A Midsummer Night’s Dread by Mikayla Dickinson

A Midsummer Night’s Dread by Mikayla Dickinson

Runner Up (Young Adult Category)

I tore down the desolate highway. An infinite expanse of inky darkness sprawled out above me, peppering my decrepit ute with relentless sheets of rain. The obscured, icy, evening sun hovered somewhere above the mottled horizon, yielding just enough light to cast a shadow of illumination over the endless greenery around me.

A weary sigh escaped my lips like a wounded creature exhaling its final breath. I glanced to my left, twinging with heartache as I grimaced at the empty seat beside me. Mesmerised by the emotions coursing through me, my thoughts became entangled with those of the past hour.

Brutal gales wrenched panel upon panel of rusted corrugated sheeting from my cousin’s roof. The dilapidated structure succumbed to the merciless storm’s wrath with barely a struggle. Any chance of continuing the renovations on my cousin’s crumbling cattle property scarpered out the window upon hearing of our cyclonic plight.

My soles squeaked with discontent on the rain-soaked grass as my cousin shepherded me towards the car. Ceaseless objections erupted from within me regarding his foolishness in choosing to remain with his home as it was assailed. Hurling tools and belongings of mine into the rear of the cabin with haste, my cousin slammed the door, trapping himself outside. The shouts of disapproval spilling from my lips were unending, but each protest fell on deaf ears as he sprinted back towards his collapsing home, disappearing through the doorframe.

Half an hour later, the gentle hum of the car’s six-cylinder engine was unceremoniously interrupted by a resounding crack as brilliant arcs of lightning ignited the sky, yanking me back to the present. Moments before being plunged back into semidarkness, I spied a minute form in the distance heading away from the city. The shape was a car racing towards me, its fog lights fruitlessly striking the impenetrable deluge. As it neared, the unmistakable cacophony of unrestrained tools rattling in the stranger’s ute tray was audible above the rain’s din.

Easing off the accelerator, I flicked the warm lights that illuminated the bitumen before me. The window of the stranger’s car lowered as it halted, revealing a man a few years shy of his mid-forties. He sported a flannel shirt, the sleeve of which darkened as rain pelted its exposed fabric. A well-groomed cattle dog stood sentry in the passenger seat.

Freezing liquid daggers stabbed my face. “Storm’s getting worse!” I bellowed over the raging weather. The stranger gazed upwards.

“You’d be better off bunkering down in the city!” I yelled. A quizzical look spread across his face at my apparently unfounded concern.

“I’ll be ‘right. My home’s a tough nut to crack,” the stranger grinned. “I’m across the creek from young Delaney. Good lad.”

“He’s my cousin,” I said. The stranger nodded. “His house — it’s gone,” I croaked. “If yours is still standing, I doubt it will for much longer.” The stranger looked at me; his expression hardened. I squirmed under the older man’s emasculating stare. Perhaps two decades my senior, he oozed rural experience and authority I didn’t have.

“I know what I’m doing, kid,” he spat. Teeming with ire, he motored off.

As I sped home towards the city, a nagging feeling tugged at my gut. The once pathetic creek bordering my cousin’s property had been transformed into a ruthless torrent of murky sludge by the gloomy skies raining hell upon the face of the Earth. Any possibility of employing the submerged, disintegrating stonework bridge was slim; the only path was straight through. The heart-rending guilt of abandoning my cousin enveloped me, urging me to make a decision. No more running. With a lengthy suspiration, I hit the brakes.

Twilight loomed overhead as I neared the marshy bank. My lights caught the stranger’s vehicle struggling its way through the untempered body of brawling water. With a tumultuous slosh, the ravenous stream consumed the powerless ute.

Rain lashed my skin as I clambered into the water. The car was entirely submerged, save for an awkwardly upturned corner of the ute tray. Reeds ensnared my legs; they slithered like eels as I staggered through the violent floodwaters. Refusing to feed the voracious creek’s macabre appetite for death, I burst free of my bonds and splashed towards the driver-side door. Without hesitation, I dove under.

Each individual fibre of my being shrieked as chilly water gnawed my flesh. I heaved at the door. Digging my boots into the mud, my body flared with agony. The enervating task seized every shred of energy I possessed. With an inaudible cry of anguish, bubbles besieged me as the door swung open.

I grappled with the stranger’s waterlogged shirt and hauled his limp body towards the cunning stream’s surface. Gasping for breath, I desperately clawed at the steep bog surrounding the water. Vicious currents threatened to tear the stranger from my grasp. My muscles burned. I burned.

Rapid barking filled the air. With a cry of unadulterated astonishment, I beheld the stranger’s dog paddling towards us. The canine clenched its jaws around a soggy mouthful of the stranger’s saturated shirt. I felt its sticky breath billow over my hand. Together, we lugged our unconscious cargo to the edge of the stream, our prospects brightening. A ferocious gust of wind drove icy needles of rainwater into my eyes. Throwing a hand up to shield my face, my battle against the unrelenting elements was a lost one. The numbing gale blustered into my torso. Ripping the stranger from my sopping grip, the remorseless tempest plunged my drained body into the torrent.

Scrambling onto the bank, I whipped my head from side to side, searching frantically. My chest heaved faster and faster; I zeroed in on a fading form downstream. The dog nuzzled me, letting out a low whine. Caked in mud and collapsed in the marsh, I yelled a dejected note of self-condemnation as the man’s lifeless body drifted away.

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