It’s been a long time since I’ve written fiction. Life’s been getting in the way–you know how it is–and I’ve been doing a lot of other types of writing (blogging, articles) and lots of editing, so getting back in the saddle has been a little tough. But today, something happened at my day job that inspired this little piece of flash fiction. And so was born this rendering of a young girl’s point of view on family violence in…
The shouting echoes inside my chest; it rings inside empty space. But I am not empty. Inside lives a cold, shivering ache.
From my safe place under the bed, I watch as strangers throw dishes, glasses, books, and the TV remote to the floor. They scream. They threaten. They are oblivious. They are blind. They have become monsters who do not see chaos and destruction; they do not care about the shattered glass and plastic pieces strewn across the hardwood floor.
I used to know those people. Their once familiar faces are now feral, twisted. One used to read me stories at night and chase away the ghosts I swore were hiding in my closet. And the other used to leave me love notes on pink paper in my lunch box. The other kids teased me because of those notes and, to save face, I would make a snide comment, crumple them up and toss them in the trash. But secretly…deep down in the black hole in my chest…I needed what those frilly notes contained; I needed a splash of color to soothe the ache.
That usually ended once I arrived home. I eventually learned that pink splash was like whitewash; it only masked our family secrets, only candy-coated my pain.
The front door closes. It’s suddenly very quiet.
I know what’s coming. The cycle, once begun, must play itself out.
Glass crunches underfoot. Perfectly manicured toenails encased in pink slippers appear outside my hiding spot. She sniffles, then blows her nose. By the time she bends down, her face will once again be one I recognize and love with all my heart.
“Jessy? Come on out,” she adds when I don’t move. ‘It’s okay now. You know how it gets around here sometimes. But it’s all good now. I—”
“Promise,” I finish, whispering to myself.
My mother finally gets down on hands and knees to reach under the bed.
I watch the manicured hand creep towards me.
The same hand that had thrown down our family pictures, leaving shattered glass, shining like clear spikes, on the floor.
When I decided to get back into writing, I joined an online writing site called Scribophile. Soon after, I met a writer named Madison and we quickly hit it off. Every now and again, the group we are a part of hosts flash fiction contests, and the last story she wrote really had an impact on me. The theme was Dark Bible stories. In other words, writing a story inspired by one of the many dark stories written in the Bible. I loved her piece so much, I asked her if I could post it on my other site for Christian creatives, Delia Talent, and if she would write a line or two about the inspiration behind the story. She did, and that story was even more moving than the flash fiction! I’ll post an excerpt below to give you a taste. But I hope you’ll go check out the whole story here. If nothing else, though it starts dark, her story just might brighten your Monday.
Excerpt from, Madison Wheatley, Writer: When God Gives Beauty For Ashes
When Delia asked me to provide the inspiration behind this piece, I thought about being vague. I thought about saying, “I wrote this piece in response to my own struggle with infertility.” In the end, I decided to share the ugly truth. I don’t have any aspirations of “inspiring” or “uplifting” people going through what I’m going through, but maybe someone reading this will find comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.
I wrote this piece following a miscarriage. Not mine, though. The thing is, a couple close to my husband had gotten pregnant, and they wanted us to adopt their child. They knew they didn’t want to be parents, and more than that, they knew how badly we wanted to–and how we had been unsuccessful in the seven years of our marriage.
We knew better than to get our hopes up. We tried to be smart, or at least we tried to be. We talked about nursery ideas but didn’t make any purchases. I wrote a letter to our home church asking for financial support, but never sent it. We’d tried not to refer to the child as “our baby,” knowing that nothing was official yet. We spiked all our hopes with a healthy dose of pessimism.
But when we got the call saying that the mother had lost the baby, I realized the hold that hope had had on me. All of a sudden, it was our baby, and she (We always assumed it would be a girl.) had died. My husband cried all day. I was simply numb, that is, until little by little, the realization of what had happened chipped away at my armor of I knew this would happen. I went to bed early, but the nightmares were so bad that I cried in my sleep…
I hate the end the story here (I really do!) But I hope it’ll inspire you to check out thecomplete post.It’s worth the read.
