Original Works

A Single Coal [12 Genre Months]

The world was different where I came from. At the rise of the blazing sun—the start of a broken record—the people awoke in preparation of night. They donned their wide-brimmed hats, clicked their cowhide leather boots, and locked their loaded revolvers in well-worn holsters from quotidian gun-slinging. Because unlike the cliches of the wild wild west, of which most of my dusty town proved true, there was something that made this world different—something we all fought that redefined how we lived our lives.

In the neighbouring cowboy towns, no men were allowed guns. There were no duels, whether it be under the sun or in the darkness of night. Most people died from diseases and at the hooves of their own horses—rarely would one see gaping holes in their abdomen. Occasionally, a band of bandits would pay an unwelcome visit but that was as rare as justice. The most exciting thing you would find is a tumbleweed, and even that was a sign of peace.

My town, unfortunately, had no peace. And ever since I was old enough to wield a fork, I was taught to wield a weapon. When the rooster crowed, my father would holler for me and my sister. He had a shooting range of old cans and glass bottles set beside the barn with loaded pistols ready to be fired. My sister and I would spend our mornings firing and reloading. But when my mother called for lunch, training for the day was over. My father would then head into town for the daily town meeting, while the rest of us cleared the mess from the night before—salvaging everything that could be reused for the coming dusk.

For the first twelve years of my life, this repetition was normal—boarding up the windows and sleeping with our guns under our pillows was what we called life. But everything changed the evening my father returned with dreadful news.

“I pulled a long straw,” he said to my mother.

My mother’s eyes widened. She didn’t know what to say. What did the news mean to our family? Neither my sister nor I fully understood. As far as I knew, those who drew long straws didn’t all come home. The family across our field had drawn long straws many times and once, their second son didn’t return. However, as much as such information should be made privy to everyone in our town, nobody told the children—I had learned of it from watching my neighbours and eavesdropping on the murmurs between my parents. Still, I found it strange that it was the first time my father uttered those words.

“I can’t buy out of this one,” my father added.

“Then we leave. There’s still time,” my mother replied. She took a quick glance around the living room before reaching for me and my sister. But before she could do anything further, my father pulled her to a corner.

Their murmurs began. They often thought we didn’t understand or that we couldn’t put the pieces together. And for the most part, we couldn’t. But that evening, we knew something was wrong—terribly, horribly wrong.

“We cannot abandon this town,” my father stated.

“Then who should I send tomorrow when you don’t return?” my mother retorted. “Myself or the children?”

“I will return.”

My father reached for the brown sack he had tucked beneath the old bookshelf. He often said that the sack was filled with coal, dousing my curiosity to peek inside.

“I want to go with you,” I uttered. I didn’t know what I was signing up for but I hadn’t miss a shot since I was ten. There were echoes of gunfire every single night—I could help my father shoot whatever it was they shot under the moonlight.

“No. You stay home. I will return in the morning,” my father said. “Don’t worry. It’ll just be like last night.”

Not waiting for my mother to protest, my father gave us each a peck on the cheek and left. For a few minutes after, my mother stood staring at the closed door. But the second she snapped out of her daze, she boarded the door up. That night, the gunfire sounded different—they were loud and never ending. The hours of the night also seemed to tick slower than the night before. And when day finally arrived, I had not rested even for a minute.

My father came home as he said he would. The first thing he did was refill the sack with coal. That morning, I learned that it was true. My father wasn’t lying—it was indeed coal. It was the only matter that protected him. But from what, I didn’t know.

Today, I pulled a long straw. It has been three months since—representing my family at the daily town meeting. And tonight, I would see what we’d been fighting. It might sound crazy that no one has ever spoken about what the night brought to our little town in the desert. But at the very least, my late father gave me a reason—the purpose behind our battles in the dark.

“We fight in the darkness for the light of day,” I told my sister. “And if you ever draw a long straw, a single coal can light your way.”


12 Genre Months © 2019 by Jeyna Grace. All rights reserved.

(Click HERE for the list of stories in this writing challenge.)

Original Works

As Silent As Day

as silent as day

A ghost town, that was what most people thought when they rode past Old Dune. But those who actually lived in this little cowboy town knew the dead silence only reigned in the day. For when night came, the saloon would overflow with guffaws and the dusty streets would light up with songs and food. Old Dune was the quietest town when the sun was up, but the liveliest one when the moon clocks in.

I grew up in Old Dune. My father was the town sheriff and my grandfather before him. My older brother was to continue the family tradition, and that made me a little envious as a child. Unlike my brave and outspoken brother, I was known as the boy that pored over mystery novels with an imagination that would make people laugh. But even so, not all my imaginations were tickling.

These imaginations came from a secret Old Dune cleverly hid. But if you are as unfortunate as me, then you would know that every end of the month, the bell tower would ring and everyone would skip the partying to hide in their homes. The day after that would be a day of mourning as we bury the dead of the on going massacre. Who killed our people on those still nights? No one knows.

Growing up, the image of the killer was a ghastly sand beast entering houses and choking people to death. But that was just my imagination; reality could be far more horrifying… as horrifying as the day I woke up to find my father dead.

It was a scorching morning when my mother’s screams filled the air. My brother and I rushed to her side and wept with her the moment we saw our father’s pale face. Soon after my father’s burial, my brother took my father’s place as town sheriff. But five years after my brother took the post, I woke up to my mother’s screams once again.

