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ZD Writing Competition Round 30: Results

Which Entry is your favorite?

  • Entry 1

    Votes: 1 20.0%
  • Entry 2

    Votes: 1 20.0%
  • Entry 3

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Entry 4

    Votes: 3 60.0%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .

Spiritual Mask Salesman

LED Dragon
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Site Staff
Oct 18, 2011
The astral plane
Welcome back to another round of the ZD Writing Competition! This month's theme will be:

Tropical Islands

Write a story set on a tropical Island, whether it's a real one, or fictional.

Keep in mind that if you ever need some help coming up with something to write about, talking some ideas over with me is perfectly fine to get the creative process going. So if you ever feel like you can't seem to write anything, don't hesitate to send me a message, we want you all to be writing and having fun, not stuck in a spell of writer's block.

Send all submissions to me via PM by Saturday, August 22nd, 2020 at 23:59 EST (GMT -4).

Spiritual Mask Salesman

LED Dragon
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Site Staff
Oct 18, 2011
The astral plane

This time we received 4 entries which you can read below. The deadline for voting will be Monday, August 31st, 2020 at 23:59 EST (GMT -4).

A new day was dawning on the island. The sun shone on the waves, transforming the fish into bolts of light as they swam through the bay. Another beautiful morning, though most of the island residents were still in a deep sleep. The islanders had no desire to rise early and enjoy the picturesque scene. It was nothing they hadn't seen before, they thought. Why not sleep in instead? So the villagers missed watching the sunrise, the fish at play, the cool morning air, and the blood staining the water red.

A few days earlier, one of the villagers was having trouble sleeping. He was one of the first to take up residency on this island, and it was largely thanks to his efforts that the island had advanced and become so appealing to new residents. Everyone was so impressed by his efforts that he began to feel entitled to something better than that of a common resident, and took it upon himself to negotiate the islanders' problems even though he had no real authority. This was not the first time he had had difficulty sleeping. In fact, ever since that clown of a villager moved in, he was kept up practically all night thanks to his absurd habit of honking at ungodly hours. The first night this had happened, the clown was politely asked to cease and desist his disturbing commotion. The clown listened very solemnly, nodding his head in a most penitent manner. He apologized profusely for having caused his neighbor distress and promised it would never happen again, before immediately bursting into hysterical laughter.

The next night the honking was even louder. Still smiling politely, but with a dead look in his eyes, the sleep deprived villager again asked the clown to please be quiet. A door slammed in his face answered him. Still smiling, the insulted villager went home and got into bed. That clown won't be laughing for much longer.

The following morning, the red-eyed villager cheerfully entered Resident Services. He apologetically informed the secretary that there was a resident who was causing a great deal of trouble and unfortunately must be evicted at once. Very sad case, really nothing to be done. The secretary, an earnest but oblivious girl, was instantly at the ready to aid in the removal of the pestilent villager. She flashed around the room, a whirlwind of office supplies and paperwork. She dropped stacks of forms in front of the petitioner and cheerfully urged him to fill them all out and submit them for processing that should be finished in just ten weeks! The secretary was still explaining the finer points of the red tape when her petitioner smiled and mechanically walked out of the building. As he crossed the plaza, the infernal clown jumped in front of his path. A joyful expression crossed the clown's face as he expressed his pleasure at how well rested his neighbor appeared this morning! A glimmer entered the red eyes of the sleepless villager as he thanked the clown for noticing and walked away. Ten weeks? Unthinkable. There are other ways…

The night air seemed to be especially chilly tonight. With how little sleep he had lately, the invigoration of the cold was a welcome relief to the overtaxed villager. It wouldn't do to fall asleep now. Not when the end of this little game was so close. He stalked through the woods, silent as the grave, and took his place behind a tree. He readied his tools. Just one more sleepless night...

Earlier that day, a letter was being written. Purportedly from a lady friend of the clown's, it asked him to meet with her after midnight in the apple tree orchard. Teehee. Copying her writing style was no difficulty, but sneaking her stationary out of her home had been something of a challenge. He teetered as he approached the clown's mailbox. For a moment the mask slipped, and the interloper fell to his knees, waiting for the world to stop spinning. A bead of sweat slid down his face before he regained mastery of himself and deposited the letter. Just one short nap, that would have to do. There was work to be done.

Step, step, pause. Step, step, pause. The fool had come blundering in right on schedule. Even for a secret rendezvous he couldn't help but be noisy and obnoxious. Step, step, pause. The moon was shining off that pompous costume of his. Shuffle step pause. Just a little closer... An apple thunked to the ground. The perfect idiot, the clown came over to investigate. The net descended on his head, clotheslining him. He began to laugh at first, assuming it was some prank, until the moonlight glinting off the axe silenced his giggles. The time it took to sharpen the axe was well spent. In two blows he was clearly dead, but they did not stop coming until the clown was completely dismembered. Seeing what he had done, the killer burst into hysterical laughter, the harsh bitter laugh that was the exact opposite of the deceased clown's. It contained true glee, while the clown's had only ever possessed a hollow imitation.