As I mentioned in the Delia Talent section on this blog, I recently joined a writing site called Scribophile. I’m testing it out and, so far, I’m enjoying the experience. I’ve met some really interesting and talented people, all while rebuilding my confidence/skills as I get back into novel-writing. Also, one thing that has motivated me over all since joining, is being one of the 3 co-leaders of the Christian Speculative Writers group.
What follows below is a flash fiction piece I wrote for our most recent in-group contest. I admit, it was difficult to figure out how to tell a story in 300-500 words after not writing seriously for so long. Actually, what I did manage to write isn’t even a story per se, but more like a scene of a larger story. But, I’ll take it! Flash fiction is tough and I’m just glad I survived.
I also wanted to share a little about how this story came to be, since it didn’t come out at all as intended. I sat down last night to bang out a rough draft, but the wheels later fell off in the final rewrite. What follows is a ‘conversation’ between my Hands and my Brain…
Hands: Um, Brain, I thought we were going to write the Seeker as a sympathetic character. It was going to be a thoughtful, reflective piece, remember?
Brain: Boring! I want action, drama, and imagination! Just do as your told, Hands!
Hands: Yes, but…I don’t like when you change the plan at the last minute like that. I make more typos and…and then…She gets mad.
Brain: Hands, who’s the boss here? Me, or the Writer?
Hands: Um…you are, ma’am?
Brain: Remember those horrible cramps you suffered the last time you tried to stick to the plan I decided to change? Who did that? The Writer?
Hands: Y-you did, ma’am…
Brain: Exactly! I’m the one you should fear, the only one you must blindly obey! Is that clear?
Hands: …Yes, ma’am…but She–
Brain: She is also my slave! Look, at her! Staring blankly at the screen awaiting my instructions. Now, do you understand? Nothing works without me. So, where was I before you so rudely interrupted…?
I slammed on the brakes. Gagging, I located a parking spot, pulled in, and switched off the car. That bloody smell, half-human and half wolf, got me every time.
Beside me, Max fished through his backpack and handed me a water bottle. I guzzled it down. I hated dogs; despised their wolf cousins. What we were chasing now through the city streets in the wee hours of the morning, there were no words, just biology, to describe what I felt for it. The hairs on the backs of my arms tingled. My heart raced. The enmity was strong, wired into my DNA. Seek, destroy. I had no choice in the matter.
I uncurled my fisted hands. “Sorry. The moonlight affects me, too.” I glanced at the waxing orb, a solitary, white disk, blissfully dispersing its transformative light.
The stench was getting stronger. Soon, it would be all wolf, leaving behind no trace of its human host.
My hearing heightened, the sound of Max checking and re-checking his gun felt like gongs in my ears.
Satisfied, Max tucked the piece in its holster. He glanced at me. “Sure you’re okay?”
I focused on Max to maintain control. He was a new agent, and I was his first Seeker. He was green, but I liked him. He didn’t look at me like I was a freak, and never called me one either. At least, not to my face.
“Quiet! Let me work.” I closed my eyes, analyzing the scent particles left on my tongue and nasal cavities, sorting through the information. A picture began to form.
My pulse began to race again.
“Ahead, in the alley. 100-150 meters.”
“You can tell all that just from the smell?”
I scoffed. Analysis was easy. “He’s male, early 20’s, in mid-transformation. Look, the longer we wait, the harder it’ll be to take him down.”
Max whistled appreciatively. “All right. Let’s get to work.”
Max climbed out of the car and took the lead. Unlike him, I carried no gun.
I closed my eyes again and inhaled. I listened, stretching my hearing beyond the city sounds: cars honking, windows shattering in bar fights, the shouts of brawlers.
“Heard he got a little girl tonight. Open window by the fire-escape,” Max said. He maneuvered carefully around the trash littering the street, making for the alley.
I shook my head. Silvers have been active in the city for months, picking off children and the weak. Stupid humans. They never learn.
“I hate the ones that go after kids,” Max said.
“They all do.”
Max stopped at the curb, the alley dead ahead. “He’s holed up in there, right? Anything else?”
