Friday, May 23, 2014
It is a bittersweet moment for us here at the FFF because today we are announcing the end of this blog. While we have enjoyed challenging ourselves monthly to produce new flash fiction, as we all move along on our writing journeys we are finding that this site is starting to take a back seat to other, more pressing projects.
And so last week's story was our last.
We will be leaving the site and most of our work up indefinitely, but a few stories will be taken down by those of us who wish to develop those pieces further. Also, if you were a contributor to this site, please contact us if you would like your work taken down and we will take care of it ASAP.
Thanks to all of you who stopped by to read our work and sent us kind words of support. Thanks to those who shared their work with us and allowed us to be a platform for your own fiction. And big thanks to the photographers who've been so kind to let us post their amazing photos as inspiration each month. We truly appreciate it. Have a wonderful summer and if you are a fellow writer, may your words flow swiftly and your ideas come often!
Friday, May 16, 2014
There were no clouds and so the sky felt limitless. It made her want to crouch low to the earth to keep from falling upwards into it. This would be impossible, she knew that, but her stomach still lurched with a strange sort of vertigo anyway.
"It might be around those three over there," she said to him as they walked through the maze of rocks and sand. "I remember the way that one crooked to the left."
Of course as soon as she said this she noticed two other rocks nearby that did the same thing, each looking just as familiar as the one they were headed towards.
"Look, we've been out here for an hour already. Train's leaving in fifteen minutes. We miss this one and we're stuck here overnight again," he said.
He hadn't even wanted to come here. "It's a bunch of sticking up rocks. Look at the tourist photo and you got the gist. Why do we need to spend a day traveling to see 'em?"
In the end they had come because she begged and he tended to give her her way. To her the rock field was other worldly--like standing on the edge of the moon or something--it was so foreign to any landscape she was used to, but there was something exciting about that. He didn't want to stare at a sea of rocks, but she was tired of staring at a sea of grass, stretched out across a farm that seemed vast when you first looked at it, but eventually your eyes adjusted and all you noticed were the fences, hemming you in. So she asked for this trip and once he realized how desperately she needed it, he agreed.
"Why would you take your bracelet off out here anyway? And then to set it down...it's like you were determined to lose it or something," he grumbled as he kicked at the sand.
"My wrist was sweaty and it kept rubbing my skin. I was just trying to get some relief."
"What you need to do is learn to live with it," he said. "You can't be taking it off whenever you feel like it or this won't be the only time you'll lose it. It was my mother's. It's precious. You gotta treat it that way. Besides you know I can't get you a ring yet. That bracelet says you're mine until I can. Don't you want everyone to know that? Aren't you proud?"
She walked a little ways away from him so that she could look near the other two crooked rocks, make sure it wasn't by one of them. Plus it was easier to think when there was space between them. She let her hand skim the top of a huddled rock to her right. It looked curled in on itself. "Like me" she thought.
He folded his arms and looked up at the sun, now almost directly overhead. "Think, Lacey. Think hard. Where. Did. You. Leave. It?"
She studied him for a moment, the deep cleft in his chin that made him seem so manly when she first met him, the broad set of his shoulders, the flash of green in his hazel eyes that showed up only when he was angry. He was handsome. She still felt that in her chest and stomach, the little burst of nerves that made her heart go faster when she saw him, but it was milder than it used to be. Fading.
A glint of gold caught her attention, on the ground, just to her left. The bracelet was there, half covered in sand, just below the last crooked rock. She almost stooped to grab it, almost slid it onto her wrist and headed back to where he stood.
"We have to go," he said. "Five more minutes and it's lost for good." His lips pressed tight together and he squinted his eyes as he looked at her. "Come on, tell me you can remember where you left it. I can't get you another. That'll be that."
She pushed a bit of sand over the bracelet without thinking too hard about what she was doing. The bracelet was completely covered now. If she walked away, in a few minutes she would forget which rock it was by again. There were so many after all. And then they would never recover it. She could really feel it now, the falling feeling the sky engendered, but it didn't scare her like it had only a few minutes before. She straightened up, opening herself even more to it, her head buzzing as if it was full of bees. Maybe she really would fall up into the sky, now that she didn't have that bracelet weighing down her wrist. Maybe that would be okay. There weren't any fences up there, just uninterrupted blue and somehow, that seemed better. Falling might be just what she needed.
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Picture from Bigphoto.com.
Friday, May 9, 2014
Hey all. This is going to be a change of pace for me since life is a bit crazed, so I'm not able to post a new story. Since Fiction Femme Fatale is shorts based figured I'd share some of my favorite short stories that have inspired me. (This list originally posted on my blog on Mar. 7, 2014.)
- “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx – If you compare the story to the movie (or vice versa) you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a full glimpse of the life of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Proulx’s story is a bit long at 30 or more pages (typeset) but it spans a whole romance/lifetime. In as much as a paragraph Proulx manages to capture the physical details, emotions, the entirety of a meeting with Ennis and Jack so that you as reader feel as though you’ve watched a drawn out scene. To me, this story is one of the pinnacle showcases of a beginning, middle, and end. It encapsulates both men’s struggles. Proulx succinctly describes people and actions with details like “indian burn” to a moment of strife and that’s all you need. Silence is a powerful component as is brutality and “Brokeback Mountain” explains so much without being overdrawn. In the acknowledgments of her collection Wyoming Stories, Proulx notes that short fiction is hard for her, yet looking at this story in particular it seems as though she’s a master of the form barely breaking a sweat.