The killer awoke suddenly. He was supposed to be doing something. Ah, yes, the body. He had passed out over the corpse and bloodied himself. Very careless, but he didn't mind. There was nothing anyone could do now. A hole was quickly dug and the body buried, along with the fallen apple he threw in on a whim. The sunrise sparkled at him as he washed away all the blood and gore. It looked like it was going to be another beautiful day.

Some time later, an apple tree had grown over the clown's grave. All the villagers had been very surprised when they discovered that he had moved away without even saying goodbye, but he had left a note saying that all was well and that only sad clowns stuck around for sad farewells. The killer's eyes flashed as he realized the apples on the tree were ripe. And not only ripe, but they seemed extra plump, a deeper red than the rest. All the residents were gifted an apple that day, each insisting it was the best they had eaten.

Everyone slept soundly that night.

I ran through the trees, gasping for breath. My feet thundered against the leaf-littered ground. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I frantically pushed my way through brush and vines. I could it’s warm breath on my back. It came closer, and closer. It’s long, sharp claws raked my shoulder, and blood spattered into my eyes. I fell forward with a cry of terror, clutching at my injury. I tumbled over leaves and debris, sucking in my breath as pain suddenly shot up my leg. The world grew hazy as I leaned against a palm tree, panting. I quickly wiped the sticky red liquid from my face and looked fearfully back. I saw it. It’s massive shoulders propelled it forward, and it’s jaws opened, revealing rows of dagger-like teeth.

“Someone help me!” I screamed as I shook with horror. But as it drew close with its eyes gleaming with triumph, it seemed to glow purple for a moment. Then it suddenly flew sideways, and crashed into the base of a thick willow. Quiet entered the forest. Suddenly sensing my opportunity, I carefully came to my feet and limped the opposite direction of the beast. My steps were uneven and I stared blankly ahead, still in shock at what had happened. I winced as my foot dragged against the ground and as blood trickled down my shoulder.

“Should you not get that checked out?”

I stopped. A voice rang through the jungle. I turned, casting my eyes warily about.

“Do not worry, I will not hurt you.” A shadow slid between the trees and came into the dim light. It was a woman. Lilac hair fell on her shoulders and her ears were pointed. Her deep silver eyes stared at me thoughtfully. “You would not last through this night with those injuries, your blood reeks through the forest.”

“W-who’re you?” I couldn’t help my voice from quavering. She stepped forward, her dark sepia boots passing silently over the ground.

“I am called Nova.” She said softly, crouching down to examine my ankle. Her pale lips drew into a small smile. She looked up at me in relief. “It is not broken, only sprained. That is good.”

“Of course it’s good, everybody on earth knows that!” I yelled. Her hand shot up and covered my mouth. I gave out a muffled cry and tried to pry her hand off. She was surprisingly strong.

“Be careful, if you keep screaming like that the whole jungle will awaken,” she hissed, “There are many good beasts out there, but evil ones are lurking at this time of night. You should be glad I saved you when I did.”

My eyes widened in shock and confusion. “You did that?” I turned to the beast, still laying by the tree. “How?”


I turned to her, expecting her eyes to be lit with amusement, but, to my surprise, her face was dead serious. She glanced down at her hands.

“I was gifted with powers from the gods. That is why I have survived here for so long. I put that beast to sleep to save you.”

I looked at her in disbelief. “But magic’s not real, right?” I murmured. She glared at me, her eyes darkening in anger.

“Is this not real?” She furiously pointed at the sleeping monster. She whirled to face me. “Is this fake?”

A purple aura encircled me. I tentatively reached out to touch it, but quickly drew back as electric energy shocked my fingers. My feet began to float off the ground. I slowly began to rise in the air. Nova’s eyes were tightly shut in concentration, and her hands shook with effort. My mouth gaped in a silent scream, I tried to move, but couldn’t. I dangled helplessly in the air.

“No, it’s not fake,” I sputtered out fearfully. “It’s very real.”

Nova opened her eyes and looked up at me with a smile. “Thank you.”

I expected her to lower me back down, but, to my annoyance, she began to stride forward, dragging me with her in the air. “Put me down!”

“Are you not injured? It would be foolish to make you walk all the way to the beach with your sprained ankle.”

A shudder ran down my spine. I looked away, horror taking over me. I put my trembling hands over my eyes, trying to make the terrifying image disappear. “W-Why are we going to the beach?” I managed to choke out in a hoarse whisper.

