That Sad Smile

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the Creative Writing Ink writing challenge. With weekly photo prompts and no word limits, this challenge offers a fun, interactive way of encouraging new writers.


A cool, bitter wind swept through the tunnels, whipping back my hair and threatening to extinguish my precious candles. I leant over the flame before me, protective, as I fiddled with the matches I held in my sweaty palms. Lighting them was proving uncannily difficult, for, with every new flame that I placed about the circumference of the small, little cave, the more violently my hands began to shake.

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Credit: Héctor Martínez

At long last, however, the flame leapt greedily from wick to match, and I scurried off around the circle to the next open space, guarding the flame with my hand. Before I could reach my destination, however, another gust of wind swept through the cave and my little flame withered, and then died.

Sighing, I turned back to the nearest candle, heart beating wildly. If I took much longer, I might miss my opportunity altogether. I only had tonight, for this moon would not wait forever. In a few hours, it would dip below the mountain ridges behind the northern plains, and it would be too late. I’d have failed.

A new kind of determination gripped me as I plunged my match into the flame and withdrew it sharply, watching the flame quiver, and then separate in two. I rushed back over to the space along the wall, dipping the flame towards the unlit candle waiting there. Grinning with relief, I then turned to the last, and final space along the wall. With the flame still clinging to the match in my hand, I forced it down and watched as, finally, the last candle was lit.

I got to my feet, looking around at the twelve lights gleaming at me from the edges of the circle. Then I paused, hesitating. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I should just walk out of the cave, leaving my little circle and abandoning my hopes. I’d waited too long for this, though; I couldn’t let it slip past me when I was this close.

I marched resolutely to the entrance of the cave, where I stripped off my shoes and socks, shrugged off my jacket and lifted a hand to let my dark hair fall about my shoulders. I had to do this. It wasn’t a choice anymore. Making sure that my clothes were outside of the ring of candles, I swallowed, let out a long breath, and then scurried back to the centre of the circle.

The stone was cold on my bare feet as I sat there, cross-legged. It was distracting, but I was glad that I’d made them bare; I felt so much closer to the ground now, as if the stone itself was providing me with its own strength. I gritted my teeth, focussing my mind.

I reached out with my thoughts, finding each burning flame and watching it crackle. Then, I wandered further. I left the circle, and then the cave. I carried on right past the labyrinthine tunnels and the moonlit fields beyond. I searched further and further, until I saw her. I opened my eyes.

My mother sat opposite me, eyes wide and mouth smiling. She reached out to me instinctively, but I backed away, grimacing slightly.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, sitting back immediately. “I- how am I here?” I smiled, but didn’t answer. She was very pretty, with her dark hair and long, curled lashes. That had never quite come through from the photographs. I wondered what she would look like now, if her life hadn’t been halted so abruptly. I supposed there would be flecks of grey in that dark hair now, and lines bordering that smile. The eyes would stay the same, though; she would have the same eyes, and she would have the same smile.

“I miss you,” my mother whispered, her eyes looking rather watery. “Thank you for bringing me here.” I nodded, but I still couldn’t speak. My throat felt strangely constricted. I’d spent so many years writing my mother letters that I could never send, dreaming of speaking to her, or even looking at her, but now, when she was right in front of me, I couldn’t say a word. Something was wrong. It was as if the world knew she shouldn’t be here; whilst she was smiling, her arms slightly outstretched, I couldn’t help from noticing that she was pale and ghostly, her smile tainted by a flicker of sadness.

I was almost glad when a gust of wind blew out half the candles. As their smoke rose into the air, my mother faded, that sad smile disappearing into nothing.

Spilling Over

Here’s another story for the Friday Fictioneers photo prompt; each week, Rochelle Wisoff posts a photo, with the challenge of writing an associated story in 100 words or less. This is a very varied challenge that inspires authors to interact with each other, as much as it helps them to improve their writing. I hope you enjoy this story!


Credit: Kent Bonham

It was too soon; too sudden. I didn’t want to have to look at it. Yet, even as I decided that I wouldn’t, my eyes were opening all by themselves, sneaking a glance at the drive.

The car was remarkably unharmed; the windshield was gone, as was one of the doors, but, from the back, at least, the only damage to be seen had been committed by the gulls circling above.

I blinked hard, my emotions spilling over at last. How dare it come here, seemingly unharmed? I was screaming, beating my fists. I wanted it to feel my pain.


Click the blue froggy for more stories based on this prompt!

Uneasy

This short story was written for the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers challenge, which invites writers to interact with one another through weekly photo prompts. My word count for this piece is at 175. Enjoy!


