Tag Archives: flash fiction

Words in print

It is safe to say that this summer didn’t quite end up to be the hotbed of productivity I had hoped it might. I began with grand plans, a vision of being able to juggle family time, a multitude of adventures, refocusing my blog, working on short story ideas and getting stuck in to major edits of both my novels.

I’m not sure who I was kidding, but it didn’t quite work out that way…

There has been lots of thinking, dreaming, talking, planning but very few actual words have made it onto the page, virtual or otherwise. However in the midst of all this there was one tiny writing milestone which should not go unnoticed: I became a published author.

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It feels like forever ago that I entered the Cloudcuckooland Flash Fiction competition. I was very excited at the time to be shortlisted, especially as there was the promise of an anthology being released. But days turned into months and nothing seemed to come of it – and after a while I put that pride and anticipation back into the box of unrealised ambition along with the rejection emails and unpublished manuscripts. Such is the life of the aspiring novelist.

And then one day in August a package came through the door. In it were five slim volumes of short stories, pre-ordered enthusiastically when I had initially heard the news. And in each of those volumes were five hundred words written by me.

It is a very small step, but it is very much in the right direction.

And now that autumn’s here there are no more excuses not to get on with all those plans to get (many) more of my words into the world. Because that’s what writer’s do, right? They write.

 

Muddled Manuscript

The gift

Pencils

She sat on the sofa, knees drawn up to her chest and arms stretched out in front of them holding her masterpiece proudly. It looked so much like him. It wasn’t just the physical features, although her graphite lines perfectly moulded the contours of his stately nose, those deep, dancing eyes, the lips turned tantalisingly upwards at their ends in a constant almost-smile.

More than that, she’d captured something of his very essence. It would be easy to sympathise with those who were afraid that a photograph might steal something of their soul if you saw just how uncanny the resemblance of this drawing was to her love.

She sighed and placed it carefully down on the coffee table. He would be home soon, and she couldn’t wait to give him his present.

She padded through to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, hearing the insistent buzz of her phone as she returned.

Birthday drinks with Rob. Back by eight I promise. Love you. 

A cloud of irritation enveloped her, and she immediately chastised herself for being so unreasonable. It was his birthday, right? If he wanted to go for drinks she could hardly stop him. Besides, it would be eight in just over an hour.

She settled back down on the sofa and flicked on the TV.

An hour passed, and then another. The wine had definitely begun to go to her head, dulling her senses though it did nothing to dampen her annoyance. She’d texted him twice now, but of course she’d had no reply.

He stared up at her from the heavy sheet of cartridge paper that held his likeness. It had been the most expensive she could find, a dream to work with. As she stared back at him she realised that something was not quite right. It was hard to put her finger on exactly what: a shadow on his cheekbone, or maybe the angle of the underlying structure itself.

She stood and retrieved her tin of pencils from the bookcase by the window, pausing for a moment to check that he was not about to surprise her. The street below was busy as it always was on a Thursday night, but of him there was no sign.

Even as she made the very first line on the paper she knew it was a mistake. She was way too drunk for this. Yet once she’d started she had no choice but to continue.

She began gently, evening out the opposite side of his face to conceal her error, then adding weight to the lines around his mouth and eyes. Her anger seeped through her fingers, into the lead of the pencil and onto the page. She was angry with him, both the real him and this edifice that would not stop looking at her. But more than that she was angry at herself – for being an idiot once again, for having too much trust in him and none at all in her own judgement.

The solidity of the paper was satisfying as she scrawled deeper and deeper into it. He became monstrous, a parody of himself on his darkest days. His almost-smile became a leer, his nose a beak, the inviting pools of his eyes turning into terrifying caverns of infinite darkness.

She stopped before she had obliterated his features completely, investing the last of her rage into a tightly cross-hatched canvas to amplify the horror of what she had done.

The lead of her pencil snapped, finally giving in, and it brought her back to herself, to their flat and his imminent arrival home. Her hands were shaking as she stood, and as a final gesture she toppled her half-empty wine glass, spilling its blood-red contents across the remains of his gift.