“To put your foot in the cold waters of the ocean. That will help it recover. I can also wash off the blood trickling down your shoulder.”

I sighed. She had a point. I hesitantly nodded in agreement. “A-Alright, I’ll go.”


Cold water flowed down my foot. Nova gently pressed a torn piece of water-soaked cloth on my shoulder wound. I forced myself to stay still, even though the pain was intense. I gritted my teeth. I gazed around at the scenery, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Palm trees softly swung back and forth with the gentle cooling breeze. Coconuts lay at the base of them. I watched as a lemur-looking creature scurried forward and hurriedly snatched one up. It quickly bounded back into the jungle, scattering sand as it went.

“How does that feel?” Nova quietly asked as she wiped the last of the red liquid. She tore off a piece of her short tunic and began to wrap it around my injury.

“Horrible.” I moved my focus to her and rolled my eyes. “You put stinging salt-water on my wound and you expect me to feel good?”

Silence. Guilt crept in me, and I realized how much my statement could have hurt. I turned to look at her. “I mean, uh,” I sighed. “I’m sorry for being so sour, it’s just, I don’t feel comfortable here at the beach.”

Nova tilted her head, a curious look in her eyes. She had finished wrapping my arm and sat still by me. “Why is that?”

Panic flared in my chest as I remembered the terrible scene. I wanted to forget, I wanted it to never have happened. But I couldn’t. His face, deformed and bleeding, stared back at me with empty eyes of death.

“I..I...” My voice trailed away. I felt Nova’s hand gently press against my back in comfort.

My chin began to tremble.

“I-I was flying in a plane to go to my sister’s wedding. She lives in Hawaii, and she was so excited to have a tropical themed wedding. I took a small plane, just me and the pilot were inside. W-we were flying over the ocean, and I was watching small islands slowly go past us as we flew.”

My voice cracked.

“We crashed, Nova, we crashed. I remember the pilots eyes were wide with terror as he tried to keep the engine running, but it broke. I remember his panicked voice and his trembling hands.”

My hands shook with horror. I broke down in cries. Tears ran down my face and fell, soaking into the sand.

“We crashed on a beach.” I said in a hoarse whisper. I couldn’t speak anymore. Thoughts of the incident flew through my mind. As soon as the plane collided with the beach, everything had gone dark. The first thing I saw when I awoke from the clutches of unconsciousness was the pilot. His face, deformed and bleeding, stared back at me with empty eyes of death.

My body was racked with sobs. Tears streamed down my cheeks uncontrollably. Suddenly I felt arms around me. I stared at Nova. She hugged me tighter, tears beginning to form in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, I-I didn’t know,” her words ran over each other in a jumbled mess. She took a few deep breaths, and managed to calm down. She looked up at me, her eyes glistening with sorrow.

“I was supposed to be the protector, I was supposed to keep this island safe. I was continually fighting off the ravaging monsters that live here to protect this island. This was supposed to be a safe haven for everyone.”

Her lips trembled.

“But it is not. It killed your friend. I have failed as the protector.”

I sucked in breath, trying to regain my usual, calm composure. “N-no, you haven’t failed.” I gently pushed her off me and sat up. “I and the pilot did. It wasn’t your fault I crashed. It was nobody’s fault, really. It was just a sad, unfortunate event.”

As I rubbed off the last few tears on my face, my lips curved into a small smile.

“You’re a wonderful protector, Nova. I can see that.”

Nova began to speak, but suddenly stopped. She looked past me and gazed into the darkness of the jungle. I turned, wondering what she was so interested in. My eyes widened. A dark figure was slowly walking towards us between the trees. It was large in stature, but it was too dark to make out any other features.

“Who is that?” I breathed, my voice beginning to wobble fearfully. Nova’s eyes seemed to glow with sudden delight as she wiped away the last of her tears. She hastily got to her feet.


My heart pounded in my chest. I looked at Nova. Strong, elegant, calm, mysterious, dangerous. If she was like that, what was her master like? My breath quickened in panic as I imagined them. Tough, commanding, and not too happy to see their island invaded by a stranger. I stood up awkwardly and nervously took a step backward. Nova looked back at me with an amused expression.

“Do not worry, Master will not hurt you.”

“Um, are you sure about that?” I hissed, my legs beginning to shake as the figure came closer. It came into the light. I stood still in disbelief. That was no tough, commanding monster. It was a short middle-aged man, wearing khaki shorts and a ripped floral pattern t-shirt.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here? Hullo, Nova!” he said cheerily with a wide grin. “I thought you were back at the garden, harvesting some fruit.”

Nova dipped her head in apology. “I am sorry, Master. I was...sidetracked.” she cast a glance in my direction. I stood there awkwardly, kicking the sand with my foot and staring at the ground.

