A Child's Eye

2024 Writing Award Sub-Category
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
While facing terrifying childhood nightmares and her brothers impending death, Tilly looks back to her past, and fights the suspicion that she's carrying a terrible secret. Yet, maybe she has chosen to forget: a child’s eye refusing to see the reality of what really happened and who was responsible.
First 10 Pages


The stillness of the old barn as we approached was a disappointment. Mattie and I were sure we would find something here to lead us in the right direction, but there were no signs of anyone. It looked like another dead end.

“Let’s go look around inside,” Mattie said. “We might find something.”

“Okay,” I replied. But, as I reached out to push open the small side door, it refused to budge.

“Is it locked?” Mattie asked.

“No, it feels like there’s something blocking it.”

With Mattie alongside me, we put pressure on the door, and to our surprise, it finally gave way and we both fell onto the floor. Trying to adjust my eyes in the darkness, I reached out to push myself off the floor, and my hands came to rest in a puddle of stickiness. The smell quickly overtook me as I looked back at Mattie.

“What’s that smell?” she asked.

There were dust particles flying through the air and sunbeams shining in through a broken window. Both surrounded Mattie as she pulled herself up from the floor to a standing position.

I followed Mattie’s lead and jumped up as well, wiping my wet hands off on the back of my overalls. My eyes focused inside the dark barn, and I turned in a circle to get a look around.

Mattie pointed towards the back of my pants. “What is that?” she asked.

“What?” I turned almost sideways to get a look at my rear end. Moving my satchel to one side, I tried to decipher what I was seeing. “What is it?”

Mattie stepped forward and grabbed my shoulders, then turned me around. She bent down at eye level, then looked back up at me, slightly confused. “It looks like blood.”

We both immediately turned to look at the spot where I fell. My eyesight, now fully restored, focused on a trail of blood spread across the floor, following the exact path of the open door. I reached over and grabbed the handle, and pulled the door back. A body, twisted in an unnatural position, lay face down in the dirt. I stepped forward, and pulled the body back, cringing at the touch of the cold, damp skin, forcing myself to look at the face staring back at me. Her eyes were open, yet cold and dark. She appeared to be staring directly at me, her lips frozen open, as if she was trying to scream.

Looking down at my hands, still stained with blood, I opened my mouth, but no sound escaped.

Mattie pushed me to the side and fell down on her knees in the blood, and reached out to feel for a pulse. She looked back up at me and slowly shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. “She’s gone,” she cried. “Oh, my God, Tilly, what are we going to do?”

I couldn’t find my voice. I opened my mouth and tried to speak, but no words emerged. So many thoughts were spinning around in my head and I was unable to focus on any one thing. I felt dizzy, and I didn’t know what I would say even if I could speak. My stomach convulsed, and I sprinted out the open barn door and vomited. Resting with my hands on my knees, I tried to pull myself together. I wiped the spit off my chin and stood up, suddenly feeling Mattie’s presence almost on top of me.

“Tilly, what are we going to do?” Mattie cried. The tears flowed down her face as we walked back into the barn. I watched her turn and look back again. She gagged, then looked back at me, her hand covering her mouth.

I needed Mattie to believe that this was going to be over soon. We had quickly and definitively graduated to a whole new level with this situation, and I needed to end it. Before I could respond to Mattie’s question, the sound of tires suddenly erupted outside. Mattie’s eyes opened twice their size, and she looked at me.

“Here, help me, quick,” I whispered.

Whoever was here would know we had come into the barn and discovered the body. We pushed the door closed again and dragged the body back to where it was before we came in. I quickly kicked dust over the blood that was spread across the floor. I grabbed Mattie’s hand and pulled her down the aisle and into a stall and we ducked between several bales of hay. Within moments, the side door opened and I held my breath.

We heard movement, yet no voices. Pushing myself up and onto my knees, I peered through the slats of the stall. I could see a figure dressed in black throwing a tarp on the ground. It had gotten slightly darker, making it difficult to identify who was inside the barn with us. I watched in horror as the stranger dragged the body across the floor and placed her on the tarp. Rolling her up like a carpet, he tied both ends and pushed her towards the exit, opening the door again. As the last sun rays of the day burst into the dark barn, I saw his face, and I knew we were in more trouble than I ever imagined.

Chapter 1

Present Day

Running through the woods, my clothing snags on the Scarlet Firethorn shrubs. I feel trails of blood streaming down my arms and legs, as the screaming berries reach out to punish me for ignoring them. The deafening ring of gunshots encircle my head. The taste of dirt and copper is burned into my throat. All I can see are dark, dead eyes staring back at me. A powerful force pushes me forward. I have to keep running. I must warn her.

I glance back and see Mattie. Her moans are disturbing. My mind flashes back to the barn. My steps falter. I tumble forward as if in slow motion. A sharp pain rips through my shoulder. Yet, the throbbing instantly disappears as I scan the woods and see I am now alone.

