Guest Post: Stick It Out, a Short Story by Spero Bell

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the January Short Story Contest. The 1st selected featured entry is:

Stick It Out by Spero Bell

Spero Bell is a current university student, spiritual advocate, and aspiring major league writer. In 2020, she self-published her first psychological thriller entitled Keeping A Minnow on Amazon. Spero resides in Wisconsin where she continues to be inspired by the kindness of others and the beauty of the Great Lakes.

Spero’s entry was based on this writing prompt:

The writing prompt

Please Enjoy

Stick It Out

My failure to move on a certain unfortunate January day granted my unblemished face a lasting
scar on the left side of my forehead.
Its shape resembles an oblong boomerang, which makes the scar impossible to miss, just inches
away from my eyeball. Thankfully, the scar ends directly where my eyelashes begin their
beauteous growth. If the slice behind the scar had traveled any farther along my face, I might
have been permanently blinded. Permanently unable to perceive the world.
I was greatly blessed (and cursed, in a sense) after that rueful day to maintain my sight in the
affected eye. I say cursed because, believe me, the visual carnage of the bridge incident is not a
pretty sight. Every morning when I wake up, I am sorely reminded of that day and all its
stupidity from my wincing reflection.
My friends, like all good, quality chumps of a football star, never fail to taunt and tease me about
that flashy mark, or about its tapering presence over my left eyebrow. To them, it’s like a visible
sign of their safety and wellbeing, a reminder of their kept promises to protective mothers and
fathers that they haven’t acted reckless enough to get injured like me. My dipping scar is their
greatest comfort, since it affirms their careful, comfortable, and in my opinion, stale,
personalities.
“What did you do, James? Knife miss the cutting board, James?”
“Did a farmer’s scythe mistake your face for a grain, James?”
“Did you fail to duck under the door frame, James?”
“Are you a spy, James? What kind of work do you do, James? Are you a hitman, James? You
probably are; I’d bet you could kill someone with your bare hands, James. A quarterback killer,
James. Was someone defending themselves from your attack, James?”
Those questions about the unfortunate history of my facial mark rapidly grew old to me. Who
would circumvent a static vegetable laying atop a cutting board so badly that their entire
forehead would become maimed? A farmer mistaking me for a grain? Phooey. Doors, spies,
hitmen…all the bland creativity of a few standard coloring books wove into their silly questions
about the scar’s existence…and none of the guesses were even close to the truth of the matter.
“No,” I always tell them, “This scar was from the guardrail of a bridge. I slipped on ice and cut
my face on the sharp edge of the guardrail.”
Nothing more, and nothing less.
And although that isn’t the truest answer I could have given them, it’s within the ballpark of what
happened. It closes their mouths, shuts them up temporarily until they can construe another
idiotic question wondering, how did James slip into a guardrail face-first unless he was right
alongside it? Was James perhaps making out with the guardrail to fill that missing portion of his
empty love life? Photographing it for some obscene, metallic collection of curved, sensual
images? Was he poorly reenacting the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, casting himself as the
fair Jamesliet in need of a Romeo—reaching out to the water bodies on either side of the bridge
to fulfill some dreamy, amorous obsession?
No, pigskin friends, I was doing no such thing.
But that does not mean I wasn’t making a fool of myself in another way. Perhaps the event was
not as embarrassing as reenacting a cursed scene from a dusty and overused playwright, but it
was still immensely embarrassing.
The truth is, I was trying to save something that didn’t require saving. I was attempting to be a
hero, to be helpful. I was acting risky, sure—channeling (instead of the courageous Superman) a
mimicry of a thoughtless Deadpool. Someone who acts on impulse and does not think twice
about their plans.
I may have set myself up for failure by doing so, but at the time I fully stood by my valorous
deed. And quite literally, too. I stood there dumbly, and it was from this glued position in my
heroic vision that I did not see the fate awaiting me.
Alas, out comes the truth.
The crime against my face began on a cold, blustery night.
In the midst of one of Mother Nature’s grand snowstorms, I decided, rather rashly, to venture out
along a relatively quiet footpath near the school I attended.
Like a desolate, white river, the trail wound for miles through private, wooded areas, perfectly
designed in their privacy for the many illicit and whimsical activities of youth. However, I was
not privy to those kinds of activities, as participation in them meant the risk of losing my
quarterback position.
Yes, far from those activities was my purpose for going out. Snowstorms to me have always
been therapeutic, reminiscent of the gentle rocking in a creamy crib, a trance meant to be
plunged into, a gradual falling of not just snow, but of the logical, meandering mind. A time to