“Eh?” The man approached me with a raised eyebrow. “A newcomer? Well, welcome to the island, my friend! My name’s James.” He seized my hand and shook it vigorously. I stared at him speechless. Finally I managed to find my voice.

“How are you Nova’s Master?” I asked in confusion. “If anything, Nova should be your Master.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. She just started calling me that after I taught her english, haha.” He said while shifting a sack that was resting on his right shoulder.

“So you were the one who taught her how to speak.” I imagined a young wild girl, using only grunt and cries for communication. I shuddered. “That must’ve been tough.”

He set the bag on the ground and began to pick through the contents inside. “Yep, it definitely was, but of course it was worth it!”

I stared at the sack with intrigue. “What’s in there?”

James let out a sound of satisfaction and pulled out a mango. He grinned at me as he took a bite out of it, spitting out the skin a few seconds later. “Fruit!” He cried happily, mango juice trickling down his chin. Nova chuckled. He turned to her.

“Mangos go well with coconuts, can you go get some, Nova?”

Nova nodded. “Of course, Master.” She quickly turned and dashed towards the nearest palm tree. Summoning all her strength, she bashed the base of the tree with her shoulder. Coconuts rained down and landed in the sand. She turned to three of them and furrowed her brow in concentration, her hands beginning to tremble. They started to float in the air. Crack! The coconuts split in two. She gathered them together in her arms and approached us.


She handed me one. I stared at it blankly. “What do I do?” I asked. Nova stopped. She looked at me, surprise flashing in her silver eyes.

“You have never had a coconut?”

I looked at the ground, my cheeks turning red in embarrassment. “Hehe...no, I haven’t.”

Nova's mysterious and elegant manner seemed to disappear as she let out a bubbly laugh. “Drink the coconut water inside.” She said after calming down.

I brought the rim of the coconut to my lips. As I drank my eyes suddenly brightened with delight. I stared at Nova, a smile growing on my lips. And I finished drinking, I let out a satisfied sigh. “This is great! Why haven’t I had a coconut sooner?!”

I sat down in the sand, letting the cool breeze wash over me as I sipped my coconut. For the first time since I had arrived on this island, I felt peace. I knew search planes would come here eventually, continually searching for me. And even if they never found me, I wasn’t alone. Nova, the mysterious, dangerous, elegant elf was with me. James, the funny, cheerful, middle-aged man was here too. I had friends.

“May I sit by you?”

I jumped at the sound of Nova’s voice. I nodded. She quietly crouched down beside me and took a drink of her coconut. We sat silent, staring in awe at the sunrise. Brilliant pink shades soared in the sky. It was beautiful. I turned to Nova.

“You know, I, uh,” I smiled. “...Thank you. For everything.”

Nova beamed. “You are welcome.”

The sound of seagulls filled the sunlit cloudless skies. A gentle breeze rustled the palm trees.

“So why are you here?” asked a tanned man wearing a bright pink Hawaiian shirt.

“I don’t know,” responded a blonde man wearing glasses. “I wish I knew even that much. But I don’t even remember my past.”

The two men were lying by the ocean sunbathing and gazing up at the tranquil sky.

The bespectacled man began to ponder if this really was the right place.

There was a mysterious mural in a deserted cave that repeatedly appeared in his dreams. He was hoping to find some answers by coming to this island. But he couldn’t openly say so or people might get suspicious.

At least that’s what he told himself.

He was all alone. It would be nice to be able to talk to someone. But he didn’t want to drag others into his problems. After all, maybe something serious had happened to make him forget his past memories.

He got up and started pacing around the beach front. If this was the place, he needed to look around for the cave.

He walked forward into the thick of the trees and vegetation of the island. He needed to do a thorough search of the area before giving up. Dark thoughts were slowly creeping into his mind but he did his best to hold them back.

The clear blue sky turned into a beautiful orange background as the hours rolled by to no avail. The man could feel the sweat poring down his forehead as his glasses kept fogging up from the heat.

It looked like another dead end.

Just before turning around to head back, something caught the glimpse of his eye. A remnant of a red flag jutted out of the ground. He moved forward and heard the slightest sound of a trickle of water.

He followed the sound to its source.

A giant rock blocked the entrance to a mysterious cave. Footprints were present. It was clear to him that this rock didn’t end up there naturally. Someone had deliberately closed off the entrance to the cave.

The man approached the rock and started to try to push it aside. He pushed and pushed but it wouldn’t budge. He could feel the sweat really coming down now. It was no use. He simply couldn’t move the rock with his own physical strength. His muscles had atrophied due to not using them for too long.

He pushed his glasses back up his nose.

He would need to cut off a tree branch to help him lift the rock up and slide it aside.