As I comforted my mother who was beginning to go paranoid, I was approached to take up the post as sheriff. It did not take me long to decide as I wanted to make my father and brother proud. But unlike them, my first mission was to find the murderer and end the horror once and for all.

I did not tell anyone about my mission, as everyone would think it was a waste of time. There were many who attempted to solve the mystery before me, but none found the answers. Most went with the notion that Old Dune was cursed and would continue to stay cursed for hundreds of years to come.

Though many found it easy to accept such a fate, I was not one of them. So the first week in office, I went through old files of crime cases and deaths. But the unorganized trunk full of dusty parchments did not help, as it was hard connecting the dots when everything was scattered. After the week was up, I found nothing. When I knew I could not neglect my real duties, I juggled between keeping the peace and my research. It was not until I attended the mayor’s birthday that something finally clicked.

The mayor threw a grand feast in the main street of my town. I was there with my deputy, keeping an eye out for any trouble. Being so predictable, three men found their drunken heads out of the saloon and stirred up a fight. Soon, I had to shoot my pistol in the air and lock them in a cell for the night. Two weeks after that, the bell tower rang and the following morning was greeted with three deaths. They weren’t the same drunkards, but the coincidence sparked me to dig deeper.

I went back to reading parchments until I found a report on two murders. It dated over a hundred years ago and it read, ‘Two girls were raped and murdered by five men. The girls were daughters of a travelling native couple that left the town soon after.’ It was such a short report, but from what I had, I formed a theory that I immediately tested.

That month, I put 2 men in the cell and let off 4 boys with a warning. When the end of the month arrived, the hair on my nape rose at the official death count of six. Though my theory proved true, I kept it to myself to investigate further.

A few months later, a grand wedding of a wealthy old man and a young girl took place. The ceremony in the morning was rather peaceful, but by night chaos broke lose. Everyone had too much of everything and a fight took place. It was one that I could not even control with firing my gun, but it eventually stopped when more than half of the town were either too bruised or too tired to throw another punch.

After that day, a new fear arose within me. It was not the fear of my mother losing her life when the end of the month came, it was the fear that there would not be a town left when it was all over. When the day arrived for me to face that fear, I stayed in my office and waited for it. Maybe I could convince whatever it was to stop? I thought.

Unlike the previous night, there was a foreboding silence in the air. There was no wind to hint death’s arrival and not a single sound to give a warning. I sat facing the window, which looked down the main street, and waited impatiently. Then, when the clock ticked two, I saw something heading down the street. Braving myself to meet the enemy, I took a lit lantern and exited my safe house. I stood at the steps watching it come closer, and when it got close enough I finally knew what it was.

Standing not too far away from me were two young girls. They were made of sand, yet everything about them was so clearly defined… everything but their faces, that is. At the sight of the faceless girls, I stood frozen in fear with sweat trickling down my forehead on that chilly night. Strangely, the two girls stood frozen as well, as though waiting for me to defend my town.

“I-I beg you,” I said with a croak. “Please, please stop.”

Being they had no lips, they remained silent to my plea. But after a few minutes, an eerie whisper floated to my ear. It said, “It ends tonight.”

The voice sounded as though it came from behind, so I spun around immediately. When a small relief greeted me with the absence of death, I turned back only to see the two girls dispersing into a trail of sand that shot towards the houses.

Not thinking twice, I ran straight to my own house. I eventually past the trail of sand, but I did not turn to see if it followed. When I finally made it home, I stumbled up the steps and stood blocking my front door. If I could not protect my town, I could at least protect my mother.

It did not take long for the dusty death sentence to sweep through the houses and make its way to mine. The moment I saw it exit the house across the street, I held my breath. No, it was not a ghastly beast, but terror still resided in me as I watched it stop at the wooden steps. A second later, it shot straight towards me and when it was inches from my face it began forming odd shapes like a contortionist in a freak show.

At that moment I was ready to accept death, but at the same time, it surprisingly decided to spare me and sharply turned towards the next house instead. Exhaling as though I nearly drowned, I was filled with relief of being spared. Unfortunately, everyone else was not.

When the ‘curse’ was finally done, it shot into the sky and an intangible wind blew it away. It was right. That night was its last, and nights at Old Dune would forever be as silent as day.

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This one is pretty long and I didn’t expect it to be. I did expect it to be pretty predictable though, so I’m guessing most of you already know which deadly sin this is. Yes, it’s gluttony. Gluttony was not the easiest sin to write about, being that it is uncommon yet common at the same time, but I did try my best 🙂

As the story shows, gluttony is more than just ‘overdoing’ something. The moment we ‘overdo’, we don’t just harm ourselves but others around us. The innocent bystanders are affected whenever we overindulge, overspend, overreact, etc. Gluttony may not seem like such a big ‘sin’ to be considered deadly, but the fact that it is an act that causes harm to others, on top of the harm that it does to us, justifies its deadliness. So the next time we want to overdo something, let’s take a step back and see if it would do more harm than good, because the moment we do it, we have no control over what happens next.

Well as always, let me know what you think of this short story in the comments below!

© 2013 Jeyna Grace

(For more short stories, click HERE)