Essays

Falling Free: Short Story

So at last, a short story! It’s been a while since I’ve posted one, primarily because most places I submit to don’t accept work that has been published, even if it’s on a blog. However, at just over 1000 words, Falling Free is shorter than the requirements of those same magazines and so seems like a perfect candidate to (hopefully) entertain you.

A quick note: this story was intended to be the inspiration for a graphic project, which is why it is so heavy on visuals and tone. Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think below. 🙂 Please enjoy.

Falling Free

From "Falling Man" at www.davidreviews.com
From “Falling Man” at http://www.davidreviews.com

I am nearly dead from running. Stone slaps the soles of my feet, the pitter-patters echoing and filling the surrounding void. A barren land, it’s a world of grey mountains on the left, black mountains on the right; a slate-grey sky above. Not a tree, or shrub, or blade of grass anywhere. White clouds straggle across the sky. Or are they ghosts? I can’t tell.

I hear him behind me, the madman who drove me to this place. Once across the threshold, I’d tried to block him out, had thrown the locks and bars in place. But he is stronger than me, smarter, too. I’d jumped aside and hit the road running just as the door burst open and the first traces of his sickness swept into the void. That smell—the sickness—I know it well.

I hear him beating the path. He’s furious and fast. He comes on with ease, as though a native of this world and immune to the pain burning my torn-up feet; not afraid of this land with no roads or any living thing. Just greyness and stone. And…

Wait, there’s something up ahead.

Skidding, I change course, take the corner around a boulder. I head for whatever it is.

Maybe a way out?

He’s angry. Bellowing, he too rounds the corner, spitting rocks in his wake as he takes the hairpin turn. I sense his eyes zero in on me. He’s coming.

The ground suddenly gives way to a valley. I speed down the slope, putting my hand down when I almost tumble to the bottom where a collection of rocks wait to tear me to shreds. Once over them, I scale the other side. Streaks of blood stain the surface. Hands shredded, knees bleeding, it doesn’t matter. I can’t let that madman catch me.

I haul myself over the edge. Safe in the other side, but don’t know for how long. I pause to catch my breath. The dark spot in the distance is closer. Nothing between me and it.

“Hello, my name is Constance. Do you want to play?”

It’s a little girl about seven years old. She wears a pink dress, and her wavy brown hair is tied back with a white bow. She smiles. I’m shaken by her innocence. A single white light in this darkening grey world. She holds out a hand. I take it.

What’s a kid doing out here alone? I look around but there’s not another living soul anywhere.

“Uh…where’s your mother?”

Constance crumples to the ground. Blood pools on her candy-pink dress. She coughs once, smiles again, and then is gone. Cackling trickles into my head.

It’s the madman.

He always ruins whatever he touches.

I take off, heading for the spot in the distance. The closer I draw to it, the more the world changes. Ghosts spring out of the ground, each one bright and bursting with life and hope like the girl, caricatures of ‘the good life’:  a mother dressed in a blue and white dress and a flowery apron holding her baby. Her name, Aviva, and the baby, Elan. But upon taking my hand, they too collapse having succumbed to scarlet blotches spreading like weeds across their chests. Others, Hope and Mercy, two frolicking puppies, also fall to jagged, red polka dots. Each death triggers the maniac’s laughter. It pricks the inside of my head like a million fingers running nails across a blackboard. It’s too much. I’ll crack.

I fear…

…he’s changing me…

…making me like him.

Other ghosts appear, this time familiars. Friends, family, colleagues. Girlfriends.

‘Get your lazy ass off the couch and get a job!’

I remember that one:  Lucy. My last and greatest love. But like the madman, I have a knack for drawing out the worst in those around me. To this day, I doubt she knew that her presence had kept the Darkness at bay, or how much thicker and deeper it became after she left. I’d tried to block it out. It still took everything I’d had not go mad. And now, here she was in my world of grey, still hateful, still angry. Yelling.

Like the Madman. He screams at my back, his fury pushing me towards the quickly approaching spot. The black patch looms–yawning like an open mouth. Now I don’t want to go. I want to run back to the valley, through the mountains, all the way to the exploded door and, finally, into the world of color and caricature beyond.

Just what am I doing here?

At the spot, the madman pulls back. I drop to my hands and knees. His laughter fills my head; it’s rapid, hitting hard like a Gatling gun. The stone is cold under my hands, chilling me like I’m kneeling on an ice rink. Gasping and hacking, I can barely breathe.

God, I’m utterly broken.

The chasm’s on my right. The madman on my left. He stands so tall I can’t see his face.

He squats. I can’t look at him. Shaking takes over my arms, then my torso and, finally my legs. He leans in so his lips are against my ear.

“I never meant to catch you,” he says.

