Brilliant Flash Fiction

Photo/painting by freeparking

Photo/painting by freeparking

I’m excited to have made the short list for the January edition of Brilliant Flash Fiction for my story ‘Life is Good’, a tale of a spurned woman.

This one was written whilst waiting in the car to pick up my daughter from school. It was too cold to play outside with my toddler son, so instead, he took the wheel and pretended to drive. I switched to the passenger seat and picked up a pen. The word count was tight and didn’t allow me to include the line:

For someone who was vocal in the bedroom, he died remarkably quietly.

Still, that’s the beauty of flash fiction: it’s a moment of inspiration distilled into a few sentences. There is no room for verbosity. If the novel is akin to a marriage, then flash fiction is a one night stand. Don’t kid yourself though, both have lasting repercussions.

My shortlisted story is below. Read the winning ones and other entries here.

Life Is Good

My husband died last week. It was my doing. I’d planned it meticulously. I began bolstering his ego a few months ago with little scraps of attention until he was sure I’d fallen in love with him again. Then I loosened the railings on our balcony.

Our anniversary is in fall, and we have quite a view from up there of the trees turning gold and bare. It’s the fifth storey, you see. I handed him a flute of champagne and told him to enjoy the view while I went to change into something I had bought especially for him. He couldn’t believe his luck. At least he was happy when he smashed his head in.

I was equally happy when I returned in my gloriously expensive mourning outfit and saw him lying there, splashes of red all around. A girl has to celebrate. I allowed myself a triumphant smile before I slipped my widow’s mask on.

Oh, I excel in this role. It’s the happiest I’ve been…such a natural fit. I think widowhood is quite becoming actually. There’s an elegance to it that is lacking in a mere mother or wife.

Now I stand here with my elegant up-do, a silken shroud of black accentuating my assets. My lips have been painted in nude and there is a hint of mascara on my lashes. Waterproof, of course, in case tears are required. Subtle glamour is the look I am going for. Too much make-up on a widow is unseemly, crass even, and I have a flawless reputation to uphold.

I am awaiting the reading of the will. Money I know is going to me, not his mistress. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I wonder what I should splash out on first? Life is good.

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Halloween flash: Motherless Mary

To the inhabitants of Maudsley the girl was as familiar a sight as the village church, though they averted their eyes when she passed. She was a sickly child with spidery veins pressing through her taut skin. She walked with pondering steps through that backwater town, tracing the river bed, circling back time and again, always accompanied by a mangy hound with yellow eyes, a fixed snarl and fur so matted it was unlikely he had ever known the warmth of a fire.

Then one day they disappeared. The villagers mourned her absence, the girl nobody had wanted to mother. Weeks passed and suddenly, after the night of the blood-red moon, there she was again in the village square with her black brute, dressed in rags of azure blue. She called herself Mary and the hound Lucifer, and he bared his fangs while she waltzed barefoot outside the church hall with madness in her gait.

Not long after the crows fled the steeple and the howling began. It was mournful and triumphant all at once, and lasted until the early hours when the villagers woke with rumpled faces and complaints about their poor sleep. They found the girl underneath the railway bridge with eyes startled wide, her neck twisted, her stomach torn. Lucifer was standing over her, yellow eyes glinting in the dawning light, gore dripping from his muzzle. Afterwards they said the hound probably took her straight to hell. I reckon she was there already.

Life is Good

I wrote the following piece of short fiction today for an online contest. The instructions were to write a story of under 300 words on the theme ‘Life is Good.’ I couldn’t resist writing a macabre tale. You can submit your own entry for free here until mid-January.

Hopefully publishing it here doesn’t make me ineligible for the competition but it is too fun not to share. My husband is a bit worried though…

Life is Good

My husband died last week. It was my doing. I’d planned it meticulously. I began bolstering his ego a few months ago with little scraps of attention until he was sure I’d fallen in love with him again. Then I loosened the railings on our balcony.

Our anniversary is in fall, and we have quite a view from up there of the trees turning gold and bare. It’s the fifth storey, you see. I handed him a flute of champagne and told him to enjoy the view while I went to change into something I had bought especially for him. He couldn’t believe his luck. At least he was happy when he smashed his head in.

I was equally happy when I returned in my gloriously expensive mourning outfit and saw him lying there, splashes of red all around. A girl has to celebrate. I allowed myself a triumphant smile before I slipped my widow’s mask on.

Oh, I excel in this role. It’s the happiest I’ve been…such a natural fit. I think widowhood is quite becoming actually. There’s an elegance to it that is lacking in a mere mother or wife.

Now I stand here with my elegant up-do, a silken shroud of black accentuating my assets. My lips have been painted in nude and there is a hint of mascara on my lashes. Waterproof, of course, in case tears are required. Subtle glamour is the look I am going for. Too much make-up on a widow is unseemly, crass even, and I have a flawless reputation to uphold.

I am awaiting the reading of the will. Money I know is going to me, not his mistress. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I wonder what I should splash out on first? Life is good.

Can Micro-Fiction Ever have the Impact and Appeal of the Novel?

Ever since @amicgood founded #FridayPhrases last year, many of us have been spending a large part of our Fridays crafting and reading micro fiction. For those of you new to the phrase, micro fiction is a very short story, usually prose.Although Twitter has helped it gain in popularity, micro fiction has in fact been used imaginatively and effectively for close to a century. It is said, for example, that Ernest Hemingway wrote ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ Why is it then, that very short fiction still has a whiff of being a gimmick? Is it capable of rivalling traditionally recognised forms such the novel?

An evolving form

Sales of micro and flash fiction collections currently amount to a tiny fraction of book sales but who’s to say that they won’t become a firm fixture in our reading lives in the future? We operate in a fast-paced world, in which our attention spans appear to be shortening. Meandering thought is often seen as irritating rather than desirable. Smartphones have become the norm in the West, increasing the demand for information that is succinct and easily digestible. In developing countries, smartphones are accelerating access to news and literature, improving education and opportunities. In this climate, it makes sense that micro fiction should flourish alongside longer works.

The author Julian Gough wrote, ‘My generation, and those younger, receive information not in long, coherent, self-contained units (a film, an album, a novel), but in short bursts, with wildly different tones. (Channel-hopping, surfing the Internet, while doing the iPod shuffle.) That changes the way we read fiction, and therefore must change the way we write it. This is not a catastrophe; it is an opportunity. We are free to do new things, which could not have been understood before now. The traditional story (retold ten thousand times) suffers from repetitive strain injury. Television and the Internet have responded to this crisis without losing their audience. Literary fiction has not.’

Abandoning a false dichotomy

But let’s not set up a false dichotomy. I don’t know about you but my reading tastes are varied. My bookshelves are home to poetry, history books, atlases, short story collections, critical essays, children’s books, travel literature, craft books, biographies, joggers manuals (that never did work out), art books, genre fiction, literary fiction and books that I simply liked the look and feel of. Cinema and theatre exist side by side; likewise, television and radio. There is room for different art forms alongside each other.

Still, if we are going to ensure that reading continues to have mass appeal a recalibration of the hierarchies of literature is important. To instil a love of reading in the young, both creators and sellers of fiction need to be open to change and innovation. In recent years there seems to have been a resurgence in the popularity of short fiction. In 2013, for example, short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and ebooks have allowed short fiction to flourish when previously it may not have been a financially viable option. It would be foolish to write off a very short fiction as a gimmick prematurely. If we are to encourage love of the written word in younger generations, who communicate in new ways, we will need to dispense with our condescension of non-traditional forms.

A genre with unusual merits

Fiction now competes with multiple forms of entertainment, and while I will always be an advocate of the long form, we cannot deny that the world is changing. More interactive forms of entertainment are popular with the young, such as computer games and social media. It could be that micro fiction’s greatest strength is that it is interactive, and above all, accessible. Compared to other forms, there is less investment in crafting micro fiction, which is perhaps why those precious about the sanctity of art are sometimes disdainful of it. For me, micro fiction is a door into creativity. A pupil in a school library will pick up War and Peace and wonder whether she has the stamina or intelligence to read it. The same pupil will read a few lines of micro fiction without a second’s thought and be inspired to write some of her own.

This innate accessibility has other advantages too. Novels – forgive me, as a reader and writer they remain my form of choice – are too clunking to react quickly to other creative works. Their very length prevents immediacy. It takes years for the links between novels to transpire, usually because the author is still in a writing cave in the depths of Minnesota transcribing his soul. In contrast, using social media as a platform, micro fiction suddenly has the opportunity to interact in real time. Take the #FridayPhrases community, for example, where there is cross pollination between authors and you can almost feel the creative synapses sparking across the ether. Or when a world event occurs, such as the death of a public figure or the Olympics and suddenly timelines are filled with micro fiction honouring those events.

The art of reading and writing micro fiction

You may wonder whether it’s worth writing a couple of lines of very short fiction, but micro fiction is by its very nature memorable. The writer Grace Paley noted that very short stories ‘should be read like a poem, that is, slowly.’ Some of the #FridayPhrases community have noted how the structure of micro fiction can be very much like a joke with a punchline. Certainly, the genre has a resonance that is disproportionate to its footprint, and readers are likely to reread micro fiction. According to the Russell Banks ‘it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way. The source, the need, for the form seems to me to be the same need that created Norse kennings, Zen koans, Sufi tales, where language and metaphysics grapple for holds like Greek wrestlers, and not the need that created the novel or the short story, even, where language and the social sciences sleep peacefully inside one another like bourgeois spoons.’

Can micro fiction ever be literary fiction?

So is micro fiction capable of rivalling traditionally recognised forms such the novel? Many of us still equate literary fiction with the novel, but what precisely is literary fiction? It tends to be identified by a character-driven narrative and a subtle plot. While a literary novel may entertain, it is predominantly concerned with revealing truths about the world we live in. A few weeks ago as part of its genre debate, The Guardian ran an article by Elizabeth Edmondson, who asked whether the term literary fiction is it merely a marketing ploy to elevate certain novels and cast doubt on whether Jane Austen novels works would have been labelled as such if she were writing today.

Certainly, for me genre has become irrelevant. I view it as more about discoverability rather than a guarantee of enjoyable writing. It is secondary to clarity of ideas, originality and skilful expression. The very nature of micro fiction compels the author to exercise these skills, in addition to uncovering the truth and focusing on character. Just like a novel, it can have a lasting resonance, and is all the more memorable for its fleeting beauty. Even if it fails to attract the attention of a wide readership and the literary establishment, writers will continue to pen micro fiction illicitly behind closed doors. Writing is a compulsion, not a market calculation.

My Love Affair with Flash Fiction: From Courting to Going Steady

Judging Sun by Matt Martin

Judging Sun by Matt Martin

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of flash fiction. (You can find out why here, in addition to links to my favourite flash competitions). Over the past few months I have been in the judging seat for @postupak’s Flash! Friday competition. Handing in my final winners list today made me think about how much this journey has taught me. 

Life is busy. While the novel will always be my favourite form of fiction, flash has become a firm favourite, particularly when experienced through one of the thriving online flash communities. Each time I stepped up to the judge’s bench with my quill, I learnt a terrific amount from the writers laying their work bare. Their stories were sizzling feats of imagination, lessons in precision and emotional depth. What other form of fiction would allow me to experience so many different voices in such a small space of time?

Yet despite the joy with which I approached judging Flash! Friday, I felt a sense of responsibility. I was once told that attention = love. It was sometimes difficult to clear the day that I needed to read, rank and critique the stories submitted. I owed the writers 100 per cent focus to mirror the care with which they crafted their stories.

And there was the familiar doubt at the back of my mind. Reading is a subjective exercise. I worried that despite judging blind and using marking criteria there may have been writers amongst the Flash! Friday community whose work, week after week, resonated with me more than others.

I was wrong. As a judge, I have never picked the same winners. In each story submitted, I found something to relate to. I learnt to appreciate genres that I have neglected in the past. In the best stories, I found that the writer’s vision fused with my imagination as a reader, making the story pulse with energy long after I finished reading it, and firing my synapses to build a world around the one which had been committed to paper. That is a magnificent achievement for 150 words.

It’ll be someone else’s turn to judge next week, and I’ll be back in the writer camp. Won’t you join me?

Why Flash Fiction is Both Tough and Rewarding

Diversity Inspires Creativity by Purple Sherbet Photography

Diversity Inspires Creativity by Purple Sherbet Photography

Last week was my first time in the judge’s seat for Flash! Friday. I had a blast (read my comments on the winners here). It never fails to amaze me how one prompt can generate so many different stories, and it was again a lesson to me about how individual we are and how that translates into our craft.

On the days when familiar fears push their way through my armour to tell me I’m not good enough, I will remind myself that our thought processes, experiences and modes of expression are unique to each of us. If our words don’t make the page, they will be lost. So, writer friends, dig deep and write your beautiful, strange, sad, funny, horrific stories. I’m waiting to read them.

It’s no secret to you by now that I enjoy writing flash fiction, but this week my muse was flighty. It doesn’t matter of course. It’s the showing up that counts. This week though, I found the word limit difficult. Last year’s word counts for Flash! Friday were more generous, hovering at around 300 words. So far this year the word count has been 150. For a girl who prefers meandering to the point, exploring the little avenues of an idea before coming to the core, the new limit is a challenge.

I usually write to a skeletal plan, even for flash, but this week I was tired and pantsed it. What I ended up with was a story I liked but which I had to cut 60 words from. Those 60 words, once gone, meant that my language was so pared down, it had lost its beauty. Some of the ideas I wanted to explore had to exit the story and have become seeds instead for other works.

Flash is tough. It’s a skill that I’m still learning: how to choose ideas that give you just enough meat for the required word count; how to write with emotion but without verbosity; how to leave the reader with a taste of your world, with hardly any words at all.

Here’s that entry I was talking about. Next time it’ll be better.

There’s No Place Like Home (Photo prompt. Include time travel)

‘Andy, come back here!’

We’d spent an idyllic few days in the Croatan National Forest where we had a summer house. Until mom discovered my stash of beer. How else is a fifteen year old supposed to stomach a family holiday?

‘In for a penny, in for a…’ I thought, determined to escape mother’s wrath.

There it was – hidden in the bark of an enormous tree – father’s pride and joy.

‘Time for a spin, old girl. Been waiting a long time for this.’

Mother’s shouts floated on the still air as I climbed into the gleaming chassis. I pulled the lever, watching clouds spin past as the time-machine sped through the vortex to another time and place.

‘Where are we going?’

I turned with a start. George, my six year old brother grinned at me mischievously from the back seat.

‘How on earth?!’

Over the years we took in many sights, but we never made it back to mother.

Friday Phrases

150 words is difficult. Have you tried 140 characters? For those of you new to #FridayPhrases, which was initiated by author @amicgood, the idea is to tweet and retweet stories or poems in 140 characters with the hashtag #FP. Here are some of mine over the past few weeks. I’ve not written poetry since I was a teenager but tried my hand at verse this week.

27.12.13

She undressed on her way to the bath, leaving a trail of clothes for him to find. He’d had a hard day but she knew how to make it better #FP

He lived for Christmas. He was the queen of the panto. Out on that stage in his frilly dress he felt their adoration and it lifted him #FP

03.01.14

First her neck twisted then her back snapped & her arms grew leaden. She fled into the woods, only grunts escaping her once beautiful mouth #FP

He sat in silent repose as the winter sun warmed him. Outside the balding Christmas tree lay discarded on the street. New year, new start #FP

10.01.14

Her strait-jacket expelled

Freedom beckoned like a lost lover

Trailing its gentle touch down her arm

Her critics suddenly disarmed #FP

Love at 60

After a lifetime

Of waiting

Was not easy

The walls wore thin

Eventually

Now they sit

Feet entwined

Loneliness exiled #FP

Friday Flash: The Snow Guardian

This time of year has passed in a flurry of activity as usual and I’m a bit gutted that I’ve not had time for longer pieces over the past few weeks. I will rectify that soon but for now what’s keeping me sane is flash fiction.

It’s year two of Flash! Friday, and the requirements this quarter are to write a 150 word story (10 word leeway) that is inspired by the photo prompt and to include an additional given element in your piece (this week it is ‘duty’). As a Flash! Friday judge, I’m not eligible to win, but here’s my entry for this week, inspired by @TheGrahamMilne talking about ‘snowmen standing valiant guard’ in his recent post about Christmas:

The Snow Guardian

I have watched over Susie since the first time she built me. Her tinkling laugh warmed my ice-cold heart as she piled glistening snowflakes upon each other. I stood proudly on her papa’s ranch, her guardian on the darkest nights of the year. She remade me year after year with diminishing care but I remembered the first year and my love for her remained unchanged.

When she was eleven I watched from afar as they told her her papa wouldn’t be coming home. My cold touch could not comfort her in her grief so I pledged to continue my silent watch over her. When the sun’s rays begin to melt my form, I trickle into the earth, duty-bound to return the following year. 

Susie is thirty now and I am a lack-lustre, lop-sided parody. She is a sombre woman but I remind her of the child she once was. And that is enough for us both.

– ENDS –

Here are some #FridayPhrases:

13.12.13

My soul is black & my will forged in fire. I never forgive. When the night is still & you least expect it, I will come for you. I am vengeance #FP

He was a good man but he craved respect above all else. As his ego grew, his friends walked away. Loneliness was a bitter lesson #FP

20.12.13

An aching black hole opened at her core as she walked through the fields of poppies. He took her future with him when he fell #FP

‘You should be asleep, Clara. You’ll have to come home with me now.’ She looked at his snowy beard in wonder as her ears grew pointy #FP

Join in @amicgood’s #FP each Friday by tweeting and retweeting stories or poems in 140 characters. Hope to see you there next week.

Flash Fiction

On 2 December Flash! Friday launched its Flashversary competition to celebrate its one year anniversary. There were some great stories written, including this one by @West1Jess, and some fantastic prizes to be won. Writers were asked to submit a story of exactly 350 words excluding the title inspired by the photo prompt below. Unfortunately, I started writing on the last day and fell asleep on my computer before I could submit my piece! I’m posting it here before it disappears into my writing archives.

The Freedom Within (photo prompt 6.12.13)

I dream of dragons every night. I am the strongest of them all as we swoop towards the stars. Sometimes I catch sight of my own tail and I know I am beautiful, with shining emerald scales the colour of the mountains and claws that leave my prey defenceless. My lifeblood surges through me as my wings beat in time with my heart. 

When I wake in the morning, the contrast between my mangled human form and my dragon one fills me with momentary bitterness. I wait for my nightly escapades with eagerness and impatience. It wasn’t always this way. After the accident, sleep was a poor companion; shadowy figures danced before me stealing my peace in the midnight hours. Mother would stand vigil at my bedside day and night, placing cool cloths on my brow as I lay limp under the sweaty bedclothes. 

My body might still be broken but my mind is stronger. I conjure up my dragon dreams at will. I have been trapped within these decaying walls for nineteen long months but each night I am free. I wish I could show my parents that the mind can soar without its carcass. Last night my senses were heightened. I saw ornate temples, black oceans and magnificent sand-filled bays that would soften even my father’s battle-hardened exterior. But their guilt drowns them until there is no joy left.  They suffocate me with the need to make amends. I have become the symbol of all they have lost, and for them daytime ghouls are worse than nightmares.

I am changing in ways my parents cannot as yet perceive. I covet sleep, day or night, yearning for the mist of drowsiness to envelop me so I can assume the form that has become more real to me than my human body.  My dragon self is powerful, sacred, vengeful. If they insist on keeping me awake for their own solace, I will have no choice. I will rise up with lungs full of fire and wrath to fight for my freedom. It is all I have left.

-ENDS-

For those of you who haven’t ever had a go at Flash! Friday, it’s a great community. For me, flash fiction helps me feel productive when writing time is scarce. I’ll be one of the judges over the coming year and looking forward to the challenge and reading some great pieces in a range of styles and genres.

Before I go, here’s a few #FridayPhrases:

29.11.13

Her birthday neared. It was a big one. She said she didn’t want a fuss but she had her hair done just in case. Her lover knew & he was ready #FP

Without him I am not myself. He is my comfort my solace, she thought. Her friends knew better. His strength eroded hers. She did not exist #FP

6.12.13

Strings of words fell from their mouths relentlessly. She did her work quietly, praying for silence. Until the day she lost her cool #FP

He carried the weight of the world yet he walked with grace & courage. A fighter till the end, immortalised in song & dance #FP

Friday Flash Fiction

#FRIDAYPHRASES

#FridayPhrases were initiated by @amicgood.  The idea is to tweet a story or poem within 140 characters, follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.  Life gets busy for all of us. What I love about #FP is that is makes me feel creative and productive even if I don’t have too much time. Hope to see some of yours soon, but until then, here are some my recent ones:

15.11.13

TreeShe read curled up in the nook of a willow. Sunshine fell through its leaves. She saw only the light & shadows of the story #FP (For @raishimi)

Even as a baby he’d been fearless. As a man his mother despaired about his foolish bravery. He was the hero they’d all been waiting for #FP

She burned with anticipation when she saw him. He’d been her childhood crush. She’d waited 19 years to meet him. He would not escape #FP

22.11.13

Ruby red lips, sky-scraper heels and a razor-cut suit. Skilled negotiator, master manipulator. The boardroom vixen always gets her way #FP

The day she died he withdrew from the world. From then on he lived in his dreams, conjuring her up at will. Happy, deluded lover #FP

The wind swept her hair into a beehive as they ran hand in hand through the city. She tasted of cherries. A perfect day between strangers #FP

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for today’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Family Ties (Photo prompt/22.11.13)

This is not a peaceful place. The high walls and the barbed wire are reminiscent of a prison. It is in fact his father’s memory, which traps him. And those burnished robes. To me, they look so burdensome; I know he feels their weight too.

We have loved each other all our lives. In me he discovered his joy and peace. His family shunned him when they found out, so I became his family. I cooked for him and washed his clothes. I bathed his brow when he was sick. I used to dream of the tinkling laughs of our future children.

Last winter his father was killed, violently, in this place. So he took the robes, as his father had always wanted, to bring his mother comfort. One day, the old woman will die and he will come back to me. Until then, I will wait here patiently, quiet as a church mouse.

– ENDS –

NaNoWriMo Update and some Dark and not so Dark #FridayPhrases

November is NaNoWriMo, when hundreds of thousands of writers across the world try to pen 50,000 words in a month. Crazy, much? This is my third time doing NaNo and while I’ve never quite made the 50k, I have loved taking part each time. In fact, I love all things NaNo: the forums; the extra motivation that comes with having a deadline; the pep talks that land in your inbox from NaNo friends; gorgeous NaNo prints; even the word count tracker which generates a little graph of your daily progress.

NaNo mind-mapping

NaNo mind-mapping

It’s the end of week one and it has been an intense ride so far. I planned my NaNo novel this year, hoping it would give me an extra push to get to 50k.  I have filled half a dozen A3 sheets with mind maps. This year I’m writing a dystopian science fiction story based 300 years from now in an over-populated world torn apart by scarce resources. My protagonist is 15 year old Londoner Suki (always helps to know your setting inside out for NaNo). In her world, the Thames splits London in two. North of the river is solely for rich Londoners, who can afford to pay for what they need to survive in this wreaked world. South of the river is where Suki lives with her mum, but she misses her dad, who for some reason has crossed to the other side of the river. Suki intends to find out why.

At 7k so far, I’m already behind target, but not too far behind to catch up. Twitter games such as #NaNoWordSprints have been brilliant at making me feel less alone when I’m writing until the early hours. Even so, it’s hard to keep motivated day in day out, especially after work or if the kids are around. I won’t give up though. And there’s always time for #FridayPhrases.

Most of you Twitter fiends will have clocked #FP already, which  @amicgood initiated. Here is a link to her proposal. In a nutshell, the idea is to tweet a story or poem in 140 characters. Use the hashtag #FP to read and retweet other people’s work.  You’ll find some of my most recent #FPs below, some of which were written for Halloween. Others are less dark.

25.10.13

Monsters live in the toilet bowl. He knew it. Toilet training as a baby took forever. Not flushing cost him his wife. But the monsters never got him #FP

‘Punpkins make great weapons,’ she said. He was tied to a beam in the barn, orange goo everywhere. A cut-out smile was the last thing he saw #FP

Playtime at vampire school. Speed demons in darkened hall. Hopscotch bloodied slabs. Humans pinned to the vaulted ceiling. Snacktime soon #FP

1.11.13

I feared the day I would love you. The solution was simple. You lie perfectly in a glass case. Now you will always be mine #FP

I long to swim in the sea again. I relive those days in my dreams. Sweet relief to forget the thrashing gilled monsters there now #FP

8.11.13

1st time he saw an escalator he was scared. Then he took off his sandals & watched them travel up the stairs. His name was Taufiq Two Brains #FP

Forty minuted of queuing. The stench of fried onions hung in the air. She snapped, swinging her handbag in circles. She needed that burger #FP

Bubbles and foam everywhere. She took off her clothes and slipped into the bath, smelling notes of lavender and bergamot. Alone at last #FP

Good luck to all you Wrimos out there. I’ll look out for your #FPs too.

Short Story: The Gilded Mirror

#FridayPhrases

As an appetiser before the main course, here are my #FridayPhrases from this week ;). For those of you who are new to this, check out @amicgood’s blog for the background and feel free to join in next week by using the #FP hashtag and re/tweeting a story or poem in 140 characters.

