Literary - Super Short Story Contest Winner Revealed!
It wasn't easy wrapping up the Super Short Story contest we arranged in honour of the Fiction Issue, mostly because the entries we received were bad. Your story wasn't bad, obviously, we just mean, y'know, most of them. But luckily, like a toilet paper parachute sailing in across the rollicking shit waves of purple prose and sheltering us from a torrential downpour of crappy analogies, we finally received a submission that parted the figurative storm clouds (of heavy-handed exposition). Eva Michon is a Toronto-based writer, illustrator, film director and photographer. Her story - The Ivy House - went over our suggested word count, but we overlooked that since it was also leagues above everything else we read. So thanks for saving the day, Eva! Check out her story after the jump.
Oh, and what did Eva win, you ask? She's getting a
prize pack that includes the newly released documentary Gonzo, plus The
Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which was directed by Alex
Gibney, stars Johnny Depp, and was produced by Vanity Fair
Editor-in-Chief, Graydon Carter. It will also include Corey Seymour and
Jann Werner's written biography Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson.
And we're throwing in four Vice books, The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs
and Rock and Roll, Dos and Don'ts: 10 Years of Vice Magazine's Street
Fashion Critiques, Skinema by Chris Nieratko and Dear Diary by Leslie
Arfin. And now, without further ado....
THE IVY HOUSE
Penny Newcastle moved onto my street at the end of a long winter three years ago, just as the last of the snow was melting into little pools at the side of the road. The first robin had come out of hiding and perched itself atop the trees that lined my street. Our neighbours always said that ours was the only street with any character, and that we had the houses to match. One of the oldest and largest homes, number 1502, was built around a bend in the road and covered entirely with ivy. My brother and I used to stand outside the house and listen as old Mrs. Doherty practiced her harp in there. She played the sweetest, most hypnotic melodies, which weaved through the trees and poured into the windows of nearby homes. Some say that if you looked at the house closely, you could see the vines moving to the rhythm of her music.
Mrs. Doherty was the last person to live in the house before the Newcastles showed up. I was surrounded by old people on my street: all of the other kids were my older brother’s age and had already left. Penny and her family came to my neighborhood soon after my brother moved out, so we became friends.
Penny had a voluptuous older sister named Solana. She had curly red hair and milky skin. She was a teenager and pretty popular with the guys. She was always being dropped off at home by a different one. Unlike Solana, Penny never had any boys, probably because she was a mousier version of her sister - short with flat brown hair that hung like a silk cloth around her face. She had sunken eyes and crooked teeth, but was the nicest person I knew. We rode bikes to school together and I sometimes made up stories about the neighbors to scare her, which was not difficult to do.
Spring turned to summer and it was hard to separate Penny and I. Her father was a tall bearded professor who was generally in good spirits, and her mother was often in her workshop refurbishing antiques. Solana was usually out with her friends and not interested in hanging around with twelve year-old girls. Her indifference towards us made me like her even more, and I sometimes fantasized about marrying her and having Penny as a sister.
It was impossible to conceive of the vastness of the ivy house until I was finally inside it. The ceilings towered over me and my voice echoed through the halls. The attic was my favorite room for two reasons – the first being that it overlooked the creek, and the second because it was where Mrs. Doherty's harp lived. I remember the first time I saw it - it grazed the ceiling and watched over the room like a big curved smile. I understood why Mrs. Doherty’s family left the thing behind; it must have weighed a ton. I admired but didn’t dare pluck it.
One day, Penny stood behind the harp and brushed the strings with her fingers. Surprisingly, her playing wasn’t bad. In fact, it was exceptional for a beginner. The song she played made me feel transported to another century. I suddenly heard a groan and fell backwards against the wall into some kind of an opening. Penny stopped playing and stared at me, lying on the floor in a crown of dried leaves. She helped me to my feet and we found ourselves facing a little doorway that came up just to our shoulders. There was ivy scaling the walls of the passage. From the door there came wafting a strong aroma of jasmine mixed with the stench of rotting meat. I could feel heat coming from the passage. Penny stuck her hand inside the opening.
“Ouch!” she yelped. A drop of her blood fell onto several dried leaves. At that moment, Penny’s father interrupted us.
“Penny, I asked you not to go up there,” he yelled.
We closed the door and left the attic how we had found it. That night Penny and I prepared for a sleepover. She brought a movie to the family room and hid two flashlights in our sleeping bags. During dinner I momentarily entertained the idea of the passage leading to Solana’s bedroom, and perhaps a future method of spying on her. Penny seemed distracted and quieter than usual. Mr. and Mrs. Newcastle discussed plans to play bridge at a friend’s house, and they put Solana in charge of watching us. Once the parents left, Solana told us to keep it down because she had a friend coming over. She then went to her bedroom, and Penny turned to me.
“Now’s our chance.”
I followed Penny as we tiptoed up the staircase, flashlights in hand. We passed Solana’s room to a smaller set of stairs. The wooden floorboards creaked under our toes. We entered the attic and saw the harp, silhouetted by the moonlight. We stood where we were before, only to find no door at all. There was no lip or score. We pushed here, leaned there, pressed this and that, but nothing opened. We pointed our flashlights around the room. Penny’s spotlight stopped on the harp, grinning at us from the corner. She approached and stood behind it. She smiled at me, her crooked teeth gleaming, and gently strummed the thinnest, shortest strings. There came a moan from the wall. The little door opened and we were once again faced with a dark, bushy wall of ivy. We stood in front of it and pointed our flashlights inside. Where Penny’s blood had dripped earlier the leaves had turned green.
“Alright, I’ll go first,” Penny said.
“Go where?” We turned around to see Solana standing at the entrance to the attic. I was relieved.
“What are you dorks doing? You’re not supposed to be up here,” she said, and then noticed the secret doorway.
“Go away,” Penny warned.
“Did you cut a hole in the wall?” Solana smirked, “Dad’s not gonna like that.”
“It’s not a hole, it’s a doorway,” Penny said.
“What’s inside it?”
“None of your business, go away.”
“Come on Penny,” I chimed in, “maybe we should leave it alone.”
Solana moved towards Penny and grabbed her skinny wrists. Penny struggled and her flashlight dropped to the floor, rolling into the alcove. Solana laughed, the doorbell sounded downstairs.
“I’m telling Mom and Dad,” Solana said, and turned to go downstairs.
Penny grabbed my flashlight and before I could say anything, whipped it at her sister’s head. I heard a crack and Solana fell down the stairs. There was the sound of her bones breaking and then silence when she hit the bottom.
I stood dumbfounded as the ivy in the wall rippled gently. Penny walked towards the doorway. She crouched down and made her way inside the passage. Then she turned towards me before taking a seat in what appeared to be a throne of vines, spotlighted by the fallen flashlight. The leaves started binding her sides. They wrapped around her face, and she smiled. Her eyes met mine and she began to moan. I started to scream.
“Penny,” I said, “Come out. Please come out of there.”
She closed her eyes and the vines pricked her arms and neck. One of them whipped a speckle of blood at my cheek.
“It’s amazing,” Penny whispered, as the vines were wrapping themselves around her body, but I could see them getting tighter and Penny’s face turning from ecstasy to pain. The door started to close. She looked at me in panic. Her head tilted backwards, throat covered in vines. I ran to the door just as it shut. I scurried over to the harp and tried to play but the strings were so tight I could produce nothing but a terrible twang.
My family and I moved away the next summer. I think about Penny, and especially wonder about Solana. The last time I saw the ivy house, not much had changed. It was up for sale again and still shrouded in vines, which were a rich shade of emerald green.