set free

There was a contest.  I submitted a story.  I didn’t win.  *sad face*

But, that means I can now share that story with all of you.  *happy face*


Tommy loved baseball, and cartoons, and climbing trees.  He loved his mother.  He loved his math class.  He didn’t know how to solve for “x,” could never remember the shortcuts for figuring out volumes, but he had did have a major crush on the teacher.  For being twelve years old, he loved a great deal many things, and chief among them was Jake.

And that was why Tommy set Jake free.


Jake knew that Tommy was hurting.  He tried his best to cheer his friend up, tried to dry the tears, to get a laugh, to ease his pain.  But, nothing Jake did helped.  He was saddened by his inability to comfort Tommy.  Of all the people in his life, he loved Tommy the most.  And he knew that Tommy loved him back equally.

And that was why, when Tommy sent him away, Jake went without whining or complaint.  He knew he could trust in that mutual love.

He knew exactly what he needed to do.


Charles spent the morning drinking.  He realized he’d spent most mornings drinking recently but he no longer cared.  He didn’t have a job.  He didn’t have any prospects.  And, he deserved a bit of rest and relaxation anyway.  After being the sole bread winner for twelve years he was owed a break.  So, why not have a few beers with breakfast and a few more with lunch?

He’d seen the looks he’d been getting from Heather and Tommy recently.  He hadn’t been pleased and had made them aware of his displeasure.  Who were they to judge him?

Charles knew the drink had made it easier to let his hand fly the first time but, again, he hadn’t cared.  Sometimes teaching lessons the hard way was the quickest way for them to be learned.  Heather had certainly learned quickly not too look at him with pity, or sorrow, or anger in her eyes, hadn’t she?

And Tommy?  Well, Charles hadn’t ever meant to hit the kid.  But, his son was a slow learner.  It had taken more than a few punches to get Tommy up to speed on what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior now that his dad was home all the time.  Charles knew he might have taken it too far the last time, the blood oozing from his split knuckles was evidence of that, but the lesson had finally sunken in so he expected to never have to raise his hand to Tommy again.

And the lesson had been learned, he hadn’t caught a cross eye or loose word from the kid in over a day, so hadn’t it been worth it?

But, what is the kid doing in the yard?  Why is he ushering the dog out of the gate?  Oh, that kid!  Great, now I’ll have to go track down Jake before he runs off for good.

Charles down the last of the beer in his right hand so he could set aside the bottle and pick up the car keys from the counter.  Then he bounded down the front steps, throwing a few curse words in the direction of Tommy, jumped into the driver seat and brought the car to life.  He swung into the street and scanned the road for any sign of Jake.


Yes, Jake had known exactly what needed to be done.  He waited until the bad man was going faster than was safe for the residential road and then he darted into the street.  He knew it was risky.  He knew he might die.  But, Tommy was worth it.


Tommy saw his dad burst out of the house and closed his ears to the words he knew he was too young to understand.  Then Tommy watched in horror as he stumbled into the car, coaxed the vehicle into the street, barely missing the mailbox, and gunned the engine, sending the car barreling down the road the same direction Jake had sprinted off moments before.  His horror turned to dread when he saw the flash of Jake run out in front of the car.  He couldn’t keep the scream of agony from escaping his lips.


What’s that?  Too late!  Brakes!  Turn the wheel!  Tree!


Tommy ran down the street.  A neighbor must have seen the crash because the sirens started and were drawing near before he’d even reached the crumpled car.  He didn’t give the car a second glance.  His only care was for the welfare of Jake.  His eyes searched the road frantically.  He sank to his knees when he saw his beloved dog standing just beyond the broken and twisted tree.


Jake saw Tommy running to him and then fall to his knees in the middle of the street and he ran to his friend and urged him out of the road.  Streets are not safe places for children to be.  Plus, the sirens would be arriving soon and it wouldn’t do for them to be associated with the mess around them.  A few licks.  A few nudges from his nose, and he successfully prodded Tommy onto the sidewalk opposite the wreck, and from there safely back into their yard.


Tommy’s mom met them in the yard, her hand covering her mouth, her eyes switching between terrified and mesmerized.  Together, Tommy, his mom, and Jake, watched the fire truck and ambulance arrive and do what they could to extract the car from the tree, and the man from the car.

Later, when the paramedics came to deliver the bad news, Jake could feel fear radiating out of Tommy, and sadness, but they were different kinds of fear and sadness than he had been feeling earlier.  There was a mixture of relief and hope in there as well.  The tears were cleansing rather than painful.

Jake licked his friends hand to let him know that everything would be okay.  Tommy hugged his friend tightly to him, because he too knew that everything was going to be okay.


The only stipulations, or prompt if you prefer, for the contest was that the story needed to be less than 1,000 words and a dog needed to make an appearance.  I met those criteria, so I can’t imagine why I didn’t win!

I haven’t had a chance to read the winning post yet, but I will link to it as soon as it is available.

But, what do you think?  Without having read any of the other entries, I deserved to win, didn’t I?

39 thoughts on “set free

  1. The only way to win a writing contest is to be friends with the people who are running it. Sorry to say. I gave up on writing contests long ago. I almost didn’t finish your story because I hate it when Dogs’s die. But I powered through and was glad to see Jake lived. The story was good, though I was not too keen on the writing style. It had a rough, sort of “immature” quality to it. That’s not meant to be an insult, I swear. Writing is a thing you just keep doing. If you keep writing, you will inevitably improve. Thank you for the story, and for not killing Jake off.

    • Oh man, I’d never hear the end of it if I killed off a dog in one of my stories. That’s high on the list of plot points to avoid at all costs! So, no worries there.