- “Cry, Cry, Cry” by Sherman Alexie – This story is hilarious with heart. The narrator reflects on his drug addicted cousin, watching the steady decline of a family member, and how he may have betrayed him. Alexie is great with brevity as well, providing snapshots as unique as “Shit, we got fake Bloods fake-fighting fake Crips. But they aren’t brave or crazy enough to shoot at one another with real guns. No, they mostly yell out car windows. Fuckers are drive-by cursing.” Mixed with the wit and wavering of a man not knowing what to do because he’s expected to stand by his family out of obligation even when he knows it’s bad for him and his soul. There’s a connection to the voice and to the cousin from the first line and the pacing is perfect speedy yet languorous in the way you move through this world.
- “Hurt People” by Cote Smith (One Story Magazine) – This was one of the stories that stuck out to me when I subscribed to One Story and I still have it to this day. Surprisingly this was Cote’s first publication. To me this was a perfect story, a dark story, and a well-told story of two young boys left to their own devices. The title itself elicits not-so-good thoughts and from the first lines of seeing the dank living circumstances of these boys and what type of person their mother is has you clinging to the hope that they’ll be okay. Smith makes you care for these characters from the start which is immediately effective and masterful for an emerging writer. I’d urge you to look up this story and read it because it’s a testament of how you can find your voice.
- “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien – Whether you’re an English major or not you’ve more than likely read this story or the entire collection by award-winning writer Tim O’Brien. The reason for this is because of the tie-in. The description of each character by what they take with them in a time of battle, what represents them and what doesn’t. What keeps each character going and how it can weigh each man down in various ways of what they may lose, have lost, or are scared of losing. The clipped illustrations are the most powerful part of the anthology by O’Brien, being in the muck and crap of these men and knowing that some won’t make it. It’s a story that has so many brilliant pieces you can’t just choose one. To me, “The Things They Carried” is like a crash course in short story writing. Each line necessary, each one providing so much weight and promise. It’s freaking brilliant.
- “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor – O’Connor is considered one of the best writers of short stories. And it’s understandable why. Her stories tend to be bleak, but real. Her characters are always alive and what I love most is her first lines, especially in this story of noting how a character had two methods of operation “forward and reverse.” The briefest of descriptions that gives a reader everything they need to know about a person straight off the bat. I’d encourage you to read all of O’Connor’s fiction because her stories rarely go where you expect them to, and while characters may surprise you it’s never out of context of the world she’s built.
- “The Pura Principle” by Junot Diaz – It’s things like “The Four Horsefaces of the Apocalypse” that stick with you in a story like this one. Looking at the last months of his older brother’s life the narrator notes a relationship of his brother and a woman who is downright toxic while also doing a balancing act of the brothers relationship and the mother/son relationship as people disappoint, just downright hurt one another, and deal with forgiveness knowing that time is short. Diaz’s voice is distinct and confident and clear in all his prose and to me he just gets better and better.
- “You Never Knew How the Waters Ran So Cruel So Deep” by Roxane Gay – I noted that Gay’s debut was one of my fave reads of last year. And one of the stories I pinpoint is this one, that is a list. With 3 columns titled Date, Item(s), and Price, Gay reflects on the lengths a man will go to find freedom and take his wife there and how much he loses. It starts off hopeful and as the reader sees the price and items the list keeper tracks it becomes more and more realistic of how hard this voyage for freedom will be and whether the relationships that seemed tight initial will hold by the time you reach the last row.
- “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” by Jennifer Egan – Another visual story that breaks the mold of story telling is short and really relies on a brevity of text and the graphics of a PowerPoint presentation to fully convey the relationships in a family that is troubled but not in trouble. The PPT is created by the teenage daughter who is witnessing it all and providing a journalistic play-by-play of her autistic brother, overworked father, and doting mother as they navigate how to get through a cruel world and the narrator sees how much weighs on her parents, her father specifically as a medical professional.
- “Speaking in Tongues” by ZZ Packer – “Brownies” is the Packer story often found on BEST lists but I think this one is a standout from her debut Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. It’s one of the longer stories in the collection and to me the most roundabout. In it a teen girl named Tia in search of her mother believing the grass is greener on the other side. Of course some stuff ensues and she gets entrusted with prostitutes and older men and her own sexuality (and ignorance of it) before realizing that she was better off in a world dictated for her than the one she thought she could navigate. This is a story with a journey that the character goes on that is rough at times and realistic and would also have some tsk at Tia’s actions yet understand them all the same. This piece feels utterly complete.
Friday, May 2, 2014
We see you, but you only see part of us. An elbow. An ear. A motionless piece of our existence. The only bit that bleeds through from our dimension to yours.
We watch you, occupying the planet as if you are the sole reason it exists. You use the word eternity with careless abandon. We know what the word really means. It is an eternity to sit here and wait.
For what? you ask.
For our turn, we say.
You may wonder how we can be so patient.
The answer to that is simple. We are not patient. We are restless.
But there are rules, and we must follow them.
1. Observe. You humans flounce about from day to day, oblivious to the race that shares your planet, just one short dimension away. We watch you for the required amount of time.
2. Remember. The plan is flawless, but we must remember it. It is written into a song we have known our entire lives. We sing it every hour of every day. On stormy nights, you should almost be able to hear our voices carried on the wind. You won't understand the words, and you'll convince yourself you heard a frog or an owl. But in the black hollow of the night, you'll know you were wrong.