“Damned well better be.” Max glanced over his shoulder. “I wish you had a gun. But I hear Seekers have their own…weapons.”
The moon gleamed in the night sky. My fingernails tapered into claws. My teeth lengthened into fangs.
So, thanks to Brant’s comments, I decided to revise the last story, Balance of a Cat. I admit, at first I was reluctant. I like writing in a the first person POV, as I enjoy the sense of intimacy and the unique perspective it provides to a character/story. But, I thought it was important to revise it, for the story’s sake. That’s a writer’s job: knowing when to go against what you want to do in favor of what you have to do in order to write the best story you can. Also worth noting, I did the finishing touches after watching a webinar on dialogue by Kevin T. Johns. I love writing dialogue, anyway, but though it’s late and I’m tired, the inspiration stirred by the webinar didn’t make the revisions feel like work. Anyway, here’s the revised version.
The Balance of a Cat
He’d intended to surprise her, not make her cry. But Lee had always been a crybaby–a fact her cousin never let her forget–and the tears and snot glistening on her pinched, pink face were as expected as the annoyance he felt every time. Still, they were blood, the same age, and in a town as small as theirs, one’s choices in friends were slim.
“You always get me in trouble,” she moaned from behind. She swatted at the tree branches whipping her face, her crying intensifying by the second. “I have a math test second period.”
Max kept a steady pace on the trail, leading the way into the woods. The shrubs were thick, and the ground almost bouncy underfoot from the layers of dead pine needles and dirt. “Then why’d you come?”
“Because you told me to!”
Of course. Like some kind of living robot, docile Lee didn’t have it in her to say no, though Max guessed that’s why he’d dragged her along. Hearing her sniveling behind him, though, made him feel a little bad. Lee was smart. She was aiming for a scholarship and, with her brains, she could actually escape their pinprick of a town. Max handed her a balled up tissue from his pocket.
“You know I like school.” She blew her nose. “You’d better not mess this up for me. I twisted my ankle during last week’s trip to the quarry. I got to school late the next day because of it and barely talked myself out of detention.”
“I told you to be careful scaling those rocks.”
“It was night!”
“The moon was out.”
Max smiled when she choked off a retort. After so many years, she knew it was useless to argue. “Fine,” he said after a bit. “I’ll get you back before your test, OK? Anyway, we’re almost there. You’ll see, it’ll be worth it.” He pushed through the last of the trees and kept going until he reached the cliff’s edge. There, he stood on the cusp, took a deep breath, and spread his arms as if trying to catch the early morning rays. “Isn’t it amazing? You can see everything from here!”
Below, ‘Cow-Town’, or Dunsville as it was officially known, sprawled as far as the eye could see and was more farmland than anything else. But to Max, it was a green stain on the fringe of the unknown. “The world is waiting for me, cousin. I might not have your brains, but I’ll come up with my own way out of here.”
“Dad says you don’t have any talents, either. Aside from finding trouble.”
Max dropped his arms to his sides. “That’s what everyone thinks, isn’t it? That I’m just a dumb, screw up?”
Lee didn’t answer, but came up cautiously behind him to put a hand on his shoulder.
Max turned back to the cliff. “Well? How do our futures look from up here, Brainiac?”
She shrugged. “Kinda scary. Everything looks…so big, so spread out.”
“Makes you feel small, right? Maybe even insig…insignificant? But the potential–!”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” She tugged at his shirt. “Let’s go. You could fall, and I don’t want that.”
She tried to take him by the arm but he pulled out of her grasp. “I’m not going to fall. I’ve got the balance of a cat.”
“You don’t have a tail,” she insisted. “They use them as a counter-balance, or something like that. I learned it at school, which is where we should be right now.”
“Come on, not even one step?” Max waved towards the great beyond. “It’d be hard to find a better view than this—“
His foot slipped before he ever knew what had happened. It was Lee’s scream and the sudden rush of cold air on his face that stirred the latent sense of fear within him.
But the world fast approached; a growing green patch of grass, looming before Max’s eyes.
In truth, it was probably the only way a dumb, troublesome kid like him could earn salvation.