This piece was written for a short story contest with the following constraints:
max 715 words, genre – Suspense, theme - Family Reunion, focus – a red scarf.
It won first place.
Cousin Katy was different from the rest of our family. She gave the appearance of beauty even though any individual feature was quite ordinary. Maybe it was her attitude; she seemed to expect admiration from everyone. Every year the aunts speculated about what outlandish outfit Katy would wear to the reunion. We knew we could count on her to surprise us, and count on the cousins to tease her mercilessly. Except for Cousin Malcolm, but he wasn’t a blood relative. He was a step-child Aunt Miranda got in her latest marriage. His eyes followed Katy’s every movement.
The year Katy came with her hair dyed green (“I did it for St. Pat’s and decided I liked it,” she explained), Malcolm ventured to comment that the color looked good on her. I don’t think Katy heard him, because that was when the other cousins tried to dump a bucket of Gatorade on her head.
When Katy came in a slinky cat-suit, Malcolm commented that she sure had the figure for it. But the other cousins were chasing her around the yard, barking like dogs and yelping “here, kitty, kitty,” so she didn’t hear.
Last year, when the cousins played keep away with Katy’s big flowered hat, Malcolm tried to retrieve it for her. Unfortunately, he fell off the barn roof and broke his leg. He was whisked off in an ambulance while Katy was being chased by cousins waving pots they insisted would make better hats.
This year Miranda confided in me that she was worried about Malcolm. His college grades were dropping. “He did perk up a bit for the reunion, though,” she added, “although I can’t see why – he never participates in anything.”
I thought I had an inkling. But no one listens to a maiden aunt.
Katy was late, as usual, so she could make an entrance. This year her flamboyance was shown in a vivid red silk scarf. Even with a loop hanging almost to her waist, the trailing ends fell past her knees. I suppressed a brief shiver as I remembered Isadora Duncan dying wearing a scarf like that. It got caught in the wire hubcaps of a car she was riding in and strangled her. I shook my head to banish that memory. The scarf was an excellent contrast to Katy’s hair, which this year was dyed black with blonde tips and spiked all over. I think the kids called it a “hedgehog” style. She had on flowing white trousers and a black tank top and ballet flats. At least her outfit was more suited to a picnic and to the running she was sure to do.
Sure enough, the cousins immediately went for the red scarf. I was relieved that Cousin Michael grabbed the loop, pulling it off Katy’s neck before Bruce and Danny could yank on the two ends and choke her—accidentally, of course. The boys ran in opposite directions, wrapping the scarf around Katy’s waist, and then Michael yanked one end, sending her spinning to fall on her back. Malcolm went to help her up and dust her off, but her eyes were on the other cousins, who were running across the field, trailing the scarf like a kite. She didn’t even thank Malcolm, or notice the way his arm muscles now bulged. He HAD been working out.
Malcolm took off after the cousins in a flash, passing Katy on the way. He must have been spending some time at the track as well as the gym. He knocked the cousins flying, grabbed the scarf, and gently folded it before presenting it to Katy with a flourish. She threw it back at him and ran over to Michael.
Katy and Michael disappeared for a while, and so did Malcolm. Most everyone had left when Katy showed back up, looking for her scarf. I pointed her towards the barn, where I had last seen Malcolm.
When I heard her screams, I ran, cursing myself for not checking on Malcolm earlier. But it was Michael hanging from the rafters by the red scarf. The bright silk clashed with his purple face. I was panting in the doorway when Malcolm stepped out of the shadows.
“Hey Katy,” he said calmly, “have you got time for me now?”