FALL FICTION WINNER! Today, we present the winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer: “Linger Longer” by Vincent Masterson. In this story, Lori and Michael visit a cabin in the woods for a getaway with friends. Throughout the weekend, Lori struggles to keep a clear head. Michael chalks it up to her “difficulties,” but for Lori, tracking reality becomes an increasingly blurred line.
It was their first vacation together, a log-cabin weekend with Michael’s old friends from grad school, and Lori was determined not to ruin it. This was more her fear than his, and she had overcompensated with eager questions—Where was this Quad? Who’s Dupin? What’s absinthe?—her eyes wide and searching and wanting more. But somewhere between Tallahassee and the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Lori grew weary of Michael’s nostalgia. Her temper was tripped easily—by his voice, by the loose flapping of the Wrangler’s rag top, by a stomach upset from too many filling station snacks. Didn’t he know she never wanted to go? Why couldn’t he have left at her home with her TV and magazines, refilling her favorite blue mug with dark wine?
She pressed her forehead to the cold window, thinking of the stupid questionnaire Dr. Ryerson had given her during a session earlier that week. I sometimes have strong feelings that do not seem like mine, score from 0 to 10. Focus instead on your breathing, she thought. Conjure tranquil images: pristine mountains, waterfalls, softly falling snow. Beside her, she could feel Michael coiling tightly. The last hour of Lori’s sulky shrugs and one-word answers had finally burned up the last of his good cheer. How many miles had they driven in that bitter and troublesome silence? She didn’t know. A phrase lifted in Lori’s mind, a father’s frequent advice to his inscrutably moody little girl, Please, honey, just try to have fun.
She reached over and squeezed Michael’s knee.
“I love you.” She winced to hear herself. I love you? It was overblown and over-sudden and, worse, it wasn’t what she meant. What she meant was, I’m sorry, it’s just me, I’m trying to snap out of it. What it meant was, Can’t you just pretend I’m happy, or that you are?
To read the rest of “Linger Longer,” click here.