Before he could turn around, he felt something hit the back of his head. He fell to the ground and lost consciousness immediately.


“Water,” he gasped. “Someone please. I need water.”

“He’s alive!” one of the merchants exclaimed.

They had found a man dressed in strange garb passed out in the desert and assumed he was an ill-prepared foreigner who had died trying to cross the desert.

But he had survived.


He still wondered that. It had to have been at least a week that he was out there.

“Drink slowly. You don’t want to overdo it or you might cause yourself more harm than good.”

“Can you understand us?”

He nodded and said, “A little.”

The man slowly opened his eyes to a dull illuminated cave with pink crystals hanging from the ceiling. He had passed out and reminisced his first thoughts from when he was found in the desert. He couldn’t remember anything from before then.

And after that, he constantly had the dream about the cave. He had asked some locals around and they said there used to be a small mining operation in a cave on this island but it had been abandoned long ago. Still, he had to check, so he came to make sure.

“Hello. Nice of you to join us.”

A deep, menacing voice filled the cave.

He blinked.

A group of people dressed in black wearing masks with strange markings appeared before him.

He looked around and saw a stone with a lion etched onto it in the distance.

The mural.

“It must be the mural,” he thought.

“You’ve caused us a lot of problems. It’s not enough that we spent years preparing the ceremony and had to wipe out all of your people in order to do it, but you stole our ambition at the last second.”


He pushed his glasses up.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Stop trying to play dumb. We set up a sacrifice circle that would have given us all immortality but you had to interfere and stand in the center of it. Now that immortality has been conferred onto you.”

The man in the center who appeared to be the leader of the group slammed his hand into the walls and screamed.


He cleared his throat.

“Sorry for the outburst. But you piss me off, four-eyes. I wish I could slit your throat, but I know that wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing.”

“So you have no use for me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” the leader apparent responded. “We’ve done some research and there may be a way to transfer your immortality from you to us.”

“Listen, I’m here to enjoy the sights and sounds of this tropical island. So let me enjoy my vacation. I have no business with you.”

“Maim him."

A red tint filled his eyes as the men approached. Who did they think they were? They were cowards hiding behind the anonymous veil of their masks. Beneath their masks were hearts of darkness.

The red tint grew stronger.

“No. I won’t let you,” a demonic voice responded.

A rumble filled the cave as rocks came crumbling down.

Everything would burn.

He awoke.

So he was immortal. He thought about that. No wonder he had survived a week in the desert without provisions. And no wonder he had survived the cave falling down.

He gasped as his pupils dilated.

The pink crystals and blue rocks were colored blood red. The bodies of his assailants lay lifeless beneath the rubble.

Had he done this?

“Hey, hey, hey. Who the hell are you?” the pink shirt tanned man asked. He had went to check on the bespectacled gentleman and found him as the sole survivor of the cave collapse.

“How the hell did you survive that? Did you murder these man in cold blood? Were you deceiving me when we were relaxing on the beach earlier?”

“Listen, it’s not what you think.”

“You monster!” the tanned man yelled as he ran away.

The bespectacled man looked down at his hands. Was he really a monster? He had never wanted this body but he had inadvertently gotten himself mixed up into some sick scheme.

He removed his glasses.

He took a rock and started smashing them over and over and over again.

If he couldn’t die, then he would turn his back on his old life. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but he wanted to start by doing some research into how he obtained this body.

Maybe then he could bring some justice to the bastards who had slaughtered his people.

He didn’t know why but he had a feeling the souls of his people had led him here. And they wanted him to give them some answers.

The blood red sky of a setting sun illuminated the sky as he walked into the distance.

Unneeded Vacation
ZD Writing Competition: Round 30
Theme: Tropical Islands

This is dull. Absolutely, entirely, unequivocally, unforgivably dull.

This mantra played on repeat in Tanya’s head. She sat reclining back, supporting her upper body with her arms. She was relaxing on a plush towel, protecting her skin from the hot sand. A large and colorful umbrella kept her cool in the shade here. An icy drink sat in the sand at her side, ready to quench her thirst. Her brand new bikini was comfortable and attractive. The beach around her was bustling and full of summer vigor.

And she was bored out of her mind. Hopelessly bored.

This is so dumb. I didn’t need this vacation.

She was so listless, she couldn’t even manage a sigh. Drops of sweat trickled down her forehead, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. She was getting thirsty, but she didn’t feel like making an effort to reach for her beverage. She simply sat there, unmoving, staring at the ocean and watching the beachgoers frolic in the waves.

Tanya was not in the mood for summer merriment. She wasn’t in the mood for many things these days. Recently, nothing she did felt fulfilling anymore. She was struggling at work, she was arguing with her husband, she was constantly low on energy, and she found herself able to smile less and less.

