Story Starter December 2016 – Cheryl Andrews

Our December Story Starter features an inspiring work by Cheryl Andrews.

To enter, write a short piece (100 words maximum) inspired by the art featured below. It can be any form of writing (poetry, prose, dialogue, haiku, etc.) as long as it is original. Submit your entry in the comment section below. Check the full entry rules and format here.

Introducing our December inspiration piece:


About The Artist, Cheryl Andrews:

Writer. Artist. Photographer.  headshot-cherylandrews-dec-2016

I live in paradise, a forest of towering white pines in Ontario’s Rainbow Country.  My studio looks out onto the visually stunning shoreline of one of the region’s numerous lakes.

The desire to create imagery that conveys a respectful mindfulness of the natural world around me has been a life-long artistic adventure involving many different forms of media.

But, photography, a particularly evocative art form in my estimation, has been the creative constant since my teen years. When making photographs I’m always chasing after that elusive and intimate interplay between light and the absence of it.

This passion for creative expression through the visual and literary arts continues to grow and evolve.


Most recent photo exhibits included Innisfil and Seguin, and three pieces currently form part of a Georgian Bay themed installation in Parry Sound.

Writing Blog: cherylandrews

Photo Blog:

Want to check out past contest entries? Click here.

Feeling inspired? Paste in your 100-word entry below! ** Please note, since there is a delay between content submission and approval, please submit an entry one time only. Thank you. **

  • I knew it! I should not have come here. But the voice in my head said, “come, come into my world. I will show you my secret pathway.” The sign said, “No Exit.” “How can I get in, if I can’t get out.” “Be quiet, and follow the white pathway on your right.” The voice in my head started laughing and laughing. He said, “run, run. quick into the woods.” My gosh! “What is happening to me?” I opened my eyes. It was pitch dark. The voice in my head said, “reach out and touch me. You are safe now!”

  • I’m sure I saw her go this way… But there was no sign of her now. Even at 90 pounds, Snowball could disappear in a flash. Damn dog never did listen. We should have called her Avalanche, all she did was cause chaos! “Snowball!” I demanded, rather than beckoned. Was it true, that it was all about the tone? That it didn’t matter if I told her she was dumber than a bag of hammers, as long as I said it sweetly? No trace of her. I heard nothing. I stopped. All I could hear, was my own laboured breathing.

  • Seriously? No exit? I start signing quietly to myself: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can – never lee-e-eeave…” Crap. Why did I take this damn shortcut anyway?! I am a total cliché! I can hear that sweet guitar solo in my head as I walk. But I stop and listen when I hear a branch break under foot. Not my foot. I look around me. Haven’t we all seen how this movie ends? A hundred times? I look behind me, wondering if I can make it back to the road before its completely dark. Not bloody likely.

  • “Catch me if you can!” I had run so far ahead of anyone else. My black jacket would serve well as camouflage. “You’ll never find me!” I peeked around the tree, I saw no one, but I heard giggling. “I told you I was faster than you!” When I peeked again, I saw her black hair, for only a moment. It was long enough to see they were going the other way. The wrong way! They were running, but away from me. Why? Why did they want to get away from me? “Hey!” Why did they want to leave me?

  • A complete calmness
    Among a family that has not been troubled
    A worn out sign
    Keeping the boundaries at its mist
    What shall be done when it diminishes
    But they keep the warmth
    And give others a home
    Clusters in every nook and cranny
    There beauty still reaches the distance
    As the cold seeps in
    At an awe as they stand together
    They never do stand alone
    Not a sound but the crunch of the snow
    A warning to those when your close
    Able to capture the stillness
    Nothing better than to indulge
    Into the pure raw
    Beauty in nature


    Footsteps, running through the forest. Day after day on that same unforgiving course and with the same numbing fear. The thin grey soldiers march purposefully through the snow; their hearts and limbs as cold as ice. Desperately the girl searches for places to hide from her pursuers. Fear tightens his ugly grip and infiltrates her screaming mind. Then one day, she finally sees it; the sign that says ‘no exit’. She stops running. She breathes a sigh of relief as she looks back at the daunting soldiers and the bleak forest, all so familiar to her.

