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The Dream Quest One Writing Contest First Prize Winner

Summer 2011



Denisa M. Potop

of Galati, Romania



I decided I would walk home tonight. It will take me an hour to get home on foot but I need to trade the uncomfortable interior of the cab with the serenity that will be inevitably brought by the long walk that awaits me. I can be alone with my thoughts, with my worries... with my stalker. I realized that someone was following me after a few minutes of walking and surprisingly, I feel calm. Somehow, I didn’t want him to know that I held the reality of him following me grasped in my mind, reason why I only afforded to turn my head slightly and catch a glimpse of him. He’s well built, regular features, nothing special about him yet. Yet, because he’ll hope to acquire a higher and more important status than the one he currently holds. From the simple pursuer that he appears to be at the moment, a dangerous man might emerge soon. Am I ready to face it? No one could ever be ready... For now, I’ll allow this ignorant fool to follow me. "Could I be his first victim," I wonder. I must be, there’s no doubt about it. His inexperienced method of following me reveals it; stopping at the same time I do, keeping an obvious close distance, the loud steps he makes which immediately drew my attention. Judging from the, how can I not notice that someone is following me?

Why did he choose me to be the one? And what do I know about stalkers? They are people who choose their victims based on looks, status or belongings. They know every move of their victim and they acquire valuable information, which could help them strike when the right moment arises. They admire the victim, they try to think and act like the victim to the moment it becomes an obsession and they eventually become the victim. And when you become the victim, you want to erase the original existence. You want the victim to look you in the face and loose sanity and whatever it is that sparked interest. I’m quite flattered. Yes, I am. To know that for the first time in my life someone dedicated exclusive time to me. After all, this poor, inexperienced man, around 50, I presume, did some research. I saw him another time more clearly, two weeks ago maybe, starring right at me from the other side of the street. He isn’t the mastermind type, just a pathetic old man who’s hoping I might have my purse stuffed with money and credit cards. I am rich after all… and my father is famous.

And now, here he is again. Present. And aware of the fact that once a month I walk home, having no cab or personal car to fetch me up straight from work. The road to the house I live in is void of traffic or people. He knows that too if he allows himself such an obvious pursuit. I have to at least admire him for that but I’ll give him no prize. This man must be out of his mind if he believes I’ll easily surrender to his ridiculous attempt. But I am young, rich, spoiled therefore he is entitled to consider me naïve and confident that nothing bad could ever happen to me. How wrong he is. The truth is that I’ll turn the cards around to suit my benefit and I will be the hunter, not the prey. I’m leading the way. I have the advantage.

I pick up the pace and continue my road but even so, I can’t help but wonder: What’s going on through his mind?

What’s going on through her mind? She must know by now that I’m following her. Yet, she didn’t panic, she didn’t start running. Could it be that she still hasn’t realized that I’m behind her, following her devotedly? That’s impossible, I saw her turning, supposedly looking in a different direction but her eyes did fall on me for a second. Does she think she can escape? How can she? She’s just a helpless young girl, walking home at this late hour, on a secluded street. Why does it surprise me? After all, she is young, rich and spoiled; therefore she’s confident that nothing bad could ever happen to her. I never quite liked her type. She’s the kind of woman who relies entirely on stronger people and she’s never one to rely on. One who wants and gets. One who doesn’t offer. But from all the women in the world, she had to be the one. She has a beautiful face... her hair is a dark brown, long, just like I like it, just like it should be. And her eyes are black. Just like her father’s.



That despicable man... He’ll get what he deserves. Where can you run? What can you do? Here, let me get a little bit closer to you and show you there’s no escape.