It was then that she heard his key in the lock. He staggered slightly as he opened the door, taking three deliberate steps into the room before closing it behind him.

“Sorry I’m late.”

She didn’t know what she could possibly say, so instead she said nothing.

He didn’t seem to notice, pausing to kiss her clumsily as he stumbled to the sofa. He picked up the ruined drawing that lay in front of him, squinted at it slightly, and broke into a smile.

“This is really good!”

“Are you taking the piss?”

She couldn’t be doing with this now. A row she could handle, but she didn’t have the patience for his insidious sarcasm.

“Seriously, I mean it. Can I take it to the gallery tomorrow?”

Her mouth twisted in on itself, the only outward sign of the scream that was threatening to explode her chest.

“Goodnight. Oh, and happy birthday.”

He was gone by the time she woke up the next day. She figured he must’ve slept on the sofa. The portrait was gone too, and in its place was a note.

Really sorry about last night. I’ll make it up to you I promise. Love you.

She was too hungover to be angry, and just felt really stupid. All that hard work, those hours and hours of meticulous draughtmanship, and for what?

She fired up the computer before heading into the kitchen to make a coffee. There were too many deadlines to be met today for her to be able to afford another minute mired in regret.

It was just after three when the email came in.

It was from the gallery where he worked, but not from him. She recognised the email address as one which had borne news of many a rejection when she’d submitted her drawings in the past. This time though the mood was rather different.

Original, they said. So fresh and exciting. A total departure from her previous work. They were sorry not to have identified it before but she clearly had a real talent, a gift. They would be honoured if she would consider selling this piece for inclusion in their collection.

She had to read it four or five times before the words began to make sense.

Maybe she could forgive him after all.

 

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

 

Winter

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You might notice me first in the scent of woodsmoke that rises up from the ashes of the long days of summer. Or perhaps you will see my gnarly fingers reaching up towards the sky, revealed as my breeze steals the last of the golden leaves. Or maybe it will be that moment you make yourself late as you return home for a jacket after shivering at the bus stop. Or when you realise you have not been out in daylight since you woke, looking wistfully through a steamed up window at the lingering shadows whilst the clock on the wall counts down the minutes until you are released once more into the cold and the dark.

However I come for you, you will be in my grip before you know it.

You will hear me in the winds that rattle the window frames and howl down the chimney. You will feel me under foot as you struggle to keep your balance on a patch of unexpected ice or crunch across crisp grass on a frosty morning. I will numb your fingers and caress your cheeks until they are red and raw.

Some days you will be glad that I am here.

When you fill your lungs with the cool clarity only I can bring, or see a frozen landscape sparkle under sunny skies bluer than you thought was really possible. When you wrap up warm against me, shunning the transformations I have wreaked on the outside world to cosy up with those you love. When you marvel at the quiet beauty of fresh snowfall, transported back to childhood and a world that was simpler and more magical.

Other days you will wish with all your might that I had never come at all.

And then one day, not long after you have convinced yourself that I am all there is, I will be gone.

In my place there will be green, and warm sunshine that seems to melt your very soul. The universe will be full of possibility again, and you will wonder why you let yourself let go of hope.

It will not be much longer until you almost forget that I exist at all.

But I will always be here, waiting.

And when you least expect it I will return.

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

The storm

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 ***

It was the thunder we heard first. The morning had been glorious – just perfect for lazing on the grass with iced coffees from the market, perusing the papers and generally just enjoying life and each other. But sure enough, as I looked up behind Grace’s mess of red hair, I could see the clouds rolling in.

They were angry, and switched her mood in an instant.

“What’re you doing?”

I ignored the scorn in her voice and continued to fold away the pages of newsprint that were strewn around us.

“It’s going to rain.”

“So?”

“So we need to go.”

She stood up then and turned away from me to look across the park. Everyone else was on my side with this one – picnics were being packed into hampers, babies bundled back into their prams. There was another crash of thunder and she lifted her face towards the sky as the first drops of water began to fall.

They were slow and heavy. If we didn’t move now, we’d be drenched.

“Come on, Gracie, this is silly.”

“You go.”

