Friday, May 18, 2012

Submission Deadline Day & This Week's Story: The Cage

Before we start this week's story, just a quick reminder that today is the final day that we will be accepting flash fiction submissions inspired by the picture below. Don't forget that the writer of the chosen story to be posted on the blog next Friday will also win a copy of Veronica Roth's newest book, INSURGENT! Check out the guidelines page and SEND US YOUR WORK!

     Penny wouldn’t have stopped at the folding table crowded with tarnished bird cages if the child standing behind it hadn’t been so arrestingly beautiful. She was late for ballet rehearsal and Meredith would cover for her for only so long—best friend or not. But the child was absolutely breath taking, her skin as smooth and pale as corset bone, her eyes the same vivid purple as a field full of lavender. That kind of pretty practically demanded she stop. Rehearsal wouldn’t be ruined if she was late. Meredith was the indispensable one, she was merely the understudy. Maybe someday that would change, but Penny doubted it. Meredith cast a long shadow. She wasn’t a big enough talent to get noticed in spite of it. Still, it did give her the luxury of lingering a little.

     The girl was dressed in black from neck to knee. It showcased the intensity of her beauty, served it the way a jeweler’s velvet ring box would a diamond. Penny realized that she was obviously staring, so she turned to the cages.

     “Would you like to buy one?” The child walked around the table, tilting her head up to look Penny full in the face. She smiled just enough to dimple her cheeks, reminding Penny of a fairy—or maybe Thumbelina—impish, tiny limbed, and fragile.

      “Sorry, I don’t have a bird.” She patted the girl’s shoulder apologetically. It was surprisingly firm for being so slim.

     “Why would you need a bird? Have you no imagination? It could be meant for other things.” The child had a formal way of speaking. Her voice wasn’t the high-pitched chirp of other girls her age. It was gravelly and low—mesmerizing—but wrong somehow.

     Penny ran a finger across the side of the cage closest to her. There was something about it, the delicate turn of the metal work or the way the bars cooled her fingertips that made Penny consider it. “You could maybe use it to store hair ribbons,” she said more to herself than to the girl.

     “That’s something then, but in truth, it’s meant to grant you your heart’s desire.” The girl whispered the last three words and leaned a little closer, putting her hand on Penny’s arm. Her fingers were filthy and rimmed in a rusty red, the nails ragged as if she’d spent the morning scraping them across cement.  Was it dried blood? Abruptly, the girl put her hands behind her back and winked at Penny. Those eyes. Staring into them made remembering the girl’s awful fingers difficult.

      “Really? How?” Penny asked, her voice sounding disconnected from her body. She should be going. She had to be somewhere, didn’t she?

     “You find a physical item to represent your desire and place it inside the cage.”

     “Then what?” Penny asked.

     “It comes true.”

     “That easy, huh?” Penny gave the girl a wry smile.

     “My father put magic in the bars,” the girl boasted. “It works—if you want it to…but I wouldn’t say that it is easy exactly.”

     Penny thought about the upcoming performance. She was happy for Meredith—sure she was—but still…. Her hand gripped the cage’s top.

     “You’re thinking of yours right now!” The girl clapped her ruined hands and jumped up and down. “Then you should buy it.” She pushed the cage towards Penny.

     “But I don’t have any cash,” Penny took a laughing step backwards. The girl’s enthusiasm was infectious.

     The girl frowned briefly before her face lit up again. “Just take it! On one condition. If it works, you will walk me home. I hate to go by myself.”

     “Fine. Deal.” Honestly, Penny would’ve walked her home anyway. It was almost dark. This girl would be inviting trouble—walking home alone.

     No one at rehearsal noticed she was late—except Meredith—who gave her a questioning look as she slipped through the studio door. She gave her a reassuring smile and sat along the wall amongst the ocean of discarded bags and pointe shoes. Penny watched Meredith do a Grand Jete. She was so graceful, so sure of her place as the lead. Penny felt the familiar pang of envy she always felt despite her fierce love for her friend. Her hand gripped the cage’s top.

     She was being silly.

      It would never work.

     Still, what would be the harm in fantasizing?

     It took only a moment to pick the appropriate item, an old program filched from Meredith’s bag from the company’s last ballet. She rolled it up, slid it inside the cage, and closed her eyes. She imagined herself in the lead.
      In seconds, Meredith was screaming. Her feet had left the ground and her body was arching upward. For a brief moment it looked intentional—like she’d somehow learned to fly, but then her arms and legs bent at weird angles and her screams turned into a terrible keening.

     Oh God, somehow it worked. She thought it was for fun. She thought…

     Panicked, Penny jiggled the latch on the door and tried to remove the program. It wouldn’t budge. Meredith’s keening rose to an unbearable level then cut off completely. Penny flinched as Meredith’s body slammed into the ground beside her. The other dancers started screaming. Meredith was facing her, blood streaming from her nose and mouth. Her hand was palm up on the floor, an unspoken plea for help, but Penny couldn’t make herself move towards her friend.  Instead she turned and ran.

     Outside the girl was waiting on the steps. Penny shook her as hard as she could. “This is your fault! I didn’t want that!”

     The girl began to giggle. “Oh, deep down you did. I merely offered you the opportunity. You didn’t have to take it—although I suspected you might.” She grinned enough to bare her teeth which were pointed and rotting. Penny wondered why she hadn't noticed them before.

     Suddenly, there was a rumbling underneath them and a fissure formed in the ground. Screams rose from it like steam.

     The girl grabbed her arm and held it tight, pulling her to the edge of the fissure. Impossibly, there was a narrow path leading into it. 
     She pulled Penny down until her lips were by Penny's ear.  “Now walk me home.”

Photo by: rosiekernohan
Story by: Amy Christine Parker


  1. Ohh! Lovely twist on that one! I especially liked the description of the girl utilizing the velvet box reference and how a promise was misconstrued. And I could see Meredith's fall without the visual. Can't wait to see the next picture and what you three scribe.

    Keep 'em coming, please!

  2. Thanks, Jenn! So glad you're reading this regularly:) *hugs*