Out of concern, her husband planned this island getaway for the two of them. He wanted it to be a special trip to brighten her spirits, and she did appreciate the gesture, but she couldn’t stop herself from feeling frustrated by the whole ordeal. She thought the money they spent on this trip would be a waste.

He’s sweet, but he really shouldn’t have bothered...

“Hey, babe, you’re lookin’ pretty lonely. What say I keep you company? It’s a beautiful day, after all.”

Tanya turned her head to see a ripped surfer bro smirking at her. His eyes looked ravenous as they scanned her up and down. She simply frowned.

“That the best you could come up with? Go away.” she said.

“Ouch, that was pretty cold. Maybe you need to heat up a bit in this sun.”

The bro grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet. This made Tanya grow angry.

“Get the hell away from me.” she spat.

“Now, now, calm down. I’m just lookin’ for some fun.” he said, beginning to sound annoyed by her lack of cooperation.

“What are you doing to my wife?!” a gentle voice cried out.

Tanya turned to see her husband had returned with the ice cream he’d promised to get her. She felt a little relieved to see him.

“Aw hell, you’re married? Damn, no wonder you’re such a prude. I’m outta here.”

With a click of his tongue, the dejected surfer bro strutted away to find another unsuspecting woman to harass. Tanya couldn’t bring herself to sigh, despite her relief that the annoyance was gone. Her husband quickly came to her side, his face full of worry.

“Are you alright, honey?” he asked.

“Zeke, it was just a pushy guy. I’m not dying or anything.” Tanya assured him.

“Still, it looked like he grabbed you pretty hard. I hope it didn’t hurt.”

Tanya briefly bit her lip. I already told him I’m fine. She felt a bit frustrated that he was continuing to push the issue. Zeke could see on her face that she was starting to get aggravated, and he appeared to be going through some choice words in his head. Before long, he just sighed.

“Here’s your ice cream. I know you like strawberry.” he said softly.


Tanya took the cone from him and sat back down on her towel. Zeke sat down beside her, and she slowly began lapping up the sweet cream. It tickled her tongue and brought a small sense of comfort to her. But, like everything else lately, that comfort was gone fast.

He went to the trouble of buying this for me... I should try to finish it.

Despite thinking that, Tanya could only force herself to get halfway through. Zeke watched her uneasily, and his worried expression only made Tanya more frustrated.

I hate it when he looks at me like that... Please just stop worrying about me.

“Aren’t you going to swim?” Tanya asked, trying to get him to go away for a bit.

“I’d rather swim with you.” he answered, gazing out to the sea.

“I don’t feel like swimming.”

“Then I’ll just stay here and hang with you.”

Tanya bit her lip again. “Why? I’m not doing anything.”

“Then I’ll do nothing, too. I just want to be around you, Tanya.” he said.

He called me by my name instead of a petname... He’s seriously gonna stay put here, huh? He’s so stubborn.

Tanya hugged her knees and rested her head on her arms. She felt guilty, as if she were depriving Zeke of the fun he could be having without her. She didn’t like it when he stayed at her side like that. She didn’t want to be on this vacation, but she wanted Zeke to enjoy himself at the very least.

And yet, that was the kind of man she married. That was why she married him. He would always drop everything to tend to her. Before, that always made her heart skip a beat, but now it just wracked her with guilt and feelings of frustration.

Why won’t he just have fun without me? I’m not interesting enough for him to want to sit next to me all day.

True to his words, Zeke didn’t move from her side. He didn’t say a word to her, allowing her to be with her thoughts like she had wanted to be, but still refusing to let her be alone. This was something he’d started doing only recently. It was like he was compromising, only giving her half of what she wanted.

Why does he bother? I just want to be alone... This stupid trip isn’t going to help anything.

* * *

The evening came quicker than Tanya would have liked. The day was almost gone already, and she felt like she wasted the first day of their vacation by doing nothing but sit on the beach. What’s more, she felt like she’d wasted her husband’s day by keeping him at her side. She blamed herself for him staying. If only she hadn’t worried him, he would have gone off to have fun. It was all her fault.

Zeke, perceptive as ever, could tell Tanya was bothered. He suggested they go out to dinner together. He’d read great reviews about a beachfront diner with a superb view of the sunset. She agreed to go, knowing that he’d just get even more worried if she turned him down.

No longer in a bikini, Tanya found herself sporting a black v-neck dress. The sleeves were very short and frilled, and it went down a little past her waist. It was something she’d picked out for herself after hearing Zeke comment on it at a department store once. She wanted him to see her in it and feel at ease so he’d stop bothering her.