get lost, to lose oneself in the ongoing trickle of God’s dandruff shaking onto the Earth.
Snowstorms were like this to me. They were, for lack of better words, my bright, listening
therapists sitting in pure thrones of white crystals.
So I ventured. And my mind grew euphorically numb. No mathematics problems solving
themselves on repeat in my head. No touchdown throws settling under my skin. No more, ‘You
gonna be a serial killer, James? That’d be funny if you were James. I totally would’ve called it,
James.’
And then, I arrived at the bridge.
See, this bridge was the connection between two wildly different trails. On my half of the trails,
there was thick tree cover, smooth navigating—the occasional graffiti of genitalia on rocks
lingering by the path. Perfectly safe.
But on the other side of the bridge, it was lost. Sure, there was a path to amble on, and sure, you
could even follow it if you so desired. But surely, it meant tempting the uneven landscape to
grant you a nice, twisted (or broken) ankle to walk upon for the remainder of the four miles to
the closest hospital. Not ideal, and definitely not in the midst of a white-out.
Because of these adverse conditions, I generally turned around at the bridge during my path
excursions for a safe trip back. It was my turnaround point. The place where I usually faced the
invisible trail devil and politely told him, ‘no thank you, today I will not tempt you, sir,’ before
forcing my booted feet to face my already trodden path for the journey home.
But that January day, something caught my watery, wind-whipped eyes, and made me second
guess that decision.
A tree.
A tree had fallen—a toppled tree that must have been dragged down by the tempest’s tyrannical
touch, blown to its death and left to suffer.
It lay on its side, forlorn amidst the white curtain bespeckling it, too tired to remove itself from
blocking the bridge’s entrance on the far side.
About to selfishly turn around and leave the tree alone in its speedy frozen burial, a new,
disturbing thought dawned upon me. As I moved closer to the prone plant, I thought I spotted a
trail of footprints on the opposite side of its splayed branches. Yes, there they were, imprints of
another lifeform hopelessly isolated on the much more dangerous half of the trail.
How, how would they be able to return with this beast in their path? I thought to myself. What if
they were young…or old, completely feeble? What if they could not navigate around the bulky,
organic barrier? What if they attempted to do that, fell over the guardrail screaming, and plopped
straight into the icy river?
All of these unnerving thoughts and more seized me at the time, prompting me to move forward.
Blooming freshly in my troubled conscience was a hatching plan to utilize the musculature of my
build to prevent others from harm’s path. Justified by my winner’s mindset and horrid
invincibility complex, the plan slowly took form. I had the brute strength of an ox, was taller
than most, and was known to persevere in school and on the field. I would be successful in
moving the tree, and I would help others while doing so.
As a quarterback of my high school team, I liked to believe I was the theoretical offspring of
Hercules, an unstoppable powerhorse blessed with the extra responsibilities of a quarterback due
to my keen wit. I was responsible, cool-headed; no ice, snow, or startling weight of the tree
would hamper my ability to handle the problem and help whomever was stuck on the path’s far
side. This bolstered my confidence and my boots proceeded forward, leading me to the base of
the monstrous tree trunk.
Seconds later and my assured hands were gripping the sappy base of the fallen tree. Great care
went into the proper positioning of my boots to ensure a firm, balanced base for moving. I
avoided all ice patches when tugging on the plant, and gradually, the soft sliding of branches
against snow and gravel greeted my straining ears.
I was moving the tree—I was freeing the incapable.
Snow continued to flit into my face as I maneuvered the tree about halfway over the side of a
sloping hill, hanging over a slanting area of land where the rocks gradually declined into a creek.
Blinking and flexing my facial muscles worked to keep my eyesight steady despite the increasing
snowfall. My planty cadaver proceeded to drag against the ground, nearly unblocking the bridge
path I had sought to open up again.
But I abruptly stopped my task when I saw a person stranded in the water.
The weak outline of someone marooned in the middle of the river stole all words from my throat.
The unlucky individual had their freezing arm in the air, reaching out for me, begging for rescue.
This was the person who had failed to navigate the tree! I realized.