He’s coming closer. I can almost feel him breathing. Amidst the multitude of sounds around, my hearing can distinguish his fastened steps, my mind can shape the decisions he’s making in haste and my reason tells me I have to react quickly. I have a chance because I know he’s underestimating me. My heart is pumping faster due to all the enthusiasm and this man behind me isn’t aware of it. He doesn’t know that I’m not afraid of him, that I can escape his trembling arms. I am more aware than he is. Prepared. I am my father’s daughter in the end, the daughter of the famous painter. And my mother’s daughter… But I don’t remember her; she disappeared after giving birth to me, ran away with another man because father was impossible. I can understand her; I would run away from him every day if I could. He’s the only one I could run away from. Even now, this stalker isn’t making me run. I’m just letting him follow me. I’m so glad I can live to see myself fighting for my life. But he won’t get, as near to that, no, I won’t let him. Living with my father, the man who only knew how to worship hi~~ brushes made me strong and insensible to danger. How can I think of myself weak when I was strong enough to fight back my tears, as he would lock himself in his studio for weeks, forgetting about my existence? When I was so stubborn to keep living my life, to search for something that would make me want to forgive his mistakes? All I needed was his love. All he needed was acknowledgement. All I want now is to live for myself and let you know, yes you, the one behind me, that it won’t be easy for you.

And I find it. My chance. A young man passing by is coming in our direction. If I just randomly approach that person, making it appear as if I know him then the stalker is bound to withdraw. How lucky I am. Even the young man noticed the situation I was in; he looked at me and afterwards at the person following me with a troubled frown. Now he knows too that I’m being followed. I make my move and as the distance between the young man and me closes, I go over to him, grab his arm and smile widely as I voice out loud enough for my stalker to hear:

“John! I was heading to your place right now. Let’s hurry up or else we’ll be late.”

He’s looking at me confused; the young man probably didn’t expect this. I’m sorry, but you ‘11 just have to help me.

I draw him closer to me and whisper silently as I change the course of my route, pulling him along.

“I’m being followed. Please play along with me.”

His features relaxed and I could see him smiling slightly, being content to be of help. He nodded in approval and wrapped his arm around my shoulders and we both passed by my stalker who didn’t look at us and continued to walk in the direction I initially were. I exhaled a breath and the man who helped me detached his arm from around my shoulders. I got away from the stalker for the moment but at the same time I was in debt to this young man. I calculated in my mind that an invitation to dinner would suffice in repaying him.

“Thank you. I will repay you for helping me.”

As I finished voicing out my words, he stopped and looked at me with a very delighted expression.

“Don’t thank me yet.” He said in a tone that suggested he was already expecting such gratitude coming from my part.

My smile faded and 1 watched with utmost shock as one of his long hands extended to grab my head and the other, which now held a white material to it, was brought to my nose. I unconsciously inhaled and recognized the smell of morphine and panic invaded my senses. As I cursed under my breath and tried to pull away from his arms, I saw someone coming behind the young man. It was my stalker. And he was smiling. I could understand it all very well… they were both working together and all this time, while I was preparing my trap, I curelessly fell right into theirs. The power



I still had left in my body diminished into nothingness as the effect of the drug I inhaled started working on me and I finally collapsed into his arms. It was all over for me.

When I woke up, I didn’t raise my head up right from the start, I waited for my head to clear a bit. After a few moments of hard breathing and dizziness, I made an extra effort to move and look around. With surprise, I found that I had been expecting a far worse fate; maybe tied up to a chair in a suspicious basement or beaten up to death but no....1 was in the backseat of a car, having only my hands tied together with a rope. My stalker was in the driver’s seat, looking ahead apparently unaware of the fact that I had woken up, yet I was sure he knew. A gun was on the dashboard of the car and the other man was nowhere to be seen. Just when I was about to say something, the door to my right suddenly opened and the head of the younger man appeared in my ray of vision. Smirking, he eyed me with his light colored eyes and took me out of the car after having had released my hands from the rope clutch. Seeing myself out, I hesitantly swiveled my head from side to side and noticed that we were currently in front of my house. That fact brought shivers down my spine because I didn’t know what to expect next. The older man also got out of the car and sighed tiredly while looking at the imposing house. I had sworn to myself that I would remain brave and my stubbornness defeated the small seed of fear in my heart as I heard myself speaking:

“What are we doing here?”

The young one simply ignored my question and asked another one in return:

“Do you have access to the whole security system, miss?”