3. Evaluate. Once we are free from our dimension, we will swarm the planet. Before that can happen, we must calculate how many of you there are and how long it will take to complete our mission. If we act too soon, we could lose.
We will not lose.
4. Consume. It mean what you think it means. Many of you wander out to our waiting place. Many of you do not return.
Don't be so shocked. We require nourishment just as you do.
5. Escape. When we are strong enough, we will break free of our dimension. To you, it will seem as if the sky is shattering, busting into fragments and ruining your brief stab at eternity. In reality, the sky is an illusion, an idea invented by humans because you can't comprehend that you are seeing into other dimensions. You won't understand us either. You will pretend we are a tree or a hill. You will not look into our faces. You will ignore us while you try to figure out why the sky is broken. You will focus on the wrong thing.
You won't know what happened.
And then you will be gone.
It's a simple plan really, but it requires much time. For us to succeed, we must exist among you for generations. It must appear as if we have always been here. We must be so ingrained into your minds as one thing that you will not notice us becoming another.
Yes, we are restless. We long to stretch and run and feel the sun warm our bodies.
But we know the plan. If we don't follow the plan, we will lose.
We will not lose.
So we wait.
Story by: Krystalyn
Picture from Bigphoto.com.
Story by: Krystalyn
Picture from Bigphoto.com.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
For May, we are taking a little trip to Australia.
Picture from Bigphoto.com.
Posted by Krystalyn Drown at 6:00 AM | |
Friday, April 18, 2014
For just over a year, darkness has engulfed the house. Dark halls. Dark conversations. Dark magic.
I didn't know whether the witch was my mother or father, but I saw the rat skulls hidden in the corners, and I smelled the blood-soaked threads in the hems of my dresses. I longed to find out, but I often couldn't remember what I had done during the day, much less piece together any theory that made sense.
I lurked behind doors and tried to follow the muted discussions between Mother and the chef. They always led to more questions.
"...the cellar is the best place..."
For what? To find rats or to store spices?
"...the expected outcome..."
The outcome of a spell or a recipe?
Father was as much of an enigma. He wandered the gardens, picking herbs and twisting the heads off of flowers. There were certainly reasonable explanations for that. Mother liked to place flower petals and scented herbs in her dresser to keep her clothes smelling fresh. But I had also read in a very old book that those same herbs could be used in spell-casting. I didn't have the stomach to read the complete spells so I didn't know what outcomes could be expected. Nothing good, I was certain.
Once, I asked my maid about it.
"Martha, have you noticed anything odd lately? Anything," I glanced to my door to make sure no one was listening, "wrong? I have too many holes in my memory. I think it's witchcraft."
Her face contorted into a frightened grimace. "Oh miss! You mustn't talk about such things. Stay on the path, you hear me? Stay on the path."
When I lifted up my skirt and showed her the thread, she skittered away like a nervous mouse. I liked her, but I wished she had the guts to stand up to Mother and Father. If anything was to change, it was up to me.
I marched down to the library, where Mother was certain to be. I decided it had to be her. She spent most of her days combing through the crinkly volumes that lined the shelves. I knew there was at least one book there with dark words, because I had seen it myself.
I swung open the door and stood tall in the doorframe, ready for the confrontation.
Mother whipped around. Her eyes opened into round, black circles. A strong wind roared through the stacks, spilling book after book onto the floor. Dust puffed into the air and swirled into miniature tornadoes. A statue flew toward my head, and as the darkness engulfed me, I decided I had taken the wrong approach. I wouldn't be so careless next time.
I awoke in my bed. Martha removed a warm cloth from my forehead and replaced it with a cool one.
I tried to sit up, but my limbs didn't work right. They felt too heavy. Trapped. "Mother! Where is she?"
"Shh, now. Everything will be all right, miss." Martha petted my arm like she used to when I was small and had nightmares. But this nightmare was real and no amount of soothing would make it better. What had Mother done to me? Was Martha in on it too?
I twisted my head left and right. The room was dark, the drapes drawn. The only light came from the crackling flames in the fireplace. And hanging above the fire was a black cauldron. Dark puffs of smoke rose from the bubbling liquid. Martha walked toward it.
My heart jerked. My breath hitched. "It's you? But how did you make the storm in the library? I saw Mother's eyes go dark."
"Not everything is as it seems, miss. It will all be well if ya trust me." As she stirred the pot, a hideous stench rose from it. She ladled a small amount into a teacup and brought it towards me.
"No! Mother! Father! Help me!"
She tilted the cup to my lips. I clamped them shut and turned my head away. I shook my body, trying to break free of the binding spell she had put on me. It was useless. The only part of my body that worked was my head. Was she going to kill me? Or burn me? Or turn me inside out? Witches could do that. They could trap you inside a living hell for centuries if they wished.
Martha pinched my nose.
No! Mother! Father! I fought to hold my breath for as long as I could. Too soon, my mouth popped open. It was long enough for me to gulp in air and long enough for her to pour the concoction down my throat.
It burned. Oh, it burned like hot lava. My eyes teared until I went blind. My stomach heaved until I felt sticky sweet liquid covering my body. My body convulsed for what felt like hours. Or days. Time blended together into one dark line. No more soothing pats or cold cloths. Just an endless onslaught of pain, fear, and then hatred. After hatred, the next emotion came easily.
I must get revenge.