The small child wailed in his cot. Beside him sat his mother, rocking gently, her face a picture of eerie calm while her insides raged #FP

The magic carpet sped past, a trail of silver dust in its wake. She leapt from its threads into the lake, thrill seeker till the end #FP

I once loved your wicked ways

Barbed remarks & power games

Honeyed words in cafés

Flatterer, thief, scared little boy

You will never know joy #FP

The Gilded Mirror

The short story below was written for WEbook’s Halloween challenge. The deadline is the end of this month.  If you’d like to enter, check out their website and writing community while you’re at it.  For this month’s challenge, writers have the choice of three opening lines to follow on from: one from Hamlet (eek!), one from Harry Potter, and the one below from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim.

There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.  The air around me feels heavy with expectation as I trample leaves underfoot on my way to the gleaming white house in the middle of the woodland.  I try unsuccessfully to still my imagination as my mind conjures up ghouls and unrepentant hellsmen that lurk in the shadows, just at the periphery of my vision. Every six years on All Hallows’ Eve, one of our family is chosen to walk this path towards the great gilded mirror in the upstairs bedroom of our ancestral home. Tonight, it is my turn.

I hold my breath as I catch sight of a silver-tinged owl watching me, her dull eyes tracing every movement of my march into the mouth of hell. The recent rain has muddied the ground, leaving splatters on my gown. My newly washed hair is fanned across my shoulders, its scent overpowered by the fertile moonlit landscape underfoot.  There are no humans for miles around, yet the woods feel alive. As I approach the dilapidated building with its half-formed turrets, I can make out moss-covered gargoyles peering at me with knowing eyes. My heart pummels my rib cage as I squeeze past monstrous gates into a courtyard.  I know the way as if by instinct.  This journey is in my blood, an ancient ritual borne of a centuries old feud.  Yet hope has not deserted me. It has been foretold that one day a girl-child will return from the depths of the woods. Perhaps that girl is me.

The house creaks its welcome as I enter.  Fanged bats swarm past me and escape into the darkness. I hold my offering close to me with fingers that are blue with cold and begin my ascent up the circular staircase, my footsteps muffled by carpet thick with dust. With each step I draw on my memory bank to say goodbye to my loved ones: my father chasing me through the corn-fields; my mother the year before she was taken, playing the harmonica with butter smeared in her hair; my siblings pleading with me to tell them a story. Those who may live because I die.

Almost there. It is as if the connection between my brain and my feet is severed.  They are no longer doing my bidding, and hurry towards a door at the top of the stairs. It swings open and I enter, my breath coming in rasps as I take in the heavy velvets adorning a bed, and in the corner, the gilded mirror standing tall, its smooth surface marred by a single, long crack.  And then I am face to face with my mirror image except the eyes aren’t mine and there is not a mark on the gown.

‘So you come at last, Evangeline,’ my reflection says to me. ‘I have been waiting a lifetime to meet you.’

I am transfixed by what I see.  Bile rises in my throat and I force my fingers to loosen their grip on the prize. I must keep my wits. ‘This vial is for you. It contains the last of the essence of Christ.  It is yours.’

My image raises a sleek eyebrow.  ‘What need do I have of forgiveness?’ it says, showing a tongue that slithers forth like a serpent’s. ‘My only wish is the eternal damnation of your line.  Tell me, how many of you now?’

‘Three,’ I stutter. ‘My father, my sister Emmeline. And me.’

‘Queer. I can smell your fear, but something else too – hope?’

‘One of us shall escape and it will be the end of your reign. Perhaps it is me.’ I close my eyes. ‘Will you not accept the prize?’

‘You are the prize,’ my reflection says to me, pushing a hand through the glass that emerges as greening bone and shrivelled flesh.

It pulls me into the mirror and the vial shatters on the floor. As I fall into the void, joy bubbles up inside me, even as I long for the things I can now never have. My blood has bought my remaining siblings more time. Not one, but three strong girl-children, one of whom will break the curse. My mother’s spirit wraps itself around me as I tumble and twist, already unrecognisable from my worldly form, and then there is quiet. And I am nothing.

