the river, checking its strength. It did not budge or crack.
“Poor thing must have found the only soft spot.”
All her training told her never do this sort of thing alone, but with nobody around, her choices were limited. She scooted onto the ice, still in a seated position. Every few feet she kicked the ice again. It groaned under her weight but did little else.
As she drew near, the little boy popped his head out of the break, inhaled with force, screamed, and disappeared again.
“I’m coming, Sweetie,” she reassured the boy, and herself.
At the edge of the black opening, she had no choice but to turn and put most of her weight near the soft spot in the ice. Craning her stiff neck, she saw a hand just below the surface. She reached in. Pain of the frigid water shocked her whole system. Her hand instantly numbed.
The boy’s hand was still in view. She grabbed at it but could not feel if their hands connected. Hoping they had, she pulled.
Her hand came up with another. Then a bluish head, followed by the rest of the boy. The woman scooted backward, dragging the limp but breathing boy away from the lapping black water. Her free hand clawed at the ice for what grip she could muster. The ice below them snapped and popped under the pressure of their bodies. Cracks jetted away from them in all directions. With what energy she had left, she dragged the boy faster until her clawing hand punched something on her hand’s way to more ice.
“The walkway,” she thought.

They sat at the river’s frozen edge looking out at the black hole from which they had just come. The woman’s coat was wrapped around the shivering boy. Eventually, the boy spoke.
“Thanks,” he stuttered.
“What’s your name,” she asked, not wanting to draw attention to her selfless act.
“Scottie.”
She paused, frozen by his single word response. Opening her mouth several times to speak, she finally said, “Well, why don’t I take you home now, Scottie?” Turning to face the boy, only her coat lay beside her. Looking down the river, she watched the boy disappear around a bend in the riverwalk.
“Just like old times,” she muttered, “Always in need. Never stick around to talk.”

The waning sun peeked between two buildings at the far end of Wells Street pulling the woman from her empty thoughts. She closed her eyes and let the direct sunlight warm her cheeks. Slowly she stood, put her coat back on, and looked back at the black hole in the otherwise iced-over white river. Remembering the original reason for her journey into the snow, she made her way off the riverwalk and to the coffee shop two block east.

“Welcome to Java Point,” chimed in the barista, “How can I help you?”
“Just a small coffee, please. Nothing fancy. Just coffee. A little sugar. No cream, please.”
“Two ten, ma’am.”
The woman reached for her purse, but it was not there. She looked to the barista nervously.
“My purse. It’s gone.”
“Two ten, ma’am.”
“But…”
“Mom!”
The woman turned to the door to see a well-dressed, handsome man with rosy cheeks and a shimmer of something under his right eye.
“There you are, Mom. I’ve been looking all over…I’m sorry, miss. She’s just, well, I’m sorry.”
“Patrick? Oh, good. I’ve lost my purse.”
“Come on, Momma. Lets get you home.”

The sun had disappeared giving the white snow an amber hue. Their feet crunched in the freshly fallen snow.
“Patrick,” she said, “There was a boy down there,” as she pointed at the frozen river below.
“Oh yeah, Momma?”
“He was drowning. I saved him. His name was Scottie.”
“Momma,” he said as he put his arm around his mother to keep her warm, “Scottie’s dead. Has been for twenty-seven years.”
“It’s his birthday today, you know.”
“I know, Momma. I know.”

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