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Credit: J. S. Brand

With each step I take, my feelings of unease seem to triple. I’ve walked this path a thousand times before, rushed through its thickets and meadows, but something’s different now. As I tread its familiar stones, my hairs stand on end and my hands grow pale and clammy.

It’s not the feeling of being watched – that’s an inaccurate clique – it’s the feeling of something being not quite right. The birds aren’t singing like they’re meant to, and the crickets and grasshoppers are strangely silent. It’s almost as if the animals have been hushed quiet by some silent, unknowable force.

I reach the top of the hill and look forward, heart racing. There’s something lying across my path, dark and unfamiliar. I want to run, but my legs no longer seem capable. Then, staring hard at the shadow, a jolt of realisation shoots through me. I didn’t recognise it at first because someone’s cut off its antlers, but, there it is. The king of the forest – a white stag – the bullet wound shining in its chest.


Click the blue froggy for more interpretations of this prompt!

Hard Truths

This is my second attempt at the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, which runs each Sunday with a photo prompt and the task of writing a story in less than 200 words. I’m a little later entering this week as I was busy working on my own prompt challenge, but I enjoy taking part in this prompt, considering the excellent photos that the challenge provides. I hope you enjoy!


The afternoon sun bore down into the back of Ashley’s head as she squatted on the step, her eyes on the road. The heat was making her head spin, but she couldn’t force herself to move. It was if she had become stuck to this hard, uneven step.

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Credit: Mike Vore

He’d said today; he’d promised, but that had been three hours ago. She realised he wasn’t to come, but, against all logic, she still couldn’t rake her eyes from the road.

The others were probably laughing at her by now. They wouldn’t be worried about her; this wasn’t the sort of family where someone would bring her a cool glass of water and tell her that it was all okay. They didn’t do that. They didn’t care.

Ashley glanced back at the decrepit shack behind her. It wasn’t a home. It was just where she lived. Then, she thought of her family. They weren’t exactly a family, but they were who she lived with. Her real family, of course – her real dad – well he wasn’t much better, or he would he would have come. He wouldn’t have left her sitting out in the burning heat, waiting for what she could never have.


You can click on this blue froggy to see the other entries! 

A Snowy Encounter

Here’s my attempt at the Sunday Scrawl prompt challenge, which I recently begun myself; it will run from Sunday on a weekly basis. If you want to know more about this challenge, feel free to check out the page here.


The light sprinkling of snow that had settled over Bridgewater that morning crunched under my feet as I walked. It was strangely satisfying to hear the crisp snapping sound accompanying my every step, almost as though there was some strange echo following me along the pavement.

I was ju11272892_847812051963254_1840294869_nst in the process of asking myself why I found the noise so comforting, when others may have thought it unnerving, or, at the very least, irritating, when a shout made me look up. My path ran parallel to the railway; a temporary clearing of trees allowed me to stare right down at the tracks, from where they disappeared under a long bridge. At first, I couldn’t work out where the sound could have come from, but then I noticed, scampering down from the far bank, a pair of scruffy looking boys. They skidded onto the railway, and, taking deliberate care not to touch the tracks, ducked under the bridge and pressed their backs against its wall. The taller of the two held his hand out across the other’s chest, his finger on his lips.

Astonished, I paused to watch the scene, wondering fleetingly whether I should call the police or not; the boys were clearly off limits, and could cause a serious accident down there. My phone was actually in my hands, the first nine dialled, when another, more high-pitched, shout made me look up again. A smartly-dressed woman was now approaching the top of the bridge, her crimson coat wrapped tightly around her and her fluffy black scarf shielding her from the wind. She stopped at the top of the bank where the boys had slipped down, eyeing the route suspiciously. Daintily, she placed one, heeled foot on the muddy bank, as if she was considering descending to the tracks. Then, she straightened up again and looked across the bridge, moving away from the bank to scurry across.

I eyed the boys curiously, watching as their eyes flew skyward when the woman crossed; evidently, the sound reverberated all around the tunnel. Then, a few seconds later, the taller, scruffier of the two, dragged his accomplice back out of the tunnel and helped him up the far bank. Then, without a backwards glance, they scurried off into the distance, moving as fast as their grubby, little legs could carry them. I watched the railway for a few seconds more, then, sighing, turned towards home. My feet were frozen lumps of meat in my shoes by now, and I was quite ready to get back to my bed, but my progress was impeded, however, by the figure who now stood right in front of me.

I was now facing the woman in the red coat, who’s path had evidently cut into mine from ahead.

