This is a short story I wrote as the last assignment of the course Craft of Plot.
Zian is walking back and forth in his living room like a lion in a cage. His wife should be there. She is a famous writer and she is finishing a novel. Usually, she stays in front of her computer for hours even forgetting to eat. Why did she leave the cottage?
He suddenly hears the noise of a key turning in the lock.
—It’s open, he shouts.
—Hey, honey, what are you doing here? You were not supposed to come back for lunch today…
—Well, I changed my mind. Jogging?
—Yeah, I needed to de-stress. In one hour, I’m being interviewed by an old classmate.
—Since we moved to New Hampshire in the village you spent your childhood, it’s the first time I hear you talking about stress.
—You’re right, she answers smiling.
—Kate, I’m here because I have great news. I want to show you something. Where did you put the box I gave you last week?
—I hid it like you asked me, “where no one could find it.”
—Could you give it back to me, please?
—Well Zian, I have to take a shower, get dressed, and it will be time to go to the interview. I’m sorry, I’ve no time to get you this box.
—You mean it’s not here?
—It’s in the woods behind the house.
—Well, you were so mysterious. I wondered if there were some er… illegal things inside.
—“Don’t tell anybody,” you said and you added, “I prefer you don’t have a look.”
—I was talking about our two kids, Kate. With their habit of playing to hide their teddies everywhere, I couldn’t think of a safe place. I knew you would. But as I wanted to make you a surprise, I didn’t wish you had a look inside, that’s all.
—Why don’t you just keep this box by yourself?
—I was afraid to lose it. You know, that’s my specialty, losing things. Ok, I’m going to bring it back.
And Zian rushes outside. He walks straight to the other side of the woods, looking for the old tree trunk into which Kate used to stash things away as a child. Thirty minutes later, he finds it, kneels and puts his hand into the hole: empty!
He takes out his cell phone and sees that his wife tried to reach him many times, but the silent mode was on.
—The box’s not here.
—Honey, you didn’t let me time to tell you: I put it in a hiding place closer to the house. I found another hole.
—Why didn’t you tell me?
—You vanished like a thief and I didn’t want to run after you. I was completely cold and I needed a warm shower.
—Ok, I’m sorry, I should have waited a little. So tell me, where’s the box?
—Do you remember where the pond is?
—Go there; find the biggest oak of the area and stand in front of it with your back to the pond. Look on your left. The hole is exactly like the other one, at the basis of a trunk. Easy!
—Thanks. I go.
Zian crosses the woods to the pond. There, he sees nothing like a big oak. He takes out his cell phone again.
—Honey, I can’t find your oak.
—You’re in front of the pond?
—You can’t miss it; it’s much bigger than the other trees.
—Nothing’s big here.
—Don’t tell me they cut down Byron!
—Oh, sorry, but I think Byron’s dead. The kids talked about an oak called Byron, when I took them back from school two days ago. They said, the authorities made it fall because a wood illness rendered it unstable.
—Well, find the stump. It should be huge and very visible. My interview is in five minutes now. Goodbye.
As soon as Zian finds the stump, he turns his back to the pond and goes to the left. He immediately noticed a hole down a trunk nearby and finds the box inside. He has no time to open it, that his cell phone is ringing again.
—Honey, the interview is canceled. My old classmate is stuck in a tunnel at the edge of town. I’m coming home.
—See you there then.
Before starting to walk, Zian opens the box: empty!
“No!”, he says aloud, and he runs to his home.
—The box’s empty. Someone stole the paper inside, he says to his wife as she enters the living room.
—Come on darling, if you find a box somewhere and take what is inside, would you put the empty box back to its previous place?
—No, I would through it away, or keep it with me.
—But what happened then?
—When you gave me this box, it was first opened in front of you and you shut it quickly behind your back. You just said it was a paper?
—Maybe it fell out of the box?
—Nothing landed on the floor.
—So let’s say it landed somewhere else. You stood exactly here.
And she goes to where her husband was standing, just in front of a heater.
—Look at what’s hiding there, she says, showing a sheet of paper trapped behind the heater.
Her husband heaves a sigh of relief, taking the paper quickly.
—Can you tell me what’s so important on this paper?
—It’s our next holidays. I won a photo contest. It was a trip for two. This week, I negotiated our two children’s stay for an extra fee. Next August, we all go to California.
—Oh, you should have talked to me. I booked the trip in China we all have been dreaming about for so long. It was supposed to be your birthday surprise. The children are very excited to trace their father’s roots, you know. And it’s in August… Honey, are you ok?