Grace had let her bag drop to the floor and was shrugging off her shirt, unselfconscious in the bikini top beneath. I felt the familiar tug of longing as I saw her bare skin, curving in at the waist where it was met by the denim of her shorts.

“What’re you doing?”

“Just go, will you?”

I wanted to force her to look at me, to grab her arm and spin her round. I wanted to kiss her, but instead I ran. As the raindrops increased their urgency I found shelter beneath an oak tree, squeezing in beside a couple leaning on their bicycles and a man who had squatted down to read his book.

The thunder echoed off the tower blocks again as Grace raised her arms, her hair trailing down her back now as water dripped from its ends onto the grass below. There was a flash of lightening then too, and in that moment I had a vision of her going up in smoke before my eyes, her footprints scorched into the earth. Still clutching the papers under one arm I sprinted out into the wet. I had to save her.

But when I got there she was laughing, an expression of pure glee on her face.

“Isn’t it wonderful? It’s our chance to be free, Charlie. To be alive.”

She reached out for the buttons of my shirt, trying to undo them so I could join her even though I think she knew I never would. I wriggled free and she spun away, shouting something that was lost amidst the storm.

The anger of the clouds had infected me now, and I strode alone towards the home we shared. She’d come back when she was done. She always did.

 ***

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this story with her prompt of ‘Thunder’, and also to Nicola at Nikki Young Writes who inspired me to explore my characters further through her post for last week’s What I’m Writing.

This story captures a moment in my protagonist’s past, seen through the eyes of her ex. I’m not sure they lasted long after this incident – and I’m pretty sure Grace would have seen things very differently.

 

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

Bacon: A Short Story

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She wasn’t sure how she’d cope, after he was gone. It wasn’t just that he was gone after all, but the circumstances! They’d joked for years about the apocalypse – everyone had, hadn’t they? And now it was here.

No-one else seemed nearly as concerned as she was, least of all their sons. They were teenagers now of course, so agreeing wasn’t exactly in their psyche. Still she’d hoped the headlines would have drawn them in – convinced them she wasn’t just going crazy.

When they hadn’t she’d had to take matters into her own hands. She found it hard to predict the hunger of two teenage boys. It was challenge enough to feed them when Tesco was there to help, but what about when even that didn’t exist any more? It sent a shiver down her spine, the thought that such a bastion of capitalism might just cease to exist.

Beans, sweetcorn, peaches. There were many things that came in cans, and it was these she began to collect. But something niggled at her, something that just wouldn’t disappear. Her boys needed meat. Every boy did, let’s be honest. But there was nothing in cans that even came close. Once upon a time, during that other war, people had made do. But she really didn’t think they were those people.

She looked it up on the internet. She could have asked someone, perhaps. But no-one else seemed to be taking it at all seriously, and the last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself.

So she just began her collection: piles and piles of bacon, as dry as possible, because that was the way it would last.

It was Justin who questioned her first. He’d come home with a bottle of lucozade which he’d wanted to put in the fridge, but there was no space. He left it on the counter for a couple of hours, but when Lucas came home they’d confronted her.

“There really is no apocalypse, Mum.”

She’d acquiesced almost immediately. Of course she didn’t want to believe it, not unless she really had to. They’d looked together at the stacks of supplies she’d acquired, wondered simultaneously at the lack of menus the store cupboards suggested. It was the meat she felt most guilty about – if she’d hoarded it unnecessarily then she really should do something about the waste.

There was an evening when this came up in conversation, but the older son was well prepared.

“It’s ok, Mum. Everything tastes better with bacon.”

He was right, of course.

By the time a state of emergency was declared the cities were already burning. The smell wafting over their suburb was strangely familiar, making them salivate with the memory of the supplies they had so carelessly squandered. She couldn’t help but feel a smug satisfaction even as the tanks rolled closer. If nothing else, at least she wasn’t mad.

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘everything tastes better with bacon’. It seemed the perfect excuse for a short story, which in turn seems the perfect excuse to celebrate being shortlisted for the Cloudcuckooland Flash Fiction prize 2014. You can see the rest of the shortlist here

mumturnedmom