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.

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.

crow.jpg
Credit: Sue Vincent

By the Light of the Moon

Here’s another story inspired by the photo prompt challenge run by Creative Writing Ink. I absolutely adore this week’s picture; it’s so beautiful, but at the same time conveys a kind of severity that’s a little scary – maybe that’s why this story takes a darker turn? Enjoy!


The distant crash of waves told Kayla they’d arrived. She didn’t look up, even as her brother parked up the car and slipped wordlessly out into the sunset. If he saw her looking, he’d make some comment about her interfering, and she didn’t want to interfere. She wanted to go home.

Hugging her knees in the back of the car, she chanced a glance out of the window. The square-shouldered shadow of her brother was already moving behind the trees that concