Master Plotto Week Four Winner: Emily Parker

Emily Parker

This week’s winner, Emily Parker, is a fiction writer currently pursuing an MFA in The Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University. Emily grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and graduated in 2007 from Princeton University.  

Emily and our other student winners from this round will be back in a few weeks as part of our Final Master Plot Challenge!

Last Week’s Prompt: {B}, compelled by her father to take a step which she believes will be fatal to her happiness, escapes the catastrophe by a stratagem


Elsa’s father showed her Sandy on her placemat after dinner. The hurricane, he said, had first hit an orange island near the middle of the mat, and was now heaving its way up the green border of the country above it. His fishhook-scarred finger traveled a few inches and stopped outside a ragged little rip of blue.

“This is us,” he said. Elsa and her father lived in Maryland.

The yellow light above the table flickered, and something banged outside. Her father went to the window. Elsa followed. Through the streaming water she could make out a trashcan tumbling down the street. It crashed like a cymbal each time it hit the pavement. Wet sheets of newspaper and plastic cups whirled through the air. The skeletal branches of the old oak trees waved arthritically in the distance.

“Do you think the ravine will flood?” Elsa asked.

“Finish your milk,” her father said.

He started stacking the dirty dishes on the counter by the kitchen sink. The sink was filled with water; the bathtub, too. That water, Elsa’s father explained, was for flushing the toilet in case the pipes broke. Elsa and her father had bought a big jug of water for drinking the day before. The grocery store had only a few cans of food remaining. Pickled beets. Kidney beans. Looks like we’re in for it, the cashier said cheerfully, and offered Elsa a sucker from her drawer.

Elsa stayed at the window. Henry was out there somewhere, she knew. Henry lived in a dirty tent down in the ravine. She saw him every morning when her father walked her to school. He always wore the same thing: dirty sweatpants cut off at the knees; a smudged waffle-weave shirt. His hair looked clumped and greasy, like Mittens’ fur had looked when she was too old to clean herself anymore.

When Henry was in a good mood, he greeted them cheerily. Elsa’s father brought him McDonald’s gift certificates and the Listerine strips he requested. Other days, Henry muttered angrily and wouldn’t look them in the eyes. One morning, Elsa had woken up to see Henry digging holes in the front yard of their rowhouse with a shovel; dozens and dozens of frantic shallow pits in the grass. Elsa had wanted to stop him, but her father shook his head.

“Let him dig,” her father said. He looked sad.

Elsa’s father came over and looked out the window again. He put a hand on her shoulder and tucked her hair beyond her ears.

“I need you to be a good girl,” he said. “I need you to sit right over there, away from the window, until I get back. Do you understand?”

Her father pulled his coat collar up to his ears and went out the front door, shutting it firmly behind him. Elsa waited five minutes, then ten. She watched the time tick by on the chrome clock. She heard a siren in the distance. Then she put on her shoes.