Friday Flash Fiction

#FridayPhrases

Where were you for this week’s #FP? #FridayPhrases were initiated by @amicgood a few weeks ago.  The idea is to tweet a story or poem within 140 characters, follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.  It doesn’t take much time, and it’s addictive. Here are mine:

SunsetShe sliced through the water silently, her muscles working hard, her skin gleaming. Up in the rafters, he watched her, smiling & unnoticed. #FP

She was fed up of the constant drone of the TV. One day, when the kids were out, she shoved it violently off its perch & blamed it on the dog. #FP

He’d liked her for wks. He’d even brought her the best conkers. It was all over when his mum kissed him full on the lips in the playground. #FP

‘All day I preen & purr & rub up against you. You barely look at me. Well, fine!’ she thought, jumping over the fence into the neighbour’s arms. #FP

‘Well, how about that? Little Miss Perfect has a run in her tights,’ he thought, before slamming into the glass wall. She turned & cackled. #FP

She longed for the ocean’s gentle lapping waves & cleansing salt. Only seagulls saw her walk into its depth, leaving her sandals in the bay. #FP

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for today’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Master and Me (Photo prompt/11.10.13)

Photo by Dan Fador

Photo by Dan Fador

My master is down there.  He slipped from the cliff top during our morning walk.  It was just past dawn and the emerging sun cast a hazy light across the landscape.  He fell without a whimper.  I guess his eyes aren’t what they used to be.  I haven’t looked over the cliff top yet.  I want to take a moment to feel the breeze in my coat, to take in this marvellous vista without being hurried along, to taste the freedom of not being tied to a leash, of being alone.

I did love him once, the silly old fool.  When I was a pup we used to roll around together in the daisy field and afterwards he’d chase me home.  Then his interest waned.  I hadn’t pictured my future to be one of lacklustre coexistence. I wanted the real deal.

I can hear a scrabbling at the rock face and it almost pulls at my heartstrings.  We were supposed to be man and beast.  Oh, it could have been so beautiful between us.  But as I look down at my matted fur, I make my decision.  I want to be my own man now.  It’s probably too late to help now anyway.  This view, it really is to die for.

– ENDS –

This week @postupak also posted about an opportunity to be one of the judges in an upcoming Flash! Friday contest.  If you are interested in applying, find out more here.

This Week’s #FridayPhrases

As mentioned last week, @amicgood initiated #FridayPhrases/#FP on Twitter. Here is a link to her proposal.

Girl and Lamp postHere are my #FridayPhrases from this week:

I passed the homeless girl’s doorway today. I used to avoid her eyes. Now she’s not there I miss her. #FP

Autumn leaves were falling.  She couldn’t give up the comfort of her ballet pumps despite her cold ankles. CRUNCH. SQUELCH. ‘Bloody snails!’ #FP

She was ready for battle: Hair ironed sleek, lips painted a deep cranberry, warrior posture. Bk at home her strength deserted her & she crumbled. #FP

‘Mummy, mummy!’ she said excitedly, her plump fingers pointing at the furry balls of orange.  Behind them, the vixen approached. #FP

It was fun coming up with these on Friday and reading everyone else’s.  Hope to see yours next week too.

Flash Fiction: One Old Challenge and One New

Following my post on how writing challenges can help you make the most of your writing time, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and share some of my flash fiction with you.

FLASH! FRIDAY

Here’s my entry (and the photo prompt) for yesterday’s Flash! Friday competition hosted by @postupak:

Freedom

By Alexis/El Caminante

By Alexis/El Caminante

They didn’t want to let me go.  All those grasping hands – mum’s boney ones, daddy’s strong ones and grandpa’s frail ones – they reached as high as they could but I have been preparing for this moment ever since I was a babe in arms.

They were always trying to tell me what to do, you see.  Mum wanted me to wear my hair with a slick centre parting so all the other mothers would coo at me.  Daddy wanted me to pretend I like fishing as much as he does, but the first time I saw a hook in that trout’s mouth with its dead eyes…well, I just knew it wasn’t for me.  And as for grandpa, if I have to sit quietly and listen to any more of his stories, I’ll turn to stone on the spot, I just know it.  So I’ve been learning to fly.

This life.  It’s mine.

#FRIDAY PHRASES

@amicgood initiated #FridayPhrases/#FP on 27 September 2013.  Here is a link to her reasoning. #FridayPhrases are a story or poem within 140 characters max and the idea is to follow the hashtag and retweet the ones you like.

You can find my #FridayPhrases for yesterday below:

Their souls were paired for eternity, he said, dragging her through the forest. That was fine while the going was good, she thought. #FP

The night was hot & humid, the sheets sweaty.  She was relieved to feel cool air on her bare thigh until she turned & saw what it was. #FP

His breathing was shallow. He’d decided not to look but at the last minute he did. The cliff face distorted into past loves as he fell. #FP

I’m looking forward to submitting my entries next Friday too and commenting on/retweeting my favourite pieces.  I hope to see your entries there too.