  • “Somebody, please help me!” Layci screamed but there was nobody around to hear her. Just the darkness that had continued to surround her for the past week, at least she had thought it was a week ago some stranger pulled her from her bed, drugged her, and locked her in whatever she was in. All she could feel was the chill in the air. “Hello? Is anybody there?” She cried out, but again no response. Was this it? she thought, would this be the way Layci Clear would die?


    Darkness calls again
    I’m lost again
    A tortured soul
    Without a goal
    Drifting through the haze
    Trapped inside the maze
    I tried to find the path back to the past,
    But happiness is never meant to last
    The path to the future
    Is bleak and unsure
    I’m stuck in the present;
    In it’s stifling torment
    Then, through the haze,
    I see a way out of the maze
    My heart is on fire in its cage!
    I’ll start over, I’ll turn the page!
    My smile freezes on my parched lips
    The sign is now painfully clear. It reads: ‘NO EXIT’

  • As dusk gives way to a clear and moonlit night, escape rings hard in my ears. Racing toward my freedom, the barn light shines so bright through the trees I sense I can almost touch it. Still, his footsteps pound after me like a mad beast chasing its prey. I hear broken branches crack beneath the weight of his feet. Nearing the barbed gate, a faded blue ‘NO EXIT’ sign paralyzes me like a biblical salt figure frozen in the snow. A brooding silence fills the air. Then suddenly, I feel his breath pant warm against my neck.


    An alien lord and his army once took control of a forest. It became known as the forbidden forest. No humans were allowed there as they destroy everything! Defiantly, they still wandered into the forest and scarred her. Lovers carved their names into tree trunks. Aimless drifters polluted her sacred paths. Criminals hid there from the law. They chopped down trees and lit fires which sometimes raged out of control, destroying the vegetation. One frozen winter, the keepers of the forest sought revenge and barricaded all the exits. There was no escape; no exit! Graves now litter the forbidden forest.

  • I must have missed the sign as I walked aimlessly through the snow. I only had a vague idea where I was going. I knew I had to keep moving. My hands were cold and I could feel the wetness coming through my boots. I didn’t have the strength to run anymore. Will I reach it in time? I thought. Everything looks the same! The light was fading faster now and I could smell it on the wind. My heart raced. You need to focus to get out!

  • Emerson walked out of the front door of the Elmvale Long Term Care residence and no one heard the front door beep as he left. It was 3 a.m. and the night nurse was slumped on the counter taking her nightly nap. Emerson mumbled to himself and his old body was hunched, as he trotted across the parking lot toward the path. He hesitated as he starred at the “No Exit” sign. He simply shook his head , pulled his robe around him and looked down at his soaked slippers. He carried on, as if he had a destination in mind.

  • No exit? I laugh to myself, there can be no exit. I wish I knew now what I knew as a child, but the roads of life are ingrained in my character like the calluses on my hands. There is no such thing as an exit, only a change in direction. The important question to ask is not what you see on this road, but how you see it? How do you want it to shape you? A road traveled is never forgotten.

  • Finally! The trip had tested my every resolve, but I managed a smile at the realization that I had finally reached my destination. The sign that I was at last where I wanted to be. Now no more than a wild, plump, aging porcupine’s daily stroll away. I could smell the green and taste the blue. The woods welcomed me with breezy whispers and the rhythm of the lake soothed my jangled nerves. I was finally here. It’s time to let go of all my cares.

  • I swear to you that when I arrived, the sun was setting, and this was the sight that greeted my eyes. I stopped dead in my tracks. A sign, where just yesterday, no sign had been. A warning? Or a dare? “Follow me and you will not return”. For a moment, I was only too happy to turn back. But then, a terrible thought. What if she had no choice? Maybe she didn’t want to disappear. If you want to recover the lost, I thought, you must lose yourself. I slipped into the shadows beyond the trees.


    Shadow passing by,
    Just out of reach;
    Furred form dissolving
    Into liquid darkness;
    And becoming
    One with the woods.


