Creative Writing Short Story Winner 2022

In spring 2022, students enrolled in Creative Writing with professor Lillian Correa had the opportunity to participate in a Short Story Competition. The judges were impressed by all of the stories submitted, and finally (unanimously) settled on a winner: Isabella Burke's "Raspberry Bushes".

Yellowstone covers over two million acres of the continental United States and is one of its
largest national parks. If you were to go missing in this park, would you ever be found?

Claire Parker is a university student and outdoors enthusiast with a bright future. But one wrong
turn on a hike takes her far into the heart of the woods where few people have gone before. She
wanders deeper and deeper into the unknown, the night bringing a dangerous cold and casting
sinister shadows. Claire wasn’t prepared for this- she’s running out of supplies. With no
connection to the outside world, she has no idea if people are looking for her and no way of
contacting help.

Will she make it out alive?

 

“Good morning Montana! We’re starting this Monday off right with a high of sixty
degrees and a low of forty coming later tonight. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like
perfect hiking weather- what do you have to say about that Jan?”
The radio drones on cheerfully as my car picks up the gravel on the way to the park. The
weatherman was right, it is great hiking weather. I double check my backpack in the passenger
seat: water bottle, sunglasses, granola bars.
“There have been reports of increased bear sightings in the area, some even going as far
as a local’s backyard garden! So be extra careful today, outdoorsmen…”
I slow down as I approach the ranger and turn the radio down.
“Hiya Claire! You coming climbing this weekend?”
It’s Richard. We used to go rock climbing together in highschool, but I haven’t seen as
much of him now that we chose different colleges. But I still see him nearly every time I go for a
hike now that he works at Yellowstone.
“I still don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, I’ve got the MCAT next month and I
promised-”
“I know, I know. Well you enjoy yourself today, you deserve a break.”
“Thanks,” I smile gratefully.
“Oh, and watch out for those bears!” he calls after, joking.

