Here's my award-winning short story from this year's competition. Although they didn't have a state-wide one this year, I still won the county competition. It's the second year running, and if you haven't, you should read my first win to see how much I've improved. I hope you enjoy it.
A Fork in the Road
By Josh Y.
Shadows grew long as the day grew darker. The streets were desolate; less people followed them through the labyrinth that was the underbelly of the city. Among the few, a steelworker trudged through the mounds of snow briskly. A trench coat embraced his body with protection from the biting cold. From under the rim of his bowler hat he scanned the darkness for movement. It was not unlikely for vagabonds to be active as the sun went down.
At the corner of the street was a grim, unkempt building two stories high. Some windows were broken; others had dusty blinds pulled over them. Halting at the maroon door, the steelworker reached into one of his pockets to reveal a rustic key ring. Fumbling with his hands numbed by the cold, he slid a key into the lock and turned it. The man pressed against the door and it came open with a groan.
The steelworker, Servir, skulked across the musky-smelling hall. His boots rasped against the floorboards and up the steep staircase. In silence, he fastened another key in the lock of one of the doors and wrestled it open. As he closed the door behind him, Servir flipped the light switch on. He was standing in a small kitchen area, and across the far counter was a bedroom. A younger man sat staring at him in the wooden chair beside the window.
"Affacio? What are you doing in my room?" Servir probed. He came to stand beside the low bed as he gazed down at his friend.
"I need some help," Affacio explained. "You know I've been working earlier hours at the newspaper stand, right?"
Servir nodded, despite the puzzled look on his face.
"Well, I've began to notice something. The workers at the factory across the road come outside at dawn and act strangely as the sun rises. There are many of them, young and old, and each watches the sky with a strong desire."
Servir was obviously mystified by this. "What are you getting at, my friend?" he questioned.
"Servir, you must understand. I've never seen these workers leave the factory. Every time they come outside, men with guns keep an eye on them. I think they are being held against their will."
The steelworker was nothing less than confounded. Taking a seat on the bed, he waited for Affacio to continue.
"Servir, we have to help them. These people are slaves to the men with guns, I'm sure of it. I thought you might acquire some steel tools for us to use as weapons."
Servir was immediately taken aback. "Assault the factory? What is wrong with you, Affacio?" Rising from the bed, he stormed into the kitchen. "Assault the factory. You are crazy," he said, pointing a spoon at the young man.
Affacio ran his fingers through his long red hair as he pondered his next plead.
"You don't know these people. Hell, you don't even know how many men have guns," Servir exclaimed, setting a kettle on the ancient stove. "Have you even tried to give this thought?"
The younger man opened his mouth to reply, but Servir swiftly raised a hand to silence him. Affacio looked ashamed, and Servir stared at the slumping form.
Servir spoke again, in hushed tones. "Suppose ... suppose you save these people, set them free. What happens after that?" The man stepped toward his friend one heavy boot at a time. Affacio looked up, and their eyes met. One's were filled with determination, the other's disappointment.
"I want to help them. I'm serious about this," Affacio defended. Servir turned away, heading back into the kitchen to check the kettle. "These are human beings. They ought to be free."
Servir shook his head. "You're not thinking of the consequences, my friend. You work across the street; if you attempt anything you can never work at the stand again." There was a strain in the steelworker's voice. "You're putting your life on a limb here. Think, that's all I ask of you. There's a bigger future waiting for you. I know it."
Affacio stood up, a tear coming to his eye as he spoke. "I don't care. This is a great opportunity being bestowed upon us. Greater than you; greater than me." He paused briefly before continuing. "I know we- every person has the potential to be the utmost of what they can be. This is our chance to better the world, and ourselves. I'm taking it."
The younger man stomped towards the door with a passion. Servir was paralyzed; he simply stared as the door swung open and just as quickly shut closed. The sudden screech of the kettle on the stove seemed distant while the image of Affacio replayed in his mind.
The subtle light of dawn tugged at the shadows that slid across the bare floor towards the corners of the room. The light leapt from surface to surface, wall to wall, and gradually did away with the remnants of the night. Servir felt the light playing on his resting eyelids and they opened suddenly. Holding a hand to the window where the light reached through the blinds, he noticed the wooden chair with no occupant.
Servir sat up and glanced at the other side of the room, by the kitchen. When he saw the door, the image of his friend sprang up like a camera flash. He stumbled out of bed and hurried to the spot where his trench coat hung. Pulling it over the clothes he had never gotten around to taking off that night, Servir left his apartment.
Adjacent to his door was another identical one, where he knew Affacio lived. His knuckles rapped against it precisely, and he called out as he did so. "Affacio! My friend, have you left for work yet?"
Silence was the answer that came from the other side, but Servir expected that. He would apologize to his friend at the newsstand.
With a newfound pace, the steelworker was out in the cold quicker than he ever was. He did not trace his steps from the last afternoon, but instead jogged in the opposite direction. The remaining snow and slush sloshed under his boots.
He turned the corner and found himself on a long street full of people hurrying one way or another. Falling in step with the crowds, Servir was well on his way to finding his friend. He was anxious and restless to see him, for he didn't want that image of his apartment door slamming to be the last.
Servir took another turn down a much quieter street with wide buildings on each side. He spotted the newsstand's bright blue walls against the grey backdrop of a factory. The steelworker broke into a sprint, panting and sweating as he neared the sky-colored walls.
He was yards away from it when he heard gunshot. Servir spun to catch sight of what had happened, which came from his right. A crowd of pale-skinned, rag-draped men, women, and children huddled around something. A man in a dark helmet and vest parted the crowd with the butt of his rifle. Servir could see a mangled looking body lying facedown in the snow, covered in blood.
Servir stepped across the street and approached the crowd. No one paid attention to him, except the gunman. The man was crouching, but turned and rose, holding his rifle up like a barrier.
"Nothing to see here, sir. You all can be on your way," he encouraged.
The steelworker glanced over his shoulder at the body. A hat had rolled off the head, revealing long, red hair.
"Sir, I'm gonna ask you to leave," the gunman forced. He pressured the taller man with his rifle, pushing it against him.
The steelworker looked at the corpse again, finding the bullet hole in the middle of the back. The scarlet liquid poured out on the snow. He felt numb as he stared down, blankly. Sound melted away for a moment, and all he could here was a heartbeat.
The steelworker looked up. He gritted his teeth. He balled his fists.
The steelworker's fist collided with the gunman's jaw in a satisfying crunch. The man's eyes rolled back, and he flew into the snow.
Servir stared from the crumpled form, to Affacio's body, to the wide-eyed crowd. Their faces could not be read, but each had a disheartened stare. Servir had to look away, and he looked up at the looming factory, its huge dark windows like great voids. He couldn't see himself, but he did not have to.
Servir knew who he was. He was a man without purpose; a man without life. Real life was unorthodox, and eradicated like a pest. Left was he, the indifferent one.
"No more," he declared. "For what the future holds, I can see clearly."