    I knew the place like the back of my hand, or, maybe like the back of her hand. I chuckled at the thought, seeing as her hand was now chopped up with the rest of her; stashed in a bunch of garbage bags in my pickup.

    Backing my truck into the familiar spot, I knew I’d get away with it again. Another missing girl, some fool runaway, her body dumped in the bush.

    Stepping out of my truck, I startled as the cruiser approached from around the bend. The officer rolled down the window, “You need a hand, sir?”

  • Careful tread
    And steady measure;
    Heavy muscle stood frozen,
    Suspended animation
    — Tawny fur now
    — Invisible
    Against the silver bark of maple trees;

    Waiting –
    For what seemed an eternity
    As spotted flanks and dark noses
    Scented the forest,
    And then resumed grazing;
    Blissfully unaware;

    The cat seized the moment,
    With a gathering of strength
    — Iron-bound power
    Leaping silently;

    Panicked flight and
    Slow exhalation
    Soon ceased altogether;
    Eyes glazed to greyness, and
    Blood spattered the snow.

  • We are the children of the sun
    On a voyage to an unknown world
    Guided by the North Star
    Pushed by the west wind
    Scattered over the snow
    Forests deserts and plains
    We are as one with the buffalo
    Corn trees and rocks
    Forming the circle of life
    Protected by the warrior
    And lead by the spirit world
    There is no turning back


    A train route once ran past a notorious forest. The forest was rumoured to be haunted by a disfigured being.

    One night, a bold ‘no exit’ sign loomed up on the edge of the forest. An ominous shape suddenly headed straight onto the path of a train. Bright yellow eyes gleamed in the pale moonlight. Wheels screeched desperately on the tracks before the train derailed.

    Exactly 100 years later:

    An old battered train rolls eerily into an abandoned railway station. Silently, my erstwhile passengers emerge from the shadows. Amid the ivy and the derelict sidings, a ghostly story entwines…

  • Awaking From Winter’s Slumber
    (The Tale of the Jabberwock’s Wife)

    ‘Twas peaceful and the slithy toves
    did chant and titter in the wabe
    and celebrate the borogoves
    this long awaited day

    They’d all been ‘ware the Jabberwock
    his jaws that bit and claws that catch
    until the manxome beast was caught
    never galumphing back

    O’frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
    Chortled the brillant borogroves
    and to commorate the day
    feasted with slithy toves

    In the shade of the tum tum tree
    they laughed and roasted marsh mellows
    broken was the serenity
    with a heart wrenching bellow

    The bandersnatch and jub jub bird
    were woken from winter’s slumber
    and scattered they through tulgey wood
    wildly she lumbered

    The vorpal blade still pierced the ground
    where the jabberwock’s body lie
    and wept she now without a sound
    red flames within her eye

    Whiffling through the tulgey wood
    she burbled past the tum tum tree
    and bellowed loudly as she could
    “Now give the boy to me!”

    The slithy toves shook violently
    the borogroves quivered with fear
    mome raths hung their heads silently
    as swiftly she drew near

    One, two, one two, she blasted through
    tulgey wood until she found him
    and stood he there without a clue
    indeed his chances grim

    And as his trepidation grew
    she knashed her jaws, drew claws that catch
    and from the tum tum branches flew
    the frumious bandersnatch

    The jub jub bird on glided wing
    did swoop down with her knarly claws
    and the frumious bandersnatch
    cut her venomous jaws

    The jabberwocks red eyes did dim
    to her knees the manxome foe was brought
    she burbled as she looked at him
    the solstice moon she sought

    Surrendering to the poison
    she lay dying on the cold ground
    and rattle the ancient sistrums
    melodic drumming sound

    And as the church bell sounds its chime
    in a world of queens and hatters
    rabbits seem to be losing time
    hope is all that matters

    ‘Twas peaceful and the slithy toves
    did chant and titter in the wabe
    now celebrate the borogroves
    and the mome rathes outgabe

  • Ah Jean-Paul.

    When you
    walked through that
    door, did you
    there could be trees?