Her husband wore a white polo shirt, a direct contrast to her own wardrobe. He wasted no time complimenting her, as always. Tanya couldn’t bring herself to appreciate the kind words. She couldn’t have felt more different from him. Zeke’s fluffy brown hair bounced as he walked, while her own black curls hung downcast over her eyes. Her dark skin felt concealed in the evening’s light, while his pale skin seemed to shine. Even his blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the streetlights. Everything about him looked radiant, and she felt as though she were drab in comparison.

We look so weird next to each other... Why did I agree to go out in public like this? I don’t want to be here...

They were almost to the diner when Zeke suddenly stopped them.

“... You don’t want to go, do you, Tanya?” he asked.

“... I do. Let’s go.” she lied.

Zeke didn’t respond right away. She could feel his eyes on her, full of worry again. It made her want to crawl under a rock and hide. She felt increasingly aggravated. Why can’t he just listen to what I say? Why does he have to be so nice to me all the time? These thoughts were growing bigger and bigger inside her, but Zeke’s calm voice settled them for a moment.

“Let’s take a walk on the beach together. Just for a bit.” he said.

Tanya met his eyes, and was surprised to see the worry all but gone. He looked focused, like he had everything all figured out. She wasn’t sure if that was more or less frustrating than his worried face.

She nodded, and he took her hand in his and led her away from the diner. They stepped off the boardwalk and into the sand. They were both wearing shoes now, so walking across the beach was a little awkward, but it didn’t deter either of them.

After a bit of time, Zeke let go of Tanya’s hand and walked a bit ahead of her. She gazed at his back, which looked bigger in front of her than it used to. She was already a whole head shorter than him, but she felt completely eclipsed by his size in this moment.

She turned her gaze away and looked out to sea. The setting sun had almost disappeared past the horizon. The light that remained glittered on the water’s surface, and the quiet waves created a lovely sound as they rolled along the shoreline.

This sight did nothing for her. She felt like she should appreciate the island’s beauty, but none of it got through to her. She felt like she were walking along a set path in a movie, where everything that moved around her was just a prop. With none of it real, it would explain why it didn’t move her. But then what did that mean for her? Was she also not real? She felt a suffocating sense of uncertainty.

“Tanya.” Zeke said, stopping and turning toward her.

Tanya also stopped walking, and she began to feel a little afraid. What did he want to say to her? He was going to yell at her, she was sure of it. That was why he brought her out here, where there was no one around to hear it. He was going to be angry with her for sucking all the fun out of their trip. He spent all this money on her and she wasn’t the least bit grateful. Surely he hated her. Surely this was going to be the end of their marriage. She could feel it coming. Of course it would come.

Fine. It’s over, then. At least he can go be with a girl that’s actually happy.

“Tanya, I want to tell you I’m sorry.” Zeke said.

“... Excuse me?” she said, confused.

“I should have talked this trip over with you more. I thought a relaxing getaway would help you feel better, but that was just wishful thinking. I’m sorry that you’re not having fun.”

“It’s not your fault. Don’t worry about me, just have fun on your own.” she said.

“No, I won’t do that. It’s not any fun without you.” he said.

“Don’t be dumb. I’m boring. I suck the fun out of everything.”

“Why would you say that about yourself?”

Zeke looked hurt by her words. Why are you looking at me like that? Stop it. Tanya bit her lip harder than she should have.

“I’m sorry I didn’t realize how you felt sooner. Tanya, you’re not just unhappy, are you?” he said.

“What does that mean? I’m fine.” she spat.

“You’re not fine. You’re not enjoying anything you used to like anymore, you’re irritable, you’re not sleeping well, you’re just-”

“Stop it. I don’t want to hear it.”

Tanya really felt angry now. What, is he gonna say I’ve got depression or something? Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t have that. I’m fine. Just shut up and leave me alone.

Zeke watched her quietly for a moment before he continued. “I thought this trip might relax you, but I guess it only made you feel worse. I’ll try to do better and catch on to these things sooner. I promise.”

“Stop being so nice when I’m the one who made you do this.” Tanya said, mistakenly out loud.

Oh, damn it, now he’s just gonna get more worried about me. I’m so stupid...

“You didn’t make me do anything. Tanya, I planned this trip because I wanted to. Don’t blame yourself.”

“I also made you stay next to me all day when you could have been having fun swimming in the ocean. I know you like to do that. I wasted your day.”

“My days spent with you are never wasted.” he said without batting an eye.

“Oh come on, why aren’t you angry at me? I don’t deserve how nice you’re being to me.” she said, more annoyed than ever.

“You don’t deserve it? Tanya, are you serious? Are you seriously saying that?”

His bewilderment only served to make Tanya even angrier. “Yes, I’m seriously saying that! Why can’t you get it? I just want to be alone, but you won’t leave me alone! Why are you always so nice? It’s not fair!”