“Hello,” she said unsmilingly. “What were you looking at?” It wasn’t really a question, more a demand. I attempted a cautious smile, but, still, she did not return it. I swallowed, biding for time; this woman had clearly been looking for those boys, but for what purpose, I couldn’t decide. She could be their mother, I supposed, yet their shabby, torn clothing and muddy faces didn’t quite relate to her immaculate visage in my mind.

“Are you not from around here?” I asked, finally coming to a decision. “We don’t get much snow. It’s so lovely to see.” I laughed, trying to scoot around the woman, but she blocked me.

11287922_1630813043872475_1208774922_n.jpg“You didn’t, perchance,” she continued, crossing her arms accusatorily, “happen to see two young vagabonds down there, did you? They seem to have gotten away from me.” I couldn’t help but notice the note of disgust in her voice as she mentioned the ‘vagabonds’, and I think that it was this, more than anything else, that made me lie to her. I told her I hadn’t seen anyone and, again, tried to leave. She let me pass this time, but kept watching me all the while I scurried away from her; I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my neck as I skidded on the snow. I’d stood motionless for so long that the once crisp, satisfying snow had turned weak and icy underfoot

I made it home unscathed, however, and, as I warmed my hands around a mug of hot chocolate, I couldn’t help thinking that I would never hear of anything to do with those boys, or that very strange, woman, ever again. I thought often of what had happened, though; I was deeply afraid that I’d done the wrong thing – what if that woman had been trying to help them, and by feigning ignorance to her, I’d just condemned those boys to a life on the streets? It must have been the fear in their eyes as they’d hidden under that bridge, because something about them had forced me to pity them, regardless of logic and regardless of reason.

To my great surprise, however, I did hear of the incident again; two weeks on from that fateful day, when I was stocking up on groceries in my corner shop, I saw the red-coated woman again. This time, though, she was on the front page of the local newspaper, under a headline that read: Infamous Child Snatcher Caught at Last. I snatched up the paper from its stall and devoured it with my eyes, heart beating wildly. Her name, apparently, was Cecelia Bordman, and her hobby had been to lurk outside children’s houses so that she could grab them as they walked by.

There was no mention of the boys in the paper, but then, I supposed, why would there be? If they’d had any sense, and they must have done, considering how they’d hidden under that bridge like that, they wouldn’t have hung around. They would have run for their lives, because, when it came down to it, they really were running for their lives. I put the paper down again, a pleasant sense of satisfaction rushing over me. It wasn’t just that I’d made the right decision in helping the boys; that was too simple. As I looked at the sneering photo of the woman on that paper, I realised that I had this feeling because, for the first time in my meaningless life, I’d done something. I’d stopped something terrible from happening. I hadn’t just been another bystander; I’d been there, right in the midst of it all.

Sunday Scrawl #1

For a long time now, my two main hobbies have been writing short stories and taking lots of photographs. It therefore makes perfect sense to me to start a photo prompt challenge of my own. Here are the rules:

Sunday Scrawl Logo

  1. Below, you will find this week’s photo prompt!
  2. Responses to the prompt can vary from prose/poetry writing to more photographs – there are no limits and no word counts.
  3. There are no tangible prizes for this challenge, but I will be reblogging the top entries!
  4. Feel free to use the photo below or the “Sunday Scrawl” icon to illustrate your responses (although I’d love to see some of your own illustrations, too)!
  5. Please remember to include a pingback to this post in your response.
  6. To enter, click on the blue froggy link at the bottom of this page!

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You can view my response to the prompt here.

Riverbank Guardian

This is my third attempt at Sammi Cox’s weekly writing challenges! Each weekend, she posts both a word and a picture for writers to attempt either her prose or poetry prompt. This week, the word was “guardian” and the prose challenge was to write a fairy tale story in 150 words or less!


Wandering along the riverbank, the basket of flowers at her side, she smiled to herself. There were monsters in these parts, twisted beasts that liked to leap from the milky waters to drag unsuspecting victims under the surface. There were bat-like creatures that lurked in the trees, too; creatures whose bites would be fatal to a little girl like her. She had nothing to fear, though, for, as she trotted onward, she sang.

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Credit: Sammi Cox

It was a simple tune: a melody that went up and down with each footfall. She knew it as the song of the grotesque, the strange, phantom-like creature that existed only to protect those in need.

Way up above her, a shadow swept along in her wake. It followed her music, answering its call.

Snarling at the monsters as it passed, it knew that it would protect the little girl as if she were its own.