“Wh-what?” I lick my lips. Maybe I can talk my way out. “What do you want?”

He stands. Puts his hands in his pockets. Sighs.

“No!” I’m screaming now. “I don’t want to—“

“Die.”

He nudges me with the tip of his foot.

I fall.

Am struck by the fact that now there’s no need to run. No need for strife.

No Darkness trying to drive me insane.

I realize

The madman did me a favor.

Crazed,

He did the thing I could not.

I am free.

Falling

But falling free.

I laugh, only a little surprised by the rising notes—bordering hysteria.

I laugh harder, the sound becoming familiar, as though it had been hiding so deeply and for so long within me that I’d forgotten it was even there. Until the madness pried it loose, setting free a raging, powerful beast.

I want to see the face of my killer.

I look up

As I fall down.

Through the gathering mists

The haze of oncoming unconsciousness opening the door to

The Inevitable.

The madman looks down.

Our eyes meet.

I smile in recognition.

For that man on top

Who watches me as I fall down;

The one who pushed me over the edge

Is me.

Copyright@ 2015 by Dyane Forde

Essays

Book Review: Re-Wired by Greg Dragon

Re-WiredRe-Wired by Greg Dragon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BLURB:

He created the perfect woman but will he lose his soul in the process?

Robotics student Brad Barkley has created the perfect woman. The only problem is she’s an android, and her creator realizes too late he may have made her too perfect. After Brad’s ultimate failure with women nearly consumes him, he discovers Tricia, his android, may be able to rescue him from a life of loneliness, if he and the human race are willing to pay the price.

REVIEW:

Re-Wired tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned young man who tries to set right the wrongs in his life by creating the perfect android woman. Of course, things don’t go as planned and Brad must face reality and the consequences of his actions.

The idea and accompanying social commentary (human beings’ relationship to technology, mistrust of robots/androids/AI) are not new as we’ve seen them before in other stories, TV shows, and movies. I won’t go into a discussion on those issues, but I will say I appreciated that the novel raised them as I did consider points of view I hadn’t before.
The strengths of the novel are in the relationship between Priscilla and Brad (which is also where the story gets most interesting), and when Tricia (android) has the narrative floor to herself. In the latter case, it was a pleasure to see her process human behaviour and draw her own conclusions, sometimes as a slave to her programming and others times as an enlightened, self-directed entity. Tricia is both a child and a woman, and she comes off as vulnerable, victimized, gentle, caring, confused and, eventually, strong. Priscilla is a dynamic character who lifts and drives the novel’s energy. In fact, I enjoyed reading these characters more than of Brad himself, who I found not overly interesting or sympathetic, and his dialogue often felt unnatural.

I also enjoyed the ‘twist’ in the story, though I did see it coming. It took the novel from a straight forward science-fiction story to something that bordered on fantasy. The only issue I had is that the blurred lines between reality and fantasy (psychosis) aren’t fully resolved so that I finished the story feeling confused.
Lastly, the story felt short and, for a science-fiction story, it needed more detail both about the technology as well as the world in which it takes place. There is an epilogue that explains the social context and history, but it would have been better to have woven those details into the narrative so that the reader has a more immersive experience. I wanted a closer inspection of the devices, programming and materials which make Tricia appear real enough to pass as a human. Playing up the contrast between her android and human self would have added another dimension to the character as well as the psychological dilemma Brad faces.

Thanks to Mr. Dragon for providing a copy of the book to review.

View all my reviews

Misc, Stories

New Short Story: Grandmother

It’s been a while since I posted a story, but I’ve still been writing. I decided to post Grandmother because it might be the last short I post for a while because I’m hitting the editing of my third book pretty hard. Anyway, this story was inspired from a prompt by one of my buddies, Adrianna Joleigh, who seems to enjoy pricking at my darker side, lol The prompt started as an exercise on telling a story from multiple POVs (I, you, he), which I interpreted into this story.  

Grandmother

Dyane Forde-October 2013

Image by Matthew Nicely
Image by Matthew Nicely

 

Damned if the girl wasn’t looking out the window again.

“You know he isn’t coming back,” I said, coming up beside her. My bones ached with arthritis but this foolishness was just enough to get me hobbling across the room. Once there, I fiddled with the curtain sashes until they loosened and the blue panels fell into place.

Linda pursed her lips. The beginning of a frown crinkled her pale brow. With her face scrubbed clean and devoid of make-up, she looked more like a child than the grown woman she was. Right then, she was preparing to argue, something I didn’t like. Conflict upset her so much. Then the headaches started. I hated to see my baby in pain.

“He just might,” Linda said, pulling her shawl tighter with one hand while opening the curtains a tad with the other. I marked the small act of defiance. This wasn’t going to end well. Without looking at me, she added, “Danny did promise, after all.”

