Keep those votes for Readers' Choice coming! You all have done a wonderful job commenting and supporting each other.
Since these contests are about community building, I always like to do a story myself. Here is what spoke to me when I listened to the whispers.
by Jason Evans
The car slowed and crackled into dead grass alongside the road.
It sat before the engine cut.
In the shadow of the hill, a man emerged, followed by his son. The doors thumped shut.
"Is that an apple tree?"
"No," the man said. "A maple."
Hands in pockets, he didn't move. He stared up into ghostly layers of clouds.
"Can I ask you something?"
The boy shrugged.
"Am I a good dad?"
The boy looked up. "Um. Yeah. I guess."
The man began to climb. His feet tore wounds in the watery ground.
"If ever I'm not, I want you to tell me. Okay?"
They stopped at the tree. The man avoided the boy's eyes.
"When I was your age," he said, "I had a friend who disappeared."
The boy perked. "He died?"
"Everyone figured he died. You reminded me of him today."
"Wow. Were you sad?"
"Yeah. I was sad. And afraid. I still think about him sometimes."
The man rubbed a squeezing pain in his forehead.
"He must feel cheated. He must be so mad about being left behind."
The tree branches chattered.
For a moment, the grey sky brightened, but the light slipped under the clouds.
"Can bad people ever become good?"
No longer listening, the boy dug mud with his heel.
The man straightened. "We should go."
Before moving to leave, he smoothed the broken ground and prayed an apology to the boy he buried beneath the tree.
And knew he'd never be redeemed.