This story is by Linda Kasten and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He accepted the challenge for money—a million Washingtons.
The original joke mushroomed out of a benign Facebook post everyone had shared: A Little-House-on-the-Prairie log cabin in the middle of a forest. An inviting oasis. Nature’s beautiful painting. No cars. No smog. No office buildings. No neighbors. Would you live here?
Marty Winston emphasized “pure heaven” when he should have said, “Alone.”
After posting ‘yes’ in the comments, an invitation arrived in his email with scam written all over it. The offer presented itself as a one-time opportunity to walk away with one million dollars for doing absolutely nothing.
Skepticism made him laugh and sent his fingers flying across the computer keyboard with a simple reply: Not funny. Who blows a million dollars?
Thirty minutes later: A bored billionaire who pays well for entertainment.
Reply: What’s the catch?
Reply to the reply: Live in an isolated cabin for one year with no phone, internet, TV, radio, car, mail, or contact with the outside world; only a suitcase and books allowed. Food will be delivered via a monthly drop-off. We require a daily diary in exchange for the money. The contract stipulates you must live there exactly one year before claiming your wealth. This offer expires in five minutes.
The timer at the bottom clicked the countdown.
Ha. The proposition weighed heavily in his favor. Relax, kick back, be a bum. This was a no-brainer.
Marty held his cursor over the email send function and accepted the challenge. He’d be a fool not to live carefree for twelve—count ’em, twelve whole friggin’ months—a paid vacation calculating to roughly $15,000 a day. He evaluated all the advantages.
A whole year without his fiancé with no wedding date on the calendar…boy, what a million dollars wouldn’t provide for an extravagant wedding and the most romantic honeymoon to any destination her loving heart desired. She’d kill him for forfeiting a plump bank account. But could he live without her that long? Didn’t distance make the heart grow fonder? In the Middle Ages men went on pilgrimages for months, even years, fighting one battle after another without seeing their women. If they could survive, so could he.
But she might kill him for leaving her stranded, fending for herself and paying bills.
Ahh, but a million bucks. Totally worth it. One minute remained to make a decision. He accepted.
The chaos ensuing his hasty greed landed him in more than a snake pit. He discovered his fiancé’s split personality. She did a one-eighty, tossing the engagement ring across the room.
“Have a miserable year. No, I take that back. A miserable life!”
After the shock dissipated, the way he looked at it, he had one less person to share his riches.
Then his dad called. “Son, you’ve told some doozies growing up, but this…well, your mom and I are worried about your…sanity.”
“I’m insane. I’ll admit it. A million-dollars insane. But I’ll have the last laugh.”
“Sure, Marty. We’ll see you for dinner next week.”
He hung up, knowing full well he wouldn’t be joining them for dinner for at least a year and three days. When he didn’t knock on their door, then they’d believe him. In his haste, he hadn’t considered how anyone might reach him in an emergency, but he felt confident it wouldn’t be an issue.
His boss at the retail store simply said, “If I don’t see you Monday, consider yourself fired.”
Yep, he didn’t care. He despised working in men’s clothing, except for the fashionable wardrobe he’d accumulated and the enviable tie collection. Who, but his closet hooks, wore ties anymore?
Next, his buddies invaded his house, conducting an intervention. George led the crusade. “Bro, you know this is a scam, right?”
Marty eyed the five bodies huddled inside his doorway. “It’s legit. You’ll see.”
“Nobody…I mean nobody…just throws a million dollars away for a diary. It’s a prank.”
“And who forfeits season tickets to the Yanks? You’ve lost it, man.”
After arguing and downing beer, they left, dejected and shaking their heads, not even wishing him well. Jealous cats.
Settling into the cabin, Marty taped a poster board across the wall to keep a daily tally, counting down his glorious stay in the most beautiful setting one could imagine, bringing him closer to his fortune. Along the top of the poster, he wrote out a million dollars, his reminder and incentive.
The first day, he rearranged the one-room cabin equipped with primitive accommodations. The rules had not disclosed the fact he’d be without electricity or running water. Colossal failure on his part.
A water pump, kerosene lamps, axe, can opener, kettle, outdoor fire pit, rain barrel, and a bucket hanging from a rope over an outdoor shower stall told him he had better get used to “rough.” A pantry of canned goods occupied one corner. At least he wouldn’t starve. Then he saw the rifle hanging over the fireplace with an attached note. “For dangerous animals.”
A notebook with pencils—the diary—had been placed on the dinner table with a stool tucked underneath. His first entry gushed with countless thoughts, his scribbles illegible. Tomorrow he would print. He also marked his first tally on the wall poster. Then he helped himself to a feast of canned fruit and Spam. He had no energy to build a fire to heat a proper meal.
He walked around the cabin, venturing just far enough to witness a bear lumbering his direction, the ground vibrating with each thud.
“Shit. The rifle!” If he had been an Olympic contender, he would have nabbed the gold medal. He slammed the door and hooked the wooden latch. He gripped that rifle in his hands for two days, waiting for that bear to quit circling the cabin. He added two more tallies and wrote his diary entries, both short. He skipped breakfast and lunch and talked to the rifle. At least it didn’t talk back.
“Solitude is crap.” His favorite phrase started after his first week. He had gazed at his wall chart and looked at the measly seven tally strokes. Shit. He kept scrounging around for his cellphone out of habit, forgetting.
One month into his self-imposed sentence, the first helicopter food-dump caught him unaware. He heard the loud whirly suspended above the cabin, but before he ran outside, it had disappeared, a recurring phenomenon.
Too much alone time set off a mental chain reaction he failed to control. He took to Mother Nature, begging rabbits, birds, insects, even that scary bear to listen to him. He fashioned a fishing pole out of a tree limb after he discovered a nearby pond and sat on the bank, talking to phantom fish, never catching as much as an old shoe.
Then, a deluge of rainy days drenched the cabin for days on end. Fuck it! He stomped outside naked for free showers, his beard holding more water than the barrel. Except the mud he trampled back into the cabin irritated him.
“Fuck a million dollars. No, don’t.”
POWs had it worse than he did. He kept reminding himself an end was in sight, ticking off all the things a million dollars provided. If he even invested right, he might never have to work another day in his life.
When the sun returned, he charged outdoors and lay in a muddy grass patch, inviting the sun to burn him. He deserved it. After baking a while, he tried to open his eyes. Oh, the pain! Through a weak slit, he peered at the sky to find a white shape floating above him.
“Get away!” The white form shimmied aside. Was that an angel? Was he dying? Had a spirit come to take him to the pearly gates? He grumbled and rolled over, barely able to rise to his feet, but the angel flew away. “Don’t go! Take me with you!” He cried.
He’d been crying a lot lately.
Desperate for social interaction, he screamed from outside the cabin’s front door toward the other side of the structure, then ran to the back to reply, having a very disappointing conversation with himself.
Boy, wouldn’t a beer taste good, even a snifter of any liquor?
Before long, his diary turned into a melodrama full of crazy skits, pages of dialogue with his favorite characters, and drawings of scary monsters. Damn. Before long, he had a dystopian fantasy, spine-tingly enough to frighten the devil. The idea such horror lived in his brain made a sad comment about his emotional state.
Suddenly, he remembered the books he’d shoved underneath the bed. Like a squirrel digging for buried treasure, Marty scored big. He opened a book and read, finally traveling to other places and sharing others’ misery, an escape from an escape.
His wall said he had a hundred and twenty days left in this hellhole. He laughed maniacally, telling himself, “Keep your eye on the prize, Marty. You’re almost there.”