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This was the person I had arrived in time to save! This was the person I had to grant another
chance at a warm-bodied life instead of facing the same fate as the tree I was desperately
wrangling with next to the path! Oh, Herculean blood and steady heart, I prayed, aid me in
saving this waterborne innocent!
Quicker than lightning I moved towards the arm waving me down, towards the hapless victim of
an untimely snowstorm slip.
I released the tree trunk on the top of the hill. My boots rushed me down the bank where I was to
proceed with my lifesaving duty. The person was helplessly wiggling in the middle of the river,
caught against a large, jagged rock that they clung to for dear life. They were stranded,
shipwrecked upon a tough, frigid isle, and I had to dispatch my mind and body for their
imminent rescue.
“I’m coming!” I passionately shouted to the mystery person, but understood my voice likely did
not reach them, “I’m going to help you!”
Their lack of response did not pique me as odd; the taste of death on the horizon was a perfect
reason behind their wordless struggle. At least, I thought so at the time.
“Listen! I’m going to wade out and toss in a long branch!” I shrieked, hoping they’d catch
enough syllables to fill in the gaps. “I’ll get the branch now!”
Hurriedly, I backtracked to the teetering tree on the top of the hill. One long branch from this tree
would be well suited to the task; all I had to do was wade out into the shallow and extend a piece
of this tree out like a ropey lifesaver, reeling in my poor catch. Energized by the release of
adrenaline in my body, I attempted to tear off a branch from the freshly fallen tree, failing to
realize that the half-alive, partially frozen appendages would never break off without some sort
of cutting device.
I tugged and jerked in vain for some time before I turned to alternatives. I’d have to scavenge the
surroundings for a workable lifesaver. Luckily (or maybe not, given the closure of this event) I
spotted a lengthy, dry branch that seemed durable enough for my mission. It was wedged
between some nearby rocks, jutting out in plain sight. I lighted upon this branch, and proceeded
to lug my thick Excalibur out of the rock pile like King Arthur himself.
A soft rustling behind me did not strike me as suspicious at the time, since I was so focused on
finishing the rescue. I brushed it off while I carried my stick to the creek’s edge, holding it out in
front of me. Louder, that dragging sound raised above the howl of the wind, and at some point I
peered behind me. The tree that I had wrenched so hard was slipping down the hill little by little.
For whatever reason, my mind did not process that I was directly in the projected path of this
falling object. It did not click in my brain that this tree would head straight down the steep hill
for my person if it continued. And with this failure to comprehend anything other than the person
who needed my help, I turned my back on my greatest foe of the night.
“I’m coming!” I yelled, thrusting the branch into the frozen stew of ice chunks and rocks.
My boots carried me a few feet into the shallows, and I instantly experienced the painfully cold
liquid soaking through my thick socks. Even though my toes were rapidly numbing, snot was
pouring into my stinging lips, and my hands were shaking with the weight of the branch, the
poor person’s waving arm reminded me of the great rescue at hand. The creaking sound behind
me was entirely forgotten.
“Here! Grab on!” I blinked the snow from my eyes and tried my absolute best to send the branch
towards the helpless form clinging to the rock. “Grab on!”
Then it hit me.
The tree hit me.
A blunt force to the backs of my thighs launched me sidewards. I cried miserably as my body
was launched, Excalibur splashing into the water as it flew free from my grip. Gritting my teeth,
I reached blindly out in front of me, expecting to feel the impact of cold water and nothing more.
However, fate did not have only cold water for me.
A jagged stone larger than my torso met my face as I flopped into the water. The sensation was
akin to an MLB player batting a metal ball straight into my face, albeit with a spike or two
gracing the ball’s outer coating. It was worse than any rotten tackle on the football field. It was a
slam meant to kill. But I’m grateful that it didn’t.
Somehow, I dragged myself from the water, dripping wet and half-crazy with the smarting of my
face. A glance to the side revealed the tree had slid down the hill at full speed, and its trunk was
a few steps away from me in the water. I grimaced at my stupidity—leaving the tree to take me
out like that was my own doing—but it was nothing compared to the utter uselessness I felt when
I turned my head to the person I had failed to save.
The person’s form was floating away down the river, stiff and unresponsive.

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The person was a piece of driftwood.
A stick.
Now profusely bleeding from the face, fully exhausted, entirely deadened, and numbed beyond
any possible setting of an industrial freezer, I removed myself from the creek and blindly
wandered back up the hill to the path. My visibility was close to nothing, with invasive
snowflakes and blood droplets muddying up my vision, but I could still see the truth of the
matter.
I was not a hero. Not even close. I had pointlessly injured myself. Wasted time trying to rescue a
stick. I had fooled myself. I was not a grand Hercules or King Arthur or even Deadpool. I was no
savior. I was just an unlucky, bleeding quarterback.
The walk home was horrible. Between a bleeding face and freezing body, I felt like I was going
to keel over and never play football again. But I kept telling myself, ‘you have to stick it out,
James, just stick it out,’ which brought hysterical tears to my eyes.
I tried to save a stick, mind you. A waving, anthropomorphic stick. A tree had assaulted me, the
able quarterback of the football team. Plus, I knew I would be scarred for life with this clumsy
fault. The only thing pushing me onward was the fact that I had successfully removed the tree
from the bridge’s path, aiming to help whatever specter resided the other side (I never saw a
person pass by, and to this day I’m convinced those footsteps were imagined, too).
And that’s all there is to it. I went home bloody and tired, cleaned myself up, and avoided the
questions that my parents asked me about the event. The bridge’s evil guardrail it was, and the
bridge’s evil guardrail it has always been.
Unsatisfactory for an explanation, but sufficient nonetheless.
And so…despite the constant teasings and proddings into the story behind that scar, to this day,
I’m still sticking it out.

 

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Enter the Contest

Each month, my site hosts a contest. The contest is unique in that it is based on a visual writing prompt. For this month’s writing prompt and full contest rules, visit Contests.

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