I felt nervous and angry that they knew so much and had everything under control. I didn’t answer.

“Do you?” he repeated the question, his tone a little bit harsher.

“I’m not going to cooperate. Since I saw your faces you’re going to kill me anyways so don’t expect me to answer anything.”

He tuned his head to look at me with an incredulous expression and a light laugh escaped his lips:

“Now, why would I kill such a pretty girl like you? We’re not here for you or your pathetic father, Miss. We’re here for Imperativa. You’ll help us take it.” He brightened up even more at that announcement as though he had just received a substantial gift.

And I was speechless.

So speechless, no more afraid of dark prospects, so curious that I deactivated the security system from my cell phone and minutes later I was leading them to the main hall of the mansion, right in front of the object of their desires.

“Imperativa.” The painting that made my father famous, it brought us wealth and acknowledgement from people all over the world. The painting I hated and loved so much, the cause of my entire misery. My father… all his life all he did was paint. His paintings are pure failures though, all except one. This one. The rest of paintings sparked no interest… not even to me, not even to my mother and he. He thought they were wonderful and that we were all idiots. The entire world was unworthy of his talent. He treated my mother horribly, this is what everyone whispered behind my back but I knew it all too well, I experienced the same ordeal. Always locked in his studio, never talking to me more than necessary... And one day, when I came home, the place was full with people; the Media, painters, unknown people were all over our place and gathered around one painting of impressive dimensions, which my father called Imperativa. That painting was the first thing in my life to leave me speechless.... It represented a beautiful woman with red curly hair, which monopolized the entire canvas. She had piercing green eyes and red lips. She wore a red dress to complete the theme. It was all on a black, grey background of incredible composition. That painting made me cry because the woman in the painting was my mother, because he managed to immortalize her in the most heart-breaking way and because that day he looked at me and told me in an accusing tone, all so full of himself:



“You didn’t believe in me either. Well take a look at my creation. This is the extent of my talent. I proved you all wrong.”

He did prove us all wrong. The painting was heart breaking. You could- look at it forever. I thought things would change after this. But they didn’t. To my utmost surprise, he still locked himself in that damned room, trying to create an even better painting. This painting is destroying me. That’s why they’re here. These people. To do something I could never bring myself up to do. Oh how much I wanted to rip to pieces this painting, to make it perish but I just couldn’t, because the woman in the painting is my mother. But they can do it… they’ll take it away from here and end my curse.

Both of the men were starring at the painting solemnly and the older one went over to it and touched the canvas wholeheartedly despite the fact that it was such a great taboo among painters. If my father would be home right now and see this, he would kill us all.

The younger one walked forward too and halted a few feet away from the other one. With his back turned to me, he spoke:

“This man here is my father. He’s also a painter.” He began explaining and my eyes instantly switched to the one now revealed as the father. I could see that his clothes were dirtied with dry paint and so were his hands. But what alerted me was the melancholic look in his eyes. I was cut off from my silent inspection when the boy’s voice interfered again.

“My father painted this. Not yours. He doesn’t have the talent, miss. And… the woman in the painting is important to my father. She’s his wife. My mother. Your mother.” He stated seriously and he moved his body in order to face me.

A mixture of emotions took control over me as I looked in front of me. I saw it. The striking resemblance. My mother’s red hair, his red hair. My mother’s green eyes, his green eyes. My mother’s son. And the man clinging to that painting was the man she ran away with long time ago. It was now very clear.

“Isn’t it ironical?” he inquired while instantly adding. “That she married another painter? You know… she died two years ago; right after my father completed the painting. Your father came to the funeral. He saw the painting unfortunately and decided to steal it. Isn’t it tragic? That the day our mother died your pathetic father was born as the most important painter of the century? I find that very… disgraceful.”

I can’t say a thing and I have no desire to. I looked at him and I saw that his face became even more distant.

“She waited for you to come find her. Every day of her life, she had your name on her lips. She hoped you would come look for her and leave your father. But you didn’t. It seems you were more loyal to your suffering than she was...”