    It’s just a ruse, mon cher—to hide
    the tattered paper, the rose
    walls of our once

    what matter, we can dance
    weave our ribbons of
    of regret, an eternity
    of rough-barked
    maypoles around
    and again
    stamping our

    The cold is just
    a tempting
    incongruity we won’t
    feel, and
    when she slashes
    her fury deep
    into your breast, there will be
    red laughter on the

  • This was our place.

    In the springtime, we’d watch the rain fall into the clearing.

    In the summer we’d lay in the grass and stare up at the thick, hooded trees.

    In the autumn, we’d see the small patches of sunlight beam through the vulnerable patches.

    But this is visit was different.

    Today in the snow, he knelt down and held up a tiny box.

    Pointing to the sign and laughing, he said so quietly, “there’s no exit.”

    “Then, I guess I have no choice,” I said half laughing, half crying.

  • The tan, sweaty, muscular internee guy tried to pull out the sign with all his strength. The sign was stuck firmly.
    Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and saw smiling shining green eyes. It took him a fraction of a second to recognize his young sister, unusually wrapped in a parka.
    “No point for your hard work, my dear brother, Summer. We’re in Calgary. Uncle Winter can stay here till May. In June for sure he will move away, just like Autumn before him, and I’ll remove the sign,” said Spring.

  • We had been
    looking for absolute literal ages
    for property we
    could develop in stages.

    We spent some time seeing,
    “Lakes” that were dry
    and “country-like” places
    where traffic whizzed by.

    The kidlets were restless,
    needed some sleep
    my husband was angry,
    said not a peep.

    We rounded the corner
    and what did we see
    trees in abundance
    and snow to our knees.

    There was plenty of land
    on which to build
    There were sunsets to see
    from the top of our hill.

    No Exit? No Exit!
    No Exit was needed,
    within just a week
    the title was deeded.


    She’d been praying for a sign.

    “No Exit.”

    The Universe was sick.

    Eyes squinting, she could spy Trilliums on the forest floor and hear honey bees. A snowy rabbit stood, stared, then hopped away disappearing into the lush greenery.

    She frowned. How different from the stark buildings that housed the claustrophobic apartment she shared with her boyfriend.

    Her laughter frightened some birds into flight. She jiggled as she scrolled and tapped at her cell phone her eyes wide and wild. Nibbling at her thumbnail, she waited for the connection.

    “I’ll take the Vancouver job.”


  • Alice loved this time of day. The light faded, the school bus came and went with shouts of freedom breaking the quiet and slowly night would envelope her family as they joined her in the dark. The sunless air took on a chill, the snow grew crisper and the birds fluttered off branches to huddle in their nests. The traffic slowed and cattle encouraged their young to the barn. She had done this walk so many times. It was almost instinctual and yet this time she had been so lost in thought – stuck on the closing stanza of a poem, that she had lost count of her steps. But, no worries she would feel her way. The birch was at the entrance and she knew the feel of its elegant bark with the smooth horizontal cuts distinct from the vulgar bark of the elm. She would feel her way to the birch and then with confidence head west and ease her way through the back field to the house. The warm safe house. Surely there weren’t two birches in the field?

  • “Imagine your inner being as a landscape”, my therapist had said. I pictured being safe in the midst of a lush forest, with sunlight dappling through the green. I began a deep and vividly real meditative practice of going there, and it became almost all-consuming. When the leaves started to change colour, I thought it an amusing trick of my subconscious. But I couldn’t return to summertime. Eventually, the leaves fell. I began to suffer. This space had been my haven. Now, it was windy and bleak.

    When the ‘No Exit’ sign appeared, I realized my fate.

  • My mother laughed at my choice of coffee saying that Brezza coffee was birch tree coffee and in a way it tasted of Croatia to me. This far off place with words I never fully understood that was herbal to my senses. There was no exit from my heritage, and maybe that was a good thing. I took a sip and was lost in the cold woods as a boy again with the cold toes, the Serajevo bombs, the empty cartridges, the birch trees, the war, and no exit.