But for that, I had to break free of her spell. I had to wake up.
I scoured my memories for something that would help. I couldn't find it in my childhood or my adolescence, but I found a tiny scrap that had been tucked away for just over a year. The discovery of the spell book. It no longer made me sick to think of it, because I knew it was my salvation. I remembered now. It had changed things before, and it would change things again.
I dove deeper into the memory. I flipped through page after page of spells. The words were blurry at first, but the more I concentrated, the clearer they became. A spell to cause warts. A spell to attract swarms. A spell to draw in the darkness.
An unbinding spell!
I chanted the words, hoping it would be enough. Whether they were spoken aloud or simply in my head, I had no idea. It didn't seem to matter.
My sight came back first. I saw Martha working on her needlepoint in the corner rocking chair. Oh, the surprise she was going to get.
My arms came next, but I didn't dare give myself away, not if I wanted to survive.
And then my legs.
I had full mobility, but what to do with it?
Slowly, I thought. Don't let her see.
I brought my hands together and wove a spell in the air. I played the words through my mind, over and over again. I knew exactly what I was doing as if I had done it a thousand times before.
Martha's body went rigid. She screamed. I had trapped her inside her own living hell, and I was proud.
My bedroom door slammed open. Mother stood in the frame with angry black eyes. A fierce wind shot through the room, strong enough to throw my flower vase into my forehead and to being the darkness once more.
I awoke with both Mother and Martha standing over me. The curtains were open. A strong beam of sunlight shone in and played across my bed. I shielded my eyes from the intrusion.
Martha removed a warm cloth from my forehead and replaced it with a cool one. Mother went to the cauldron and filled a teacup with the liquid.
"Witches," I whispered.
"Yes," Mother said. "But enchanting rat skulls and wearing their blood, that is not something we do. We all have a choice between the dark and the light. It's time you saw the light."
She forced the liquid down my throat, and it burned.
Story by: Krystalyn Drown
Photo by: Carros de Foc
Friday, April 11, 2014
“Screw it,” Kevin says, after the first couple of drops of water do nothing to wake his sister. He dumps a whole glass on Celine’s face causing her to shoot upright from the floor.
“What the--!” she screams.
Kevin smiles. He reaches out to touch her face, concerned about the purple mark on her cheek from when she went down in the cafeteria earlier.
She knows I care, he thinks to himself, no need to get all mushy about it.
Celine runs her fingers through her hair and grins at him. Kevin stares at her; still unable to get used to her hair being as short as his.
Celine laughed at his reaction when she showed off her shorn head. Said his jaw practically hit the ground.
“So, you’re trying to copy me again,” he said trying to hide the fact that he missed her long red locks, a trademark of their mother.
In all ways the Middleton twins look alike. But the hair was what made Celine less rigid with her sharp chin and cheeks. Though, Kevin considered that with the new look fewer guys would be interested in her. Now that his sister was sixteen he noticed the courageous or just plain stupid boys at Holyoke glance her way. He noticed that even though every student at Holyoke Reformatory wore the same shapeless gray shirts and pants that the boys seemed to take note of how Celine filled hers out. Kevin would punch his fist against his palm to ruin any kind of thoughts these guys had. And as soon as they caught Kevin’s line of vision their faces went white.
Celine looks around and realizes they’re not in the Pit or their rooms.
She sighs. “Damn. The Matron?”
“I’d appreciate no profanity, Ms. Middleton,” The Matron says.
It was realized by the unidentifiable powers-that-be that the Middleton twins weren’t afraid of the Pit nor were they the type to think things over in their rooms and come to better decisions. It was decided that after any incident Kevin and Celine would go and speak with The Matron, Holyoke’s only religious/spiritual guidance counselor of sorts. When she first met the two she stated she preferred to treat people from the inside/out. The twins found it hilarious, especially considering their experience of the reformers and AG going about discipline.
After a handful of visits they found they didn’t mind The Matron so much. They would sit, listen, and nod their heads as though her words were sinking in. As far as they were concerned it was better than practicing how to block out the unnerving sounds and darkness of the Pit.
Celine and Kevin take their seats on the opposite side of The Matron’s desk. Each time they enter this room Kevin stares at the pictures along her walls. Images of gods from every religion known to man, old and new. The animal-like gods of Hinduism and the volcanoes of Scientology, and even some of the newer ones like Cantology with pictures of famous poets and New Wave Christianity that has an image of someone shrouded in dark purple shadow on a horse, maybe even a unicorn. The pictures flash over the posters like cartoons, showing scenes from the old books.
Knowing protocol Celine and Kevin put their hands in their laps and await The Matron’s speech. The Matron scrunches up her face at them causing Kevin and Celine to share a glance. They’re used to her shaking her head as she mutters a few “tsk tsks” by now.
“Why the constant fighting? Why do I have to see you two so often?”
“I’m not trying to be unruly or whatever. Edgar got in my face and I don’t back down,” Kevin states as though she should’ve realized this by now.
“I was there for support,” Celine adds. She blinks her eyes to convey an innocence everyone in the room knows she doesn’t have.
“Do you realize that with your growing record things will not be easy for you two? Do you realize that with the plans set in motion you could be ruining your chances to start over?”
“Plans? What plans?” Celine asks.
“It hasn’t been announced yet. But you two are smart. I see it. You are hard workers.” She stares at Kevin, “And yes I know you don’t take any…crap.” She seems to stumble on the last word causing Kevin to stifle a laugh at her attempt to curse.