The lack of saliva forces my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I struggle to catch my breath. My heart races faster and faster, threatening to burst through my chest. I feel the terror erupting from the depths of my soul and rushing into my throat. Suddenly, the silence of the forest is rattled by the echoes of my screams.

I’m awake.

My breathing remains shallow and fast, and my eighty-year-old heart continues to beat wildly within my chest. I stand up to fight off the dizziness and a chill hastens up my legs, pulling me back to my familiar surroundings. My mind begs for an excuse to be disconnected from the terrifying scene in the forest, and a brush of cold air forces me to address the dying embers with new logs and tinder; a welcome distraction. The flames blanket the room and the surrounding air with a fresh surge of warmth, and my quickened heartbeat and rapid breathing finally subside.

Nightmares from my childhood have become a constant occurrence since my brother fell ill. Finn’s diagnosis of terminal cancer and his subsequent move to my spare bedroom has been a disturbing turn of events. I struggle to accept the fact that my little brother will leave this world before me, and I will be left all alone.

As I walk into Finn’s room, I am disheartened by the ashen shade of his skin and skeleton-like appearance. The chemotherapy and radiation have not only stripped him of his healthy physical appearance, but have stolen his memories as well. Even though we lost our grandmother when we were children, he screams for her while he sleeps. His pleas for her have grown more desperate, and he has taken to blaming me for her death.

Although our recollections of childhood have remained somewhat different throughout our lives, I always cherished Finn’s ability to fill in the blanks when my mind would wander. Now, because of his illness, he begs me for the tales he has lost from our past, and I am consumed with an unfamiliar sense of guilt. The memories of our childhood remain foggy and unclear in my mind. But maybe I have chosen to forget; a child’s eye, unable to see the reality of what really happened and who was responsible.

Finn suddenly opens his eyes and speaks. I can barely hear the words he utters and I move my ear closer to his lips.

“Where is Grammie?” he whispers.

I sit up straight, yet continue to stare into my brother’s eyes with utter disbelief.

“What do you mean, Finn? Grammie is gone and has been for almost seventy years. Don’t you remember?”

“What did you do to her, Tilly?”

Finn closes his eyes and his head falls to the side. The powerful effect of the morphine temporarily silences his questions, yet I remain disturbed by his accusation.

I draw my attention to the shelf against the wall, which holds our photographic history. Before Finn’s arrival, I moved my collection of photos to the spare bedroom, hoping it would calm him to be in the presence of familiar faces. Yet, it seems to have upset him more. I pick up a photo of my brother as a child and I am reminded of his face, so small and angelic, surrounded by wisps of long brown hair. Finn was four years younger and his never wavering confidence in me was overwhelming as a child, yet in some ways stabilizing. I was all that stood between him and the bullies we encountered throughout our school years, as well as the monsters invited directly into our home by the very people tasked with our safety.

I’m surprised we survived our childhood somewhat unscathed, but times were different when we grew up. Today, hovering parents and unfamiliar neighbors constrict the wanderings of children, cutting them off from the adventures and maturity a little independence can produce. Without our freedom, I doubt we would have survived our childhood.

My eyes come to rest on a photo that transports me back to the first day we moved into Mrs. Deliford’s boarding house. Grammie, Aunt Julia, Finn and I are standing in the garden. I can smell the honeysuckle winding its way up the columns of the front porch, and see the untamed wisteria clinging to the arbor, shading the small seat hidden beneath their periwinkle blooms. I feel the sun on my face as the sounds of bees and katydids fill my ears. Closing my eyes, I am swept back to my childhood and into the hallway of Miss Deliford’s two-story boarding house, patiently waiting for Mrs. Paschal to appear. She would walk to the top of the steps, take a deep breath, and begin her daily descent. She carried a large bowl of her husband’s urine in one hand and clung to the rickety banister with the other. No small task, when you weighed over three hundred pounds and suffered from bad knees and arthritis. My amazement at her ability to achieve this feat was equal to my horror she would lose her balance and shower me with the night’s collection of Mr. Paschal’s pee. The act itself was so mesmerizing, yet perilous, I couldn’t imagine eating breakfast without first starting my day in dire fear for my and Mrs. Paschal’s lives. I lived in constant chaos as a child, and by the age of nine, I could barely begin my day without a healthy dose of angst. It had become a regular part of my daily life, and I not only became accustomed to the drama, but felt an insatiable need to be a part of it.

I carry the photo to Finn’s bedside and sit down, pressing it to my chest. I stare at my brother’s face, clenched in pain even as he sleeps, and I search my mind for the stories so easily discarded after we lost Grammie so many years ago. Comforted by the presence of my brother, yet disturbed by his comments, I am determined to look back on our childhood and remember the story of our lives.