      The writing style was a bit different from what I normally do. I’m not sure if I was trying to write it as the child might have written it, or if putting it in such a halting manner would emphasize the importance of each of the steps along the way. If that makes sense.
      Thanks for the comment and feedback. They are always appreciated.

  2. I liked the layout. The tension and flow were also well done ( faster towards the end, as the tension built up). Different style than you usually use, but nice nonetheless.
    (You forgot to tell them the secret that you actually fence right-handed)

    • Hahahaha
      Why are you smiling?
      Because I know something you do not know. I’m not left handed.
      I must admit it, you are amazing!
      Or something like that. 😉

    • I didn’t think it did – seeing as the judge was an established writer, a separate entity from the store that was hosting the contest. The thought never crossed my mind.
      And, thank you, I’m glad you liked it.

  3. I love the strong bond between Tommy and Jake – a lot of humans don’t think about the feelings and intentions of dogs! And THANK YOU for not killing Jake. My rule is usually ‘do not read or watch anything with an animal in the title, because the animal inevitably dies.’ Thankfully, your story didn’t have Jake in the title.

    • That’s a pretty good rule, I’m going to have to remember it.
      Composing the story in my head before I started writing, I wasn’t yet sure if he was going to live or not. It wasn’t until I got to the part with the dad speeding down the street that I knew Jake needed to live.

      • I am a sucker for good over evil, too. There’s just something satisfying about those stories that can’t be found in the perhaps more real tales where it is harder to tell who is good and who is bad.

  4. This is very different from all the other stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and its structure makes sense for the information you are conveying. The voice seems to be either that of a child like Tommy or a pet like Jake. While I know it is popular to say one should not anthropomorphize animals, current research is proving all mammals, not just humans, have ethics, morals, and premeditation. So, I guess what I’m saying, is this could be in Jake’s voice and it would not be out of the realm of possibility. You tackled a tough subject matter without resorting to being flippant or crass. That’s a difficult goal and you definitely achieved it.

    • Thank you for the comments.
      It’d been so long between when I wrote the post for the contest and when I published it here that I had forgotten the darker nature of it. When I hit publish today all I was thinking about was that it was a fictional piece about a dog… and that it hadn’t been good enough to win the contest.
      I should have been more delicate when introducing it… Should I put trigger warnings at the top?

      • Not necessarily. All that is life is fodder for the artist. I was once asked if rape could be considered subject matter for art. Of course my gut reaction was “no!” But then we wouldn’t have some extraordinary pieces such as Leda and the Swan or Pluto and Persephone. Domestic violence is something that should be talked about. You did a very good job portraying Charles’ thought process without making any judgement calls. You let the characters simply tell their story. I only consider putting a warning if there is sexual content or language. Other than that, let the piece speak for itself. 🙂

  5. I’m glad you said you’d post the winning story. I do think you should have won. And I also think you’re the best flash fiction writer I know. That was an award winning story.

  6. i thought it was fantastic and i read it twice to make sure i didn’t miss a word. i like how you offered lines from each of the different characters’ perspectives/voices. i think you should have won, you always amaze me with your fiction )

  7. You absolutely deserved to win.

    At the same time you made me cringe and cry. My childhood dogs, Okie and Patrick, used to chase cars. They were put to sleep (the biggest trauma of my childhood) because it was feared that they would one day kill someone. I was just thinking of this story today, and how I might write it. What a strange coincidence.

    • The world is weird like that. It is amazing how often I stumble across a story that fits perfectly with the thoughts I’d been pouring through that day.

  8. I’m NOT being biased. You deserved to win.
    This is great. And I read it twice as well.
    My biggest fear was that the BOY was going to die, not the dog. Not that I wanted Jake to die. But I wasn’t sure what “set him free” meant, and I was on the edge of my seat.
    Any day now, I’m going to write a fiction post.

    • And now you’ve got me on the edge of my seat. Samara fiction. Can’t wait!

      I still haven’t been able to read the winning story. I’m sure it is excellent…

      Just not as excellent as mine. 😉

      The boy. He almost died. Several times. So did Jake. The words swirled on this one. I had too many endings and didn’t know which to pick. So, I did what I always do in such situations, I just wrote and let the words take me where they would.

      • I could FEEL happening – almost like, you yourself weren’t sure how it was going to end!

        Because I as the reader was so unsure! I love that the fact that the words take on a life of their own translate into an unpredictability for me as the reader.

        Have fun tomorrow! I’ll be thinking of you all! (It is tomorrow, isn’t it?)

      • Yep, tomorrow. I’m pretty excited. Nervous about a bunch of introverts trying to interact, but Rara will make sure things go smoothly. She’s awesome like that.

      • Sounds like the set up of a joke… “What do you call a room full of introverts?” 🙂

        “Dead silent” seems a reasonable punchline…

      • The room was anything but silent… we were a table of introverts surrounded by a mass of families and drinkers and sports fans and… yeah, the place was loud.

  9. Obviously I was not a judge in the contest, otherwise I’d have voted for your story … and would have threatened the other judges if they didn’t vote for your story….

    • Hah!
      I guess I’m supposed to say I want to win on my own talents, but, at some point I think I’d be okay with a “coerced” victory. 😉

  10. I like how at first you don’t know that Jake is a dog, or what the “problem” is. And you do handle the domestic abuse part of the story well, making it clear that it’s the circumstances which have pushed Charles into that place where he’s doing things he wouldn’t perhaps ordinarily do, but he’s now too far gone to care about anything.

    It’s a story about self-esteem, I think, as well. Charles hasn’t got any, so has taken it out on his wife and his kid, and his kid has got enough left to know that Jake has to escape to safety before he gets hurt too.

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