The Matron folds her hands together and leans on her desk. She lowers her voice making Kevin and Celine pull their chairs closer to hear her.
“I’m not supposed to say much about this, but we’re going to Earth. Well, some of us are. To repopulate the planet. To start anew. And only a chosen few are going to get this chance. So I wouldn’t screw it up if I were you.”
“Earth! No way.” Celine waves her arm as though flicking away a bug.
“I’m not joking, Ms. Middleton. We’re running out of resources here. Have you not noticed?”
“We’re supposed to notice?” Kevin says with a laugh. “We get crap anyways, so what would less crap be like?” He pulls at his torn shirt for emphasis. Crossing his arms Kevin continues unable to believe what the woman in front of him is saying.
Kevin remembers hearing about the collapse of civilization. He doesn’t recall exact details since he was often drawing sketches during classes rather than paying attention. What he does recollect is that a thousand years ago something happened, an explosion or chemical or biological warfare or whatever. It spread like dominoes all over the Earth.
Celine mentioned to him that she heard about rationing more, especially at Holyoke, before the Acting Government applied it to the outside communities. Looking at their protein mush servings get smaller and smaller she said something was up. But Celine was the type to read up on those things and observe her surroundings. His sister understood things in days that it’d take him months or years to.
Besides the fact that Celine’s female what separates them is that she’s a closet a computer genius. Learned it all from books alone. Given a computer and enough time she could probably hack into any system, Kevin was sure.
Kevin noticed The Matron look at Celine with sad eyes whenever she brought up the future and the “possibilities being endless.” He doesn’t recall The Matron ever looking at him that way. Of course Kevin couldn’t say what was on The Matron’s mind when she focused on him. He tended to turn away for fear of pity or sympathy.
She continues, “We’re forging a new world and to do that we have to learn the mistakes of the old one... That being said the plan is to take one hundred Holyoke residents to Earth in the next thirty days. You’ll be paired off and then sent down to start restructuring society. Building things, figuring out how a community will work in your area and so forth.”
“Hold on. They’re gonna set us free to rebuild Earth. Why us? Like, why me and Celine?”
“Why not you and Celine? You don’t think highly of yourself, do you Kevin? You really should. I’d recommend you if it weren’t for these stunts you keep pulling.”
“No stunt Matron. Edgar fuc—messed with Kev first. I saw the whole thing.”
“And of course you’re not biased in the least are you, Ms. Middleton?”
Celine grins. “Course not.”
The Matron points at them both with either hand. “Listen. Get your act together and you two will be part of something amazing. Don’t you want that? Don’t you want to help build the future for your society?”
Celine and Kevin look at each other. Considering whether or not this is a prank or worse, false hope.
Story by: Jenn Baker
Photo by: Carros de Foc
Story by: Jenn Baker
Photo by: Carros de Foc
Friday, April 4, 2014
She closed the book, placed it on the table next to the crumbling papier mache horse--an art project--she'd had with her the day she arrived in this place, and finally decided to walk through the door. That door should have been a hundred feet high and at least fifty feet wide and covered in poisonous spikes considering the way Rachel had carefully avoided it all these months. But in reality it was quite ordinary. A simple wooden door weathered and faded with age. There were even cracks between its planks, wide enough to let thin shafts of sunlight into the tiny shed. They striped the dirt floor and her bare feet.
Rachel lifted her hand and placed it flat against the wood.
Then she put her ear to it.
The door gave a little under her weight and she jumped backwards. She almost returned to the table, picked up the book, and resumed memorizing the passages that He had marked for her to study this morning. The ones about obedience. He would know the second that she opened that door. He’d told her so every day since the night He brought her here—bound and gagged and in nothing more than the oversized shirt she’d worn to bed. He was always watching. Hadn’t He proven it often enough, telling her every minute detail of her day, down to how many times she managed to relieve herself?
The wind picked up outside and the shed creaked in response. Rachel winced. She had no choice. She had to try. The small, unconscious girl slumped awkwardly in the corner was evidence enough of just how limited her time had become. After all, there was only one book…and one chair at the table. She inched closer to the door. Her hand came up for the knob, twisted it. It moved easily, but the lock wasn’t on the knob, it was on the outside of the door itself. She pressed on the wood a little harder. It was soft and rotted. She wedged her fingers between the planks and began to pull. The wood crumbled off into her hands. It was much more fragile than she’d realized. With only a little effort, she managed to make a hole, large enough to reach the metal latch on the outside of the door and undo it. The door sagged open.
There were trees lined up just beyond the shed. Their leaves whispered to one another, passing their warnings on the wind.
She was sure of it.
A flock of little black birds shot up into the sky and scattered like little bits of pepper against the sky. They were off to warn Him too. She was shaking hard enough to make her teeth chatter. She gripped the door frame. Her heart was trying to punch its way out of her chest. She couldn’t breathe. He must’ve found a way to turn her body against her too. All the things he’d whispered to her were true. He was the world and the world was Him and everything in it He controlled.
There was a sound from inside the shed, a groan that quickly turned into a howl. Rachel turned around just as the girl, no longer unconscious now, scrambled up off the dirt and straw in the corner and lunged through the door. Her eyes were wild and unfocused enough to never even notice Rachel standing there. The girl ran straight into the trees without looking back, her screams fading almost as quickly as the girl herself. It was as if the trees had swallowed her up. Or maybe, the birds had carried her off. There was no way to be sure.
All at once, the shed was bare—quiet again—like it had been before the girl’s ragged breathing had filled up the space, insistent as a countdown clock. Rachel’s hand dropped from the door frame. She turned her back to the door and made her way over to her table and her book. Her face was slack, her eyes unblinking. She opened the book to the proper page and stared at the tiny, even print. Behind her, the wind slowly blew the door shut.
Photo by: Carros de Foc
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Posted by Amy Parker at 3:00 AM | |
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Happy Spring! This month's photo is courtesy of Carros de Foc and is entitled "La Crida." Cool no? Happy writing!
Friday, March 28, 2014
Today is the day that I might die. I never thought I‘d hope for my own death, but if it will save countless others, then it must be so.
“Alina?” my mother calls from her bed. Her voice chokes on the end of my name, and she falls into one of her coughing fits that have been growing steadily worse and more frequent.
I fasten the last button on my jacket and quickly pull on my warmest pair of boots.
“Alina… please… come in…. here,” Mother manages to wheeze out between her gagging coughs.
I run into her bedroom, breathless by the time I reach her side. I fear that every time she has one of these fits that it may be her last. She is so small under the covers that I can barely make out her tiny frame. Before she got sick, she was a strong, muscled warrior of a woman, but now the outlines of her bones peek through her crepe-thin skin.
I pick up the tin cup of water from the table beside the bed and pull the covers away from her face. I try not to cringe at the deep purple circles that run around her eyes. Mother looks up at me with a smile, despite that fact she knows she’s dying.
“Where are you going, baby?” she asks. She reaches up to run her fingers through my hair, and I feel a twinge of guilt. She doesn’t know what I’m about to do, nor will I tell her.
“I’m just going to see Ethan off. He’s in the Fight today.”
Her eyes immediately snap to attention. “That’s today? It can’t be time for that already…”
Her voice trails off, and the sparkle disappears from her eyes. I know I’ve lost her for now. Her lucidity never lasts very long these days. It’s why I have to win the fight. I need her to have the money pay for her treatments so she can finish her research and figure out how to stop this monstrosity forever. My life will cost nothing. Hers will cost everything.
I squeeze her hand and lean down to kiss her on the cheek. Despite being sick, she still smells like lavender. I don’t want to leave her, but I have to. I can’t be late today. Plus, I still have to go tell Ethan goodbye.
As I pick up my gloves and slide my cold-numbed hands into them, someone taps lightly on the front door. I already know it’s Ethan by rhythm of it—only he knocks that way. I swing the door open with a smile, glad to see him—even if it may be the last time. But my smile instantly falls when I see the look on his face.
I wasn’t going to tell him either.
“Alina. You cannot do this to your mother,” he pleads, barging through the front door and slamming it behind him.
We’ve already had this conversation, and he knows it’s the only way I will ever be able to get enough money for my mother’s medicine. I just never told him that I was serious about going through with it. Someone from the council must have called him. They don’t like it when women participate, even though it’s not illegal.
“I’m not doing this to her, I’m doing this for her,” I say. “You know good and well she’s the only one smart enough to figure out how to save everyone and stop this mess.”
His face crumples, and for a split second, my decision to Fight wavers. I don’t like it when he looks at me like that. It makes my blood go cold. I don’t blame him for being upset with me, but it’s my decision and mine only. I’ll sign my life over to the Council with a fingerprint of my own blood, and I will be sealed to them until I’m no longer breathing. Hopefully, anyway.
Because in the Fight, the only way to win is to die.
Ethan steps forward and circles my waist with his hands.
“Please,” he says, even though his mouth doesn’t open. He doesn’t need to speak right now. I know those eyes of his better than my own, and that is exactly why I refuse to look into them right now. I can’t let him influence my decision.
A piece of hair falls in front of my eyes and he lets go of my back to tuck it behind my ear. His fingers linger at the base of my chin, and his lips are so close to my own that I can feel the electricity of his skin burning in the air between us. I finally lift my eyes to his and it is the biggest mistake I ever could have made.
Ethan pushes me against the wall and cups my face in his hands. He kisses me gently, like I am the only thing in the world that matters. He sucks my bottom lip into his mouth and I have to gasp for air, but it doesn’t do me any good. Not even oxygen will help me breathe properly at this point.
"Ethan," I murmur against his mouth. His lips leave mine and travel to my cheek, down my chin, onto my neck. Soft, little kisses that barely feel like kisses at all.
"Ethan, stop it," I say again.
His body stiffens and he immediately pulls away. There are only about two inches of space between us, but it feels like miles. Everything has changed. He knows he can’t save me from this anymore than I can save my mother without medicine.
“I have to do this. You know I do,” I whisper.
He swallows hard and takes another step away from me. I hear the faintest whisper of a “goodbye,” as he steps out of the door and closes it behind him.
Panic wells in me as the realization of what I’m about to do seeps into my soul, and I know that I can’t let it end like this. I can’t let him leave like that. I yank my front door open, my mouth open with his name on my lips, ready to yell for him to come back. But a piece of paper crumpled on the top porch step catches my eye.
I lean over and grab it, carefully unwadding it as I stand back up. It’s a picture. A picture of a house scrawled out with a purple crayon. A picture that I have seen a million times before, hanging on the corner of the refrigerator. It’s a picture that I drew when I was five years old. But there’s now a bloody thumbprint on the bottom left corner.
I drop the paper and sprint down the steps and into the yard. By the time I reach the town square, I lineup has already begun. I spot his brown, curly head at the front of the line, thumb poised and ready to bleed on the scroll of Fighter’s names.
“Ethan!” I shout. “No! Please!”
This was supposed to be me. I was supposed to be the one to save her. This isn’t okay. I try to push my way through the thick crowd, but there is no way I’ll make it to the front to stop him in time. He raises his head just in time to look at me as he presses his bloodied thumb onto the long scroll.
He nods. Shrugs. Mouths, “I love you.” Then steps into the arena.
And the Fight begins.
Story By: Stefanie
Photo By: Graur Codrin
Friday, March 21, 2014
It should be easy.
All I have to do is stand at the corner of Park and Hill streets at precisely 3:13pm. Count to fifteen and then take two steps sideways to my left and stick my foot out just a little too far. Then she will come and…everything will be okay again.
I go over the directions once more even though there aren’t many and even though I’ve already memorized them. They’re written on the back of a flowery card with the words “Thanks so much for volunteering for our annual bake sale. Best Wishes, Mirriam” scrawled on the inside along with the five letters that still make my heart squeeze and my mouth go dry. Linda. My mother’s name. I stare at it, unable to look away, unable to turn over the card and get to the directions so I can reassure myself one more time that I have the next hour plotted out right. If I succeed seeing those letters won’t bother me anymore.
“Where you going?” Lissie asks from her spot on the carpet where she is sprawled out with her paper and colors making careful drawings of our house and everyone who lives in it. Three. There are three stick figures now where there were once four. I want to crumple up the crude sketches and throw them into the fireplace. But it’s too hot for a fire and I’d only set Lissie off—make her howl.
“For a walk,” I say and smile because soon her drawings will go back to normal. I’m gonna make sure.
I leave before she can beg me to go too. The woods are quiet this time of day, waiting I think for me to plunge into them and towards the spot. I found it just three weeks ago. Not on purpose. I was trying to get out of the house and away from Lissie and Dad and the empty chair at the kitchen table that mom used to fill. I never much liked the woods, but on that day I was desperate to keep from howling myself and so I ran into them without hesitating.
I found the old shed about the time I was starting to get afraid that I was lost. It was right leaning—dangerously close to toppling over and half the roof was missing. Moss covered what was left. Even before I opened its rotted out door I could feel something…different about it. Not wrong, just special. The door opened smoothly, quietly like it was well oiled and used often. I peered inside. Huddled in the corner was a woman so large that she looked stuffed into the space. She was wearing an over-sized t shirt with a sexily posed Tinkerbell across the front and a pair of hiking boots. Her shorts were pulled tight across her thighs, the flesh so rippled with cellulite that I could feel myself staring even though I didn’t want to.
“Figured you might show up today,” she said, her mouth turning up into a grin that lacked teeth and turned her ancient in an instant. “Been waiting for you.”
I took a step back, sure that she was about to frisk me for spare change or food or something, but she just sat back…on a stool maybe? I couldn’t make it out under her considerable bulk but it had to be there or otherwise she was floating off the floor somehow.
“You get one chance to get it right you know. One. So listen good, boy. I can send you back to save her. For one hour you can try, but then it’s over and whatever happens is for good.”
I didn’t believe her. How could I? She was going on and on about how I could stop my mom from dying. How I just needed to get her out of the way of the car and everything would change. The shed could get me back. All I had to do was go and listen to her instructions.
She showed me first. Took my hand and pulled me into the dark corner opposite her where the shadows were thick. A minute later we were standing on the low hill of the cemetery where we buried my mother, watching the men cover her coffin up with dirt. I could hear the thud of every shovelful of dirt. I could smell the sickening scent of all those flowers lined up by her stone. Her name was crisp and shiny black in the sunlight. Linda Marie Thompkins, beloved wife and mother. My head was reeling. I felt like somehow the world had been picked up and shaken like a snow globe, time scattering around like snowflakes, falling in random patterns. I swayed a little on my feet. I couldn’t help it.
“Whatever time/memory you’re thinking about when you step “through” that’s where you end up,” she said, her plump hand wrapping around mine, too soft to be comforting, too tight around mine for me to pull away.
By the time we were back in the shed I believed and what’s more, I began to prepare.
I open the door to the shed, expecting her to be there like before, but it’s empty instead. For a moment I am not sure what to do, but then I start staring at the corner of the room and I can’t help myself, I’m walking into it, thinking hard about my mother and that corner and the truck. I wasn’t there, but I saw the phone footage from one of the witnesses, posted on Youtube hours afterwards, surreal and horrible and viewed more times than I can stomach to count. It isn’t hard to conjure the memory. I haven’t been able to escape it for months.
In an instant it is afternoon and the sun is bright and hot and baking the sidewalk so that the heat rises off of it in waves. People jostle around me, eager to get past. I shake my head and try to clear the dizzy sick that envelopes me. I turn and there she is. Hair swept up in a haphazard bun, her purse swinging low across her side as she walks purposely towards the intersection. Mom. I want to call out to her, to rush at her, snatch her up and hold her close until I hear the truck rumble pass, but I don’t. The woman was very clear. I couldn’t talk to her, I could only waylay her a little. I turn so that she can’t see me, so that I am facing the intersection too. I glance at my watch. 3:13. I begin to count. One, two, three….