The drive to the trail is a long one, longer than other trails that I’ve taken. But I don’t
mind, it’s quiet and gives me time to appreciate the landscape. The trees loom over the road,
their branches creating a tunnel where the sun beats down through the leaves. I can hear the birds
chirping at each other, and the cicadas humming their monotonous song. I smile to myself,
taking it all in. I really needed this.
When I get to the trailhead, I pull over to park on the side of the road. There are only two
other cars here as far as I can see. This is good, hopefully no tourists and I might even have the
trail to myself. It seems Yellowstone has tourists no matter what time of year you go, but it’s mid
spring and the big season is during summer. I grab my backpack and check it one more time:
water bottle, sunglasses, granola bars. I put the sunglasses on my head and add my car keys and
cellphone to the pack.
As I head over to the map, I can see a family having a picnic lunch by the small creek.
Parents and two small kids, a boy and a girl. The mother waves pleasantly at me as a pass by, I
give a smile and a nod. I’m surprised more people aren’t taking advantage of the weather, it’s the
best day we’ve had in weeks. Montana had a long winter this year, the kind that lingers into
spring and makes the days dark and windy. But today the sun is shining and dances gracefully on
the water in the creek.
The map shows that the trail is pretty straight forward: three miles both ways. I shouldn’t
have any issues, even though this is a new area I haven’t hiked before. I just need to remember to
take the right fork at the one and a half mile mark, so that I loop back around to where I parked.
It shows that the trail continues to the left as well, but it’s a much longer walk and I have a
lecture to get to at four. If I like this trail, I tell myself that I’ll come back and take the other way
next time. And with that, I enter the woods.
I picked this trail because it’s said to have good birdwatching, and halfway through
there’s a field with native wildflowers spread out. The flowers in my garden are just starting to
bloom, but I bet that the wildflowers are already thriving and showing off their bright colors. It’s
going to be a nice hike. I can’t remember the last time I went out like this, it’s been too long. My
boots crunch on the uneven and overgrown path, and I have to be vigilant not to trip on tree
roots. There aren’t any trails like this on campus, and I’ve been going to Yellowstone since I was
a little girl. I start to miss it if I stay away too long. I can remember birthday parties and camping
trips here, I remember picking up trash here with my Girl Scouts troop. I make a mental note that
I should pack a picnic with my parents sometime this summer, like the family I saw at the
trailhead.
I see my parents often, but not nearly often enough. Actually, most times I see them
we’re doing something outside. Whether it be fishing with my dad or taking long hikes with my
mother, they’re the ones who fueled my love for the great outdoors.
The trees get more dense as I move along, their leaves seemingly more lush and green the
farther away from civilization I get. I’m going farther from the road than I thought I would, but I
guess the map's proportions were a bit off. The trail is much more overgrown, it’s littered with
fallen leaves from last autumn and pinecones piling up along the sides. Thorny shrubs have
begun to spring up, at first sporadically, but now the path is surrounded by them. I reach down to
inspect the leaves: raspberries! Careful to avoid the thorns, I take the ripest one I can find. It’s
sweet and tangy, they’re perfectly in season. The birds haven’t gotten to them yet, so they must
have just ripened.
I’ve been walking around forty minutes, but I still haven’t reached the fork. Did I start off
at the wrong place? Is this not the trail that I saw on the map? My anxiety begins to rise as I keep
walking, but as I turn around the bend I can finally see the fork. But, the trail splits into three, not
two different paths. Confused, I try to think back to the information I saw on the map. Walk
halfway, take the turn, then loop back around to the car. I turn left, wait, no I turn right at the
fork. The most right path is blocked by a fallen tree, it doesn’t look like anyone has gone this
way in a while. But, I don’t have time to go to the left, and I’m not sure where the middle path
will take me; so I hop over the debris and keep on walking.
A half hour later and it doesn’t seem like the trail has begun to turn at all, but I know that
this can’t be true. The map clearly showed that it curves back around eventually, I just need to be
patient. But time is running out for me to make it back home before my lecture, so I quicken my
pace.
Another half hour; shouldn’t I be back by the main area by now?
Another half hour; I definitely should have made it back by now, maybe I took the wrong
turn at the fork. With how far I’ve already gone it will be faster just to keep going on the path
I’m on, even if it's the longer way. I’ve come too far to just turn around, I’d miss my lecture for
sure then. I frown down at my watch, there’s no way I’ll be able to stop home and make it to
campus on time.
Two hours later.
I think I’m lost.
The sun is starting to set. I’m getting cold. I’ve been hungry for a long time now. The
trail did not loop back like I thought. I tried turning around to retrace my steps, but nothing looks
familiar. I don’t know what to do. I just keep walking.
Three hours later.
The sun is giving off its last light for the day. Its rays bounce between the thick layer of
pine needles overhead, casting patchy, skittish shadows. The birds sing their last songs before
settling in, and the bugs begin warming up their symphony of chirps and buzzes to take over the
night. I’m not even on a path anymore, I don’t know when this happened. Everything looks the
same, the trees blend together to create a tall, green maze I can’t solve.
I dig my phone out of my pack and look at it again for the hundredth time: no service.