Life Before Man #SoCS

Below is my first attempt at Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which, this week, asked me to write a story based only on the title of the book that I’m currently reading, which happens to be Margaret Atwood’s “Life Before Man”. I hope you enjoy my interpretation of this prompt!


I walk alone, a single silhouette against the dying light. My thoughts are fragmented – flawed – yet I fulfil my role. Today, my job has been completed, just as it has been for the hundred years proceeding it. I care for my garden, nurturing my friends and protecting them in our bubble of paradise. I do not complain; why would I complain? Our paradise is all we could ever need. We care for each other, growing and prospering together. I watch as the generations move on around me, my friends growing from children, to adults, and then withering away into nothing. They leave me with new friends and the cycle continues. A new friend is made, just as an old one dies. I am not sad; why would I be sad? I have everything I need.

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Yet my thoughts are not complete; something is wrong with my mind – like a malfunction. When I think, I do not feel the emotion that I once did. I do not mourn my lost friends, and I do not rejoice when I meet new ones. My life has lost all meaning, and although I do not complain, and although I know that I am in paradise itself, there is something amiss. I function, but that is all. I cannot join in when my friends grow old and move on. I cannot join in when they start their own families. I am alone.

The crimson sunset causes me to squint as I walk, the colour transcending all beauty. Yet, still, I do not feel it. I cannot appreciate the beauty, because I am alone. I cannot share its wonder with anyone; I only watch, as the crimson darkens into a molten lava, scarring my eyelids as the sun disappears below the horizon. I blink, and it is gone. The beauty is so fleeting, much like the lives of my friends; whilst they walk this earth, they live so wonderfully, dancing in the light and celebrating in the evening. They are so glorious, but then I blink, and they are not there anymore. From the antelope to the fireflies, nothing lasts; nothing stays the same.

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There is only me. I am the constant of this earth; the sole woman to watch over her children as they grow.

I do not complain, because I am in paradise, yet, as I think on it, I realise that I do feel, and that I have all this time, yet, before now, I have not recognised it for what it is, because it does not make sense here. I am surrounded by my friends, but, for as long as I can remember, one, single emotion has overpowered all others. I am alone, and I do not want to be. I do not like it. I cannot be alone anymore. I need a friend.

Messenger #writephoto

This week, Sue Vincent’s “#writephoto” challenge considers the theme of “messenger”. You can check out the challenge here, but, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my story!


Since the days of my father’s father, my bloodline has had a single purpose: to stay alive long enough to deliver a message. My grandfather nearly succeeded in the task without enlisting his future generations’ help, but his legs failed him just when he needed them; barely ten miles from his target, he was caught in some decrepit shack, pinned to the wall and slaughtered.

My father didn’t get even nearly as close; he was still countries away when he was caught. He hadn’t been fast enough, not alert enough to the danger. He’d taught me one thing, though; he’d taught me that I didn’t to be a failure.

Now, I don’t waste my time with drink or women, because I can’t afford to. Whilst he’d treated his mission as a passing fancy – a joke, even – it’s my life. It’s my sole obsession, driving me on and preventing me from passing this fate onto my children. I want to be the one who stays alive. For them, as well as for me; this is my duty.

As I race across the globe, travelling from country to country in search of my quarry, I don’t waver from my purpose. I pause only at the occasional inn, where I trade my wares for food, drink, and, very occasionally, a bed for the night. I don’t need more than that, and I don’t have time for it. If I stay in one place too long, they will find me, and they will put an end to the message.

I wrap my dark cloak tightly around myself, using it to protect me from the light of day. My kind usually sticks to the shadows; we don’t do well in the light. There are too many people who want to hurt us, searching for us in the crowds and waiting for us to break our cover.

I’m careful though, and before I know it, I’ve gotten closer to my quarry than my grandfather ever did. There’s no stopping me now. I will not rest in some shack or get distracted by some pretty girl. I break into a sprint when I’m five miles off; my limbs burn in protestation, but I don’t have time for their pain. I only race, a black streak in the light of day.

Then, I see her. A shadowy woman alone on the moor, her head bent low and arms outstretched, as though she’s praying. I don’t stop running, even as she turns to stare at me. I run right up to her and reach out, my hands gripping hers and my mouth closing around her ear.

“They’re hatching,” I whisper, my throat slightly hoarse. “Your babies… they’re hatching.”

Mission complete, I collapse from the exhaustion, and, as I lie there in the grass, I feel the harsh spike of talons cutting through my spine. My enemy lifts me up, and I am no longer a messenger; I am just another crow, hanging uselessly from the hawk’s sharp beak.

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Credit: Sue Vincent