When I get to fifteen I take my two steps and I feel her foot catch on my heel, hear her take in a gulp of air as she loses her balance and begins to fall. My heart practically flies out of my chest, I am soaring, I am light as air. She will be there when I get back. Lissie’s drawings will be complete. Everything will be better. Right.
As I turn, prepare to leave my mom sprawled on the sidewalk so she never knows that I was here, I catch the eye of a little boy. He’s staring up at me, his eyes wide, his mouth open slightly in a smile because he must’ve seen my mom fall and thought it looked funny. In his hand is a piece of paper, a drawing very much like Lissie’s. He lets it go without thinking and it flies out into the intersection and a moment later so does he, arm outstretched to catch it. There is a squeal of tires and then the bark of rubber on blacktop and then the sickening sound of screaming.
The drawing blows back out of the street as the boy disappears under the truck. I watch it flutter down towards the sidewalk because I can’t look out into the street, can’t see what just happened, what I just caused to happen. The paper slides to a stop, resting face up on my sneakers, so that all I can see is the house and four stick figures crayoned across it.
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Friday, March 14, 2014
No Place Like Home
He arrived first. Weeks later she joined him. When there wasn’t anything else to do, which was often, they sat on the floor and drew. They surmised they were in each others’ age range and that they had both been taken. No words were shared among them, not even their names. They were taken upstairs once a day for schooling and a meal and sun. Once upstairs they saw how much color they were losing, how their skin began to blanch. Their squinted at each other barely getting used to the sunlight from the windows. As soon as their eyesight adjusted to the white paper, the yellow piercing through beige shades, the tattered but muted tones of the rug they were rushed back downstairs where they’d settle back into the gray.
The woman lead them to their room, or as she liked to insist along with them calling her “Angie” that they consider this place “home.” “Home” was a dank basement that was often cool, sometimes freezing, rarely warm. It was dark and it was moist. The dampness in the air settled on their skin as soon as they returned from "school."
After a couple weeks the girl thoroughly searched their surroundings. She found rope but no chains. She surveyed the toilet behind a folded wall and the sink with the faucet that dripped leaving a rusted stain around the drain. She found clothes that were definitely not in fashion now and smelled as stale as the basement.
The only window downstairs was painted shut with glass covered in so much soot it hid the outside world. It was small enough for their heads to fit through but nothing else. Though this didn’t stop her from trying by punching at it with no luck. When the two were next brought upstairs for studies they stood in the kitchen bathed in sunlight. Once the woman locked the basement door behind them the girl screamed her head off. The girl dodged hands attempting to catch her. She ran around the space as though on fire. The girl made it past the living room to the front door when she found what the boy had the first and last time he attempted the same thing. The locks needed keys from within. Still screaming, her cries ringing throughout the house tingling the boy’s inner ear it was so loud, she sped past the woman who hunched herself down attempting to soothe, shush, and capture the girl.
The boy waited in the kitchen, and he came soon enough. The man emerged in the doorway to the kitchen as the girl, quick like a monkey, had jumped the cabinets and was on the kitchen countertops trying to get through a window. The boy hadn’t thought of that. The girl was almost successful, almost, a window pane shattered from the kick of her sneakers and the force of her will but she was scooped up easy as ice cream. Her limbs fought, wouldn’t remain still. She kicked and flailed all over the place as the man took her upstairs where her screams were replaced with a different type. It was no longer a sound craving attention, this cry was in deep fear and understanding of what was to come. The boy was shooed downstairs by the woman, who insisted everything was going to be okay. They were the same words she said to them every day.
Later, maybe hours, maybe just long minutes, the girl returned, still putting up a fight. The man stumbled down the stairs, her body thrust over his shoulder, her screams muffled with a sock. As soon as he touched ground he thrust her onto the cot beside the boy. She lifted herself up ready to shriek again but the man made a motion for his pants pocket. Even with the one soft bulb the boy saw the cord eeking it's way out of his pocket. One peek at the girl's arms he saw her long sleeves revealed hints of lacerations. The girl sat back, but there was rebellion in her eyes. The man trudged up the stairs and sealed them into their new world.
They weren’t allowed upstairs for a while after that. Food was brought down, left on the second step, and the door immediately shut leaving them back to their solitude. Drawing became routine. The girl sometimes scratched at her arms. She hid her legs by folding them under herself. He didn’t ask how she felt, he knew the sting of the cord. He wasn’t looking to feel that again.
As they sat on the floor scratching on paper was the only sound. Their fingertips were colored from the wax of the crayons and their hands dotted with the shavings they wiped away. When the girl spoke he had to look up to consider if he’d actually heard something. Her mouth was slightly ajar. Her eyes narrowed like she’d been waiting on his answer for too long.
“What are you drawing?” she asked. He dared a peek at her picture first, it was erratic scribbles but a rainbow of them that came together like a puzzle. He looked at his. His hands framed each side of the image, one he hadn’t even realized he’d been creating in the first place. A house with a chimney, a sun peering over the place like a guardian. To one side of the house were two people, a man and a woman and in the middle of them was a tiny figure that could only be a child, their child, specifically. It was a place he was starting to forget, yet hints of it still pervaded in his memory. The car he was shuttled into to go to and from real school, not a woman making things up while they remained shackled to the table listening but not listening. Before answering he wrote the word under it then held the paper up to the girl.
She mouthed the four letter word and nodded before tearing up her illustration and starting again. “Let me show you my home too,” she said as she reached for a new sheet of paper.
Story by: Jenn Baker
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net