She couldn’t stop herself from shouting. Why doesn’t he get it? I’m just a bother. He needs to stop acting like he’s happy to be with me.

“Well? You brought me out here, for what? To tell me stuff like this? To make me feel better? Well, guess what! It didn’t work! Nothing works! I’m just... I’m not worth your time. Just hurry up and find someone better than me. Someone happy. I’m just in the way...”

Zeke looked stunned, which only made Tanya feel worse. Why does he look like that had never occurred to him before? He’s been acting long enough. He must be tired of me after I yelled at him like that. How much longer does he want to drag this out? I’m so sick of this!

“This is all my fault. This whole day is ruined now because of me. All because of this dumb vacation. So much for that, huh? I couldn’t just be happy and enjoy what you did for me, huh? I’m the worst, aren’t I? Say it, I’m the worst!”

Tanya continued yelling at her husband. His expression softened now, and he seemed to be patiently listening to her. That just made her even angrier. Why won’t he get mad at me? After everything I’ve said, he has to hate me now. So why? Why does he still have that same dumb worried look on his face? Why...

Tanya collapsed to her knees at last. Her head hung over the sand, and her eyes were beginning to cloud with tears. She tried to force them back, but she couldn’t stop them from rolling out. She couldn’t stop her body from shaking, either. She tried like hell to hold the sobs in, but they came out against her will.

The first ugly sob shook her heaving chest. The next made her arms feel like jelly. The third sob finally broke down the floodgates, and she wailed into the sand. An outpouring of anguish erupted out from within, from somewhere she didn’t know she’d been keeping it all. Her face became messy and wet with snot as she struggled in futility to make everything stop.

At last, Zeke embraced his wife. Tanya tried to shout something that sounded like a no and began pounding on his back with her balled up hands, but he didn’t flinch or loosen his hold on her. She quickly lost the strength to resist and collapsed into his chest, crying uncontrollably. His shirt was getting stickier with her mucus and tears by the moment.

As she cried, she could feel him stroking her hair, running his fingers through her short curly locks with gentle attention. She remembered he once held her like this and did the same thing the day her dog died. It was so easy for her to cry in front of him back then, but now it was a terribly embarrassing ordeal. She hated him seeing her like this.

Still, he didn’t let go of her. No matter how big the mess on his shirt got, no matter how long or how loudly she cried, he didn’t let her go. And finally, as the tears slowed down, he began to speak.

“Tanya, I want you to know how much I love you. You deserve to feel as loved as you are. It isn’t fair to you that you’re feeling like this. There isn’t much that can make it better, and I know this trip didn’t help much. But one thing it did do for us was it finally got you to open up to me. I love you, and you make me happy to be around you, even when you feel like this. I’m not going to leave you alone. You don’t deserve to be alone. I’m here for you whether you like it or not. Let’s go home and we’ll get you some help.”

“But...” Tanya managed to get out between sniffles. “But... What about the trip... The money you spent...”

“You’re more important, honey. Let’s get packed and go home tomorrow.” Zeke reassured her.

Tanya felt something welling up in her chest that she hadn’t felt in a long time. Finally, she felt a little sense of security. If Zeke didn’t want to leave her after seeing her like this, maybe he was actually going to stay after all. She was so sure he was going to leave her, just like her dog had left, and how her father had left before that. But he was going to stay. Zeke wasn’t going anywhere that she wasn’t going.

“I’m so sorry, Zeke... I’m sorry for everything I said.” Tanya stammered.

“You don’t have to apologize. I know this isn’t easy for you. Let’s get back to the hotel. I’ll just order us some pizza or something.” he said gently.

“... With olives and peppers?” she asked quietly.

“Just for you, dear.” he laughed.

Zeke lifted Tanya up in his arms, which made her feel even more embarrassed. She clung to his shirt, still sticky from her crying fit. This vacation to a tropical island didn’t go how either of them expected, but perhaps that was for the best. In that moment, as Zeke marched through the sand while cushioning her shaking frame in his arms, she was reminded of something she once heard about the beach.

It was once said the beach had a special way of smoothing out a person’s ragged edges. That a person could find themselves changed by its temperable tranquility. Tanya felt as though this trip was unnecessary, but Zeke had said it was what got her to finally open up. Maybe she’d been smoothed out like the saying said.

Whatever the case, she finally found something to feel happy about again; her loving husband’s warm and gentle embrace. And she had this vacation to thank for that.
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Spiritual Mask Salesman

LED Dragon
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ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
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Oct 18, 2011
The astral plane
Since the site will be down tomorrow we are going to announce the winner of this month's writing comp early. Please give a round of applause to @Azure Sage! And as always, thank you to everyone who submitted entries and voted!

And with another writing comp coming to a close, I'm looking forward to October. I hope you all will enjoy the theme I have in store!
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