What a surprise. I know that I’ll have to start conserving the battery in case I need to use the
flashlight, but my eyes linger on the screen. I stare at it. My lockscreen is a picture of me and my
friends on a camping trip. My eyes start to water and a lump builds in my throat. I want to cry, I
want to scream, I want to go home. What if I never see my friends again, or Richard, or my
family, or anybody at all? I break down and fall to my knees. Heaving sobs roll through my back
and my face contorts with grief. Soon tears start rolling down and I turn a sick shade of pink.
“Someone help me!” I yell harshly, more for the satisfaction of hearing myself than
hoping I’ll be heard.
“Help me! I want to go home!”
Bitterly, angrily, I lower myself even further to the ground, curling up as small as I can. I
don’t know how long I lay here, but it feels like an eternity.
The sky is completely dark now, swirling blackness closes in on me and I feel like
suffocating. The beauty of nature begins to wear off on you when you’ve been lost in the woods
for hours. Slowly, I make myself get up. When I stop crying I go back to check what’s still in my
pack: empty water bottle, sunglasses, granola bar wrappers. Useless, useless, useless. My phone
battery is at 48%. Looking at the lockscreen one last time, I silently turn it off and roughly push
it in my pocket. I need to keep moving.
Three hours later.
If I ever get home, I’m never going to walk anywhere again. I’m sick and tired of
walking. I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I’m hungry. I’m cold. And I want to sit down. But I can’t make
myself stop moving, I’m scared that if I stop I’ll never get back up again. Then I’ll be stuck in
these woods forever.
I’m walking along mossy, uneven rocks. They jut out into each other forming rough and
untamed patterns. They’re slick with rain that the moss held onto from a few days ago. I climb
over one of the stones and swing my legs over- but my feet don’t touch anything. Before I have
time to react I’m falling, my shoulder slams into a lower rock but I keep tumbling down the
steep, slippery, slope. I strike my head, hard. And then, I hit the ground. I’m in the thorny
embrace of the brush, every time I try to move they seem to push more against me. The soft skin
of my stomach and neck, mangled. My arms and face are covered in small, precise cuts from the
thorns. In the moonlight, I can see bright red substance covering what looks like my whole body.
Shaking, I inspect my arm to get a better understanding of the wound. But, it’s not blood. Sweet,
tangy, perfectly in season: it’s raspberries! Hungrily, desperately, I shove as many as I can find
into my mouth. Then, ignoring my pain, I stand up in search of more. My head is throbbing and
the cuts all over my body are stinging, but I don’t care. I found food.
Once I’m satisfied, I pick as many raspberries as I can and fill my backpack with them. I
don’t know if I’ll need them or not, but I don’t want to go long without food again. These bushes
look identical to the ones I walked by earlier today, I think that I may be close to the path. With
renewed hope I start walking again, using the raspberry bushes as my guide.
After walking for some time, I come across a creek. I stop to wash the sticky berry
residue off of myself, and to let the cool waters run over the still stinging cuts. I don’t know if
the water is safe to drink, but I fill my bottle anyway just to have. As I’m filling it, I distractedly
look up at the land on the other side of the creek. It’s a field of wildflowers, lush and lazily
waving in the gentle night wind. My jaw drops, I slowly rise to my feet. Is this? Is this the field
that the path was supposed to lead to? My eyes scan around the landscape until: I see it. I can see
the path.
My throat lets out a strangled cry of joy and my eyes fill with tears. With my vision
blurred I walk across the creek and begin to run through the flowers. With each step I trample
their vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows but I couldn’t care less. I’m going to go home. But then, I
stop. Frozen in my tracks, I stare straight ahead at the looming black mass that stands directly in
my path. A bear. A massive, black bear.
It’s still rather far away, but I’m much closer than I know I should be. The towering beast
slowly turns its head until it’s staring dead into my eyes.
I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do
It bends down to sniff at the flowers, pawing at the stems. I can’t seem to do anything but
watch, my heart in my throat. Then, it starts to walk towards me.
I know I have to do something, I know I can’t just stand here.
I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do
Gathering all of my strength, all of my courage, I reach my arms up as high as they’ll go
and stand on my tip toes. I make myself look as big as possible, and yell as loud as I can. A
primal, anguished sound escapes my lips and echoes off the trees. My chest expands and my
fingers reach higher, higher, as I let out repeating, raucous, roars.
At this, the bear disinterestedly begins to meander back into whatever corner of the forest
it came from; seemingly more bothered by me than scared.
I stay in my strange, elongated stance long after the bear leaves the field, scared that it
will decide to come back. I wait like this for what seems like hours, until I slowly melt to sit on
the ground. I rest my head on the wildflowers, looking up at the sky. The sun is just beginning to
rise, swirling colors of orange and pink paint the sky as the world wakes up. I sit up and look
ahead at the path that awaits me. I can see the mile marker at the opening of the trail: my first
sign of civilization in hours. Then, I begin the trek back home.
I walk and I walk. I look back and see the fork where I took the wrong turn so many
hours ago. I walk past the raspberry bushes. And I keep walking until-
“Hiya Claire! Hey, did you have a nice hike yesterday?”
It’s Richard.

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