I was unsettled, disgusted at my father, angry, sad. I even wondered if I was really awake. They took the painting off the wall and my stepbrother gave me one last glance.

“We just came to take what belongs to us. You can do whatever you want, call the police, use your father’s connections to find us but I’m never giving Imperativa away. It’s the only thing I have left which reminds me of her.”

Afterwards, they left.

I waited for a righteous fury to seize me again and force me to carry out the task of thinking reasonably but it was no good, I was calm. I was no longer motivated by fear or courage, no more desires… the only thing that kept me sane was the fact that I had to end it all. For a few minutes I didn’t move, I hardly breathed. Everything started to rumble around me, my mind was slowly assimilating the facts. All this time I was waiting for the love of that man who is my father and it took only a few minutes to realize that I’ll never get it, that I don’t want it anymore.

I wanted to forget everything...

Eventually, I forced myself to move and I felt as if I’ve aged a century. With my conscience clear I went over to our basement and took all the barrels of gasoline we had. I splashed that liquid



all over the place and watched as it started to burn with incredible speed as soon as I dropped my lighter on the floor. Let it all burn...

I have no idea how I managed to get outside… what pushed me out? How did I still have the energy? Oh yes… I wanted to see him. And he finally came, my father. I heard his irrational cries for help and the moment he reached a reasonable distance from me he locked eyes with mine and I saw how insanity was taking over him. He wanted to run towards the house but my voice stopped him in his tracks:

“I burned it!”


“It was the first thing I burned. That painting.”

“YOU!!!! You miserable girl, what did you do?!” His eyes flickered angrily, his face darkened and he headed towards me, killing intent present in his eyes. I voiced out the word that would help me escape his murdering hands.


He went incredibly still at my words, shook his head imperceptibly while he lowered his arms. I took a step forward, looking vengeful. And I kept talking, telling him everything that my heart wanted and needed:

“I always believed in you. And only to find out that you weren’t the one who painted Imperativa. You’re a pathetic man who can’t even realize that the most beautiful paintings he had was one that disappeared at my birth and the other one is going to disappear right now. My mother and I should have been your most important gains. Tell me father… how could we believe in you when you didn’t believe in us? And yet I did.”

But I was talking in vain. He was no longer capable of understanding anything. He kept swaying back and forth on his legs, as if he was wandering about in a dark, cavernous room, hoping an outstretched hand would bestow him with guidance.

“It’s for the best father... you’re still the most famous painter… without a painting to prove it.”

I found it nearly impossible to part from that place but in the end I had to. He kept looking at his burned down house and when I approached him he said one simple word:

It was the key to my freedom. I wondered if it was the same key he gave to my mother a long time ago. If only I could be once more in front of that painting and ask.

I left.

That night, I slept at a friend and left the next day. I wandered on the streets from morning to dawn in search for something. I had no idea what I was looking for but my heart urged me to keep searching.

There are so many people ahead of me, all of them walk their own road, and they stop for no one. Will my father be all right?

I kept walking looking ahead and at one point I felt as if I lost my breath. I recognize the person, which caused my sudden emotion and I start running towards him. My stepbrother is hurrying somewhere and I follow him. I don’t have the heart to go to him, I 4on’t deserve it but I also don’t want to loose sight of him. Not now, when it seems life has given me another hope to run after...

I tried to walk soundlessly hoping he wouldn’t notice I was following him. Despite my efforts, my stepbrother stopped in his tracks and suddenly turned, his eyes searching for mine. He grinned and questioned me playfully:

“Are you stalking me, miss?”

And my heart melted.

# # #

By Denisa M. Potop

About the author

To me, this is probably the most difficult task because there aren't many interesting things to say about myself. Even if I create numerous instances of my characters in all the short stories I write, I sometimes think I am simply an empty shell meant to be borrowed by them to make their story known.
I live in Romania. In a small and forgotten city. I study English and French to become a translator...When I write, I tend to play with perspective and tenses, and the element of surprise is always present. I get inspired by music and I write for my friends.