Here’s a revised version of a 1000-word short story I wrote a few years ago. It was for a competition and had to include a key sentence that I never warmed to. That line is gone. I hope you like the story that remains.
He leaned over her silently and carefully gathered her into his arms. She wheezed as she slept and the movements of her face betrayed her distress though whether that was from being plucked from the warmth of her bed or from the pain he wasn’t sure. He was satisfied that the sleeping pill he’d given her earlier would keep her under but he stepped with extra caution nonetheless as he couldn’t risk waking her mother in the adjacent bedroom. He wore thick socks and a heavy cotton tracksuit. For an added layer of protection he had on his black fleece and a woollen hat. He’d put blankets in the car already and his boots were waiting for him just outside the back door. He shushed the dog as he tip-toed through the kitchen, just about managing to hand him a placatory treat before he stood out into the brisk night air.
Once he’d lowered her gently onto the back seat and placed the blankets over her he slipped the car into neutral and rolled it out the drive not daring to look behind for a sudden light that might signal his discovery. He started the engine and thanked God he’d had the exhaust fixed as he eased out of the estate and headed in the direction of the city. He put the heat on for her sake and was soon sweating beneath his clothes which he knew was as much down to nerves as it was to the fuel-tinged heater that normally disarmed his ability to concentrate when he drove at night. He went to turn on the radio but checked himself before his finger touched the button as he decided his resolve would hold faster without the distraction of an anodyne suicide-shift deejay. His eyes startled him slightly as he adjusted the rear view mirror to see her better. They were the eyes of someone haunted, paranoid and utterly ill-at-ease with what lay just up the road. He was stepping wilfully into an uncertain future even though the tightening feeling in his gut warned of the dire consequences. As another wave of neon street light passed through the car he focussed on her again and partially reassured, partially horrified, cast his gaze back to the road. His mouth suddenly popped open in silent panic as a sickening fear seized him. He almost jammed on the brakes but then switched his foot back to the right pedal and proceeded to drive on as his brain re-established itself. A controlled sigh of relief accompanied his right hand as it stretched awkwardly down the side of his seat where he was just about able to fingertip the envelope underneath. He cursed himself and his cowardice and struggled for an exhortation to keep his nerve. Her cough snapped him out of his self-remonstration and he looked quickly in both the mirror and over his shoulder to make sure she wasn’t coming to. She appeared to settle herself. He drove on.
As the park loomed into view he slowed down and pulled over to do his last checks. He undid his seat belt and retrieved the envelope which he then placed in the breast pocket of his fleece. He reached back with his left hand and touched her forehead. She felt warm and if it wasn’t for the erratic nature of her breathing she would have seemed absolutely perfect in every regard. He turned back and readied himself for what was coming. An awful nausea threatened to overwhelm him as he glanced through the windscreen and saw the eerie silhouette of the woods on top of the hill. He blessed himself and it was all he could do just to pull out and take the car the further few hundred metres down the road to the agreed spot. He parked on the opposite side of the road beside a dilapidated section of the wall that was directly beneath the hill. He opened the door of the car and stumbled slightly as his legs struggled to take his weight. He leaned first his hand and then his head on the roof, pulling his hat up high on his head so he could feel the coolness of the metal against his pulsating brow. He clenched and released his toes inside his boots in an attempt to stimulate the strength for the ascent. He leaned into the back and picked her up and took a moment to squeeze her tight and whisper to her with an earnest desperation. He locked up the car quietly and crossed tentatively over the old stones into the darker blackness of the park.
He tried not to think about who he was there to meet. Just bringing him to mind filled him with dread. He was the sort of man who made you think that everything peaceful and benign in the world was an illusion; that human folly had soured the earth to its core. A person who made you fearful to look away yet whose black eyes stared into your soul.
And then he was there.
A small, neat man in a tidy suit, he spoke quietly and deliberately.
“Do you have it?”
Still holding her, he reached into his pocket and produced the envelope. The man thumbed through the contents and grunted his approval. He beckoned him forwards with a withered hand.
“Show her to me.”
He placed the young girl on the floor of the woods. As he stepped back the man stepped in. He kneeled beside her and with great precision of movement began to place his hands above her body while chanting almost inaudibly. His hands started at her belly and inched slowly apart until one was at her head and the other at her feet. He then picked her up and smiling handed her back before turning and melting into the shadows.
As he carefully descended the hill her eyes blinked open.
“Dad, where are we?”
“It’s alright love, go back to sleep. We’re going home.”