I scoffed and crossed my arms across the front of my starched blouse. “You’re in denial, little girl. That man is never coming back.”

She opened her mouth to protest but then closed it. I knew she was thinking it over, trying to understand—or remember—the meaning behind my words.

Linda turned to face me but kept her eyes downcast. “What do you mean? He said—“

“Linda, the man talked too much. That was his problem! Every word out of his mouth was a damned lie. Like that time he said he’d left town to find work and you found out he was shacking up with that other woman, you still believed in him.”

Linda was defending him and it made me sick. It went against every fibre of my being, and she knew it; the fact she did it anyway make me sicker. And angrier.

Linda’s heart-shaped faced flushed deep red and her brow shone with the sheen of perspiration. “Yes, but—“

I pushed harder. “What about his promise to be there when the twins came?”

She looked up. Glared.

“Or when he promised to lay off the liquor? Or that he’d stop wailing on you and the kids every other day? Stupid little girl! When will you see the man for what he was?”

I was on fire, inflamed because after everything I’d done, she chose to believe in him rather than me.

Blood stained her lip from where she’d bitten it through but she didn’t seem to notice. Suppressed rage lit her eyes and her fingers twitched, temped maybe to wrap themselves around my neck. Only Linda couldn’t lie, not to me. I knew her intimately. I sometimes knew what she was thinking or feeling before she did herself.

“Why’d you have to go there? It’s all in the past. I keep trying to forget it but you! You keep bringing it up! Danny’s changed. He promised!” She turning away to walk towards the bed.

“Linda! He hasn’t changed. He’s dead.”

She didn’t want to hear so I had to lay it out for her. I pitied her ignorance, and actually felt partially responsible for it. Perhaps, seeing she was so weak, I’d sheltered her too much. But she was grown now, and much too determined to believe in fairy tales for my liking. She had to see things as they were; living in the dark was no way to live.         Besides, if she fell down under the weight of the truth, I’d be there to prop her up. I was her crutch and she knew that too.

“My dove, I’ve been warning you your whole life that the world is full of monsters. People are nothing but predators. They gain your trust and when you least suspect, they turn around and cut your throat. Or they beat you and take your money and leave you and your children to starve through the winter. Or,” I paused, only second-guessing my next words for the span of a breath, “they steal what’s most precious.”

“No, don’t.”

“Tell me I’m lying! Tell me!”

“Stop it! You’re being cruel!” In a flash, she had swept her hands across the card table and sent the tea set flying. The pot and cups exploded into colourful pieces when they hit the floor.

“I’m protecting you from yourself! That’s why Danny had to go.”

Shocked, she stood stock still. “Gram, what do you mean?” I watched while she turned her palms upwards to study them, and then as her brow creased with concentration, or maybe confusion. Then she put a hand to her head and closed her eyes.

Again, moving my body painfully across the room, I joined her by the bed where I poured her a cup of cold water from the nightstand. Her hands shook so hard she had to cup them together to take it, and even then the water splashed over the edge.

“Tell me the truth. What happened?” she asked.

“I took care of it.”

“You? But…my hands! I remember washing them in the kitchen sink. There was a knife too and it was—“

Covered in red.

“No,” I said gently, taking her hands to steady them in my own. “Not yours. Mine. My hands were stained red.” I folded her into a hug. The truth was too much; she was breaking and I had to hold her together. At first, she stayed rigid as a board within my withered embrace. Still, I kept at it, holding her and stroking her long, brown hair until she finally gave. She always did.

“I-I can’t understand this…I feel a head ache coming on.”

“There, there. Why don’t you lie down?” I turned her around by the shoulders and set her down on the edge of the bed.

“Gram?” she asked, “Are you sure? I mean, I could have sworn the last time I saw him he said—“

“That was months ago,” I snapped. “He’s gone.”

With a growl, she suddenly pushed me, sending me into the wall. Righting myself, I brushed my skirt back into place and reset the pins in my hair, every last one.

“Why do you do that?” she demanded. “You always take away the things I love!”

“Because no one is good enough for you.” I kept my tone calm but decisive, necessary to regain control of her.

“He wasn’t all bad! What about when he brought me flowers, or a new dress?”

“You mean those guilt offerings?”

“I loved him!” Linda screamed.

“Because you’re a fool! All people do is to tear you down, especially the men. Or have you forgotten?”

“No,” she whispered, her sudden flash of anger crumbling under the weight of my righteous stare. I had her now. She was ready to listen.

“They come for their victims late at night when everyone else is asleep. Everyone except you because you know what’s coming down the hall. A ghoul, no worse, a devil. He comes down the corridor, taking his time to avoid the creaky floorboards. And when he arrives, he steals. He kills, destroying everything that is you.”

“Stop it!”

“Your father wasn’t the only one. Every one of them ripped you open and broke your heart. That’s why you’re sick! That’s why you’re broken! It’s why you need me, why you called me in the first place!”

Linda gripped her head, her fingers disappearing in her full head of hair. She fought the blinding migraine as hard as she fought my words. But for the love of God, she had to learn! To see I was her only hope!

“My head…I can’t think….I need to rest…”

“You have to understand how the world works, Linda. Remember how we met! It was the first time you heard him in the hall. You remember, don’t you?”

Linda started to cry. She reached for and gripped my hand in hers. “I do.”

“When the door opened, cold with terror you looked over and saw me. And I took you to a far off place with sunflowers and tall grass. Where the sun shone and the air smelled of apples. We had a picnic.”

“With ham sandwiches and homemade lemonade. My favorites.”

“Every time he went to you, so did I.”

The poor girl was all out blubbering now, great big sobs tearing through her tiny frame. Streams of water ran from her eyes and soaked her white gown.

“Danny needed to go, didn’t he?”

“Yes, dear, he did. I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt my sweet baby ever again.”

“I’m sorry,” Linda said. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. You’re the only one I can trust. I-I just get confused sometimes.”

I pressed on her shoulders to get her to lie down, and then lifted her feet into the bed. I tucked the blanket in all around and lifted the guardrail. I flinched a little when it snapped into place. Linda stirred so I ran a hand over her face, smiling when the tension melted away. I even hummed a little tune. A lullaby. She always liked those. 

Linda opened her eyes at the sound of keys jiggling at the door. It swung open and a man dressed in a crisp, white uniform entered. “Is everything alright in here? I thought I heard shouting.” He looked down at the broken china littering the floor.

“Everything is just fine, Marcus. A little accident is all. Just get a broom and I’ll deal with it later,” Linda said in my raspy voice. “Linda has everything she needs.”

Marcus was used to this. He crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side. “Does she now?”

Linda pushed herself up to sit, her back and shoulders ramrod straight and her chin lifted. She pushed a stray hairpin back into place. Eying him with an air of distrust, she said, “Yes.”

“Dr. Wiseman will be stopping by in an hour, Gram. Why don’t you tell her that for me?”

“I’ll do no such thing. The child is far too fragile for his probing questions and ridiculous judgements! The man is always digging into places he’s got no business going, never leaving well enough alone. How does he expect her to get better? No, you tell him I’ll be waiting for him today.”

“Be nice if someone could talk to Linda for once,” Marcus said under his breath as he ducked out of the room.

“Gram, I need my pills.” Then seeing she was sitting, Linda asked, “What am I doing up? Last I remember, I was lying down to sleep. I’d even started to dream of sunflowers and apples.”

“Hush, hush, silly girl! Don’t worry your head about such things! You leave everything to me like you always do.”

Linda settled back into the blankets. “Thanks, Gram. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Soon she was breathing evenly, her face utterly relaxed. That’s how I liked to see my baby girl best.

The poor thing never stood a chance before I came along; life had her marked to be devoured. And just as I’d thought, she still wasn’t strong enough to cope. But who really was? The world was a dark, evil place, unsafe for delicate souls like hers.

I sat down on the comfy armchair, ready to watch over Linda while she slept. I sighed and shook my head, pitying all the children, both young and old, who must suffer through life without the protection of a Grandmother like me. 

 Copyright@ 2013 by Dyane Forde

Stories

My Face-Flash Fiction

I wrote this mini-story in support of a friend who’s going through a hard time. It’s inspired by the following prompt:

The Prompt
Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…



MY FACE


I can hear it running around inside my head. An incessant scratching. Or raking. Like fingernails over a blackboard. Shouting andscreaming don’t drown it out; it just gets louder, swallowing my voice. Beating my head with my hands can’t shake it out; they are sore from trying.

And then I look down. Clumps of hair rain down to the black and white bathroom floor from between my fingers.

The noise is a drone. It squeezes out thought and reason.

I am afraid.

Something shatters. Flecks of reflected silver splash against the wall. I’ve broken the mirror. Half a refracted face looks back at me. My face.

Mine?

The phone is in my hand. A warm voice pours out of the receiver. ‘Hello?’

‘Mom!’ I’m shouting but I can’t stop. ‘I-I–’ The sound blares, a mushroom-cloud of toxic thought exploding in my head. My fingers spasm but I manage to cling to the phone. ‘It’s happening!’

Again, warmth floods towards me, poking a tiny hole in the darkness. ‘Stay where you are. Don’t move. I’m coming.’

The phone beeps when I shut it off. I see the red-tinted broken pieces of mirror lying beside me on the floor. I close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and wait.

D. Forde (May 2013)