  • Kevin’s invitation offered a treasure hunt that would change your life. I love mysteries so I agreed. Four other of his friends and I were driven into the country and at the end of a barely passable dirt road we started our adventure. We each had a different clue which we were not to share with anyone. My clue said not to keep walking toward the forest. Kevin always tried to mislead people so I decided to keep walking. I soon was faced with a ‘No Exit’ sign. I entered. It was a terrible mistake.”


    “I’m so cold, Aki”

    “We’ll find help soon, my dear.”

    “But… the warnings?”

    “Any warning is better than freezing, Theodora. There will be help here.”

    “How can you be sure?”

    “With all these signs, there is something of value. With something of value, there are guards. With guards, there will be safety.”

    Grasping hands more tightly than before, they move down the snow-encrusted path before them.
    Soon, they are surprised by several large manufacturing building that are adjoined to towering silos.

    Machine gun fire causes them to stop in their tracks.

    See, Theodora,” Aki whispered sheepishly. “We have found help.”

  • Another dead end. There is no turning back and no going forward. My last attempt for freedom has been barred. Maybe this is the universe telling me that it is time to quit. Would anyone come looking for me if I just stayed here? I could make this my new freedom among the trees. Here has to be better than the sadness and betrayal behind me, anything is better than that. Maybe I need to go back and face it instead? Maybe the sign is lie and there is more to see? Maybe this is just the end for me.

  • “This sign is a curse on anyone who dares enter these woods,” Gordon, our tour leader said waving dramatically at the the posted words: NO EXIT.
    “These woods are haunted. Listen; you can hear the wailing of the trapped.”
    Everyone listened attentively.
    “The way the script’s written is all important,” I said.
    Gordon snorted derisively. “The sign’s centuries old, can’t be pulled down.”
    “Anyone care to try?”
    The others shook their heads uncertainly.
    I stepped forward. “It’s not the sign, it’s the words…”
    “Whoa, give the genius room,” Gordon taunted.
    With a marker, I made two changes on the sign:

  • Walking along the edge of the woods with Harry, we came upon a sign that said “NO EXIT”. It raised our curiosity and we decided to investigate.

    We walked for several minutes and the further we walked the denser the woods became until the overhead foliage completely shut out the sky. The atmosphere became damp and murky. Harry vanished, I called, but there was no answer. I turned to go back, but ha no sense of direction. I was lost and reality ceased to exist. I wandered aimlessly only to discover the sign was correct.

  • Ash

    Where is Beckett when you need him now?
    ‘No Exit’ indeed.
    Yes we are ‘born astride the grave,’
    Yet the stars twinkle in the difference 
    When we care to glance,
    The sun insists on
    Warming the tomato plants.
    The exit plan looms, of course,
    Greying every year.
    Meanwhile, look at that girl there,
    The one with playfulness
    Despite herself, 
    Who laughed with you over Kinder eggs
    and cigarettes.
    She saw three deer yesterday
    And a shooting star
    That disobeyed the sign.

    Submitted for Steve J

  • Wrists chafing from the rough twine, Lydia strained to see her surroundings but deciphered nothing through the thick dark hood. As her captor pulled her close she gagged at the scent of stale cigarettes.

    “Stop it,” he hissed. Frozen in place, Lydia felt the outline of a gun in his front pocket. Grasping its handle, she found the trigger and pulled.

    “Eyyyyyy,” he screamed and recoiled.

    Freed, Lydia ran blindly until she collided with a tree. A twig lifted the hood, revealing a sign. The a
    fluorescent blue letters of “NO EXIT” taunted her. Lydia collapsed with a silent scream.

  • Christine dela Cruz December 31, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Twilight shades the sky
    Quietly, in purple gloom,
    Snow gleams cold comfort.

  • How did I get here?
    Which wrong path in life brought me to this place?
    Is this all my fault?
    I can’t escape from these feelings; so much despair and sadness.
    The air is crisp and clean, but I still can’t breathe.
    The sun is shining, but I can barely feel it or see it.
    I am lost and wandering alone.
    I know that there is no out; not that way. I can’t take that exit.
    I must keep fighting. I must never give up.
    It will get better. I will get better.
    Everything has to get better.

    Thanks and good luck to all who entered. A longlist of the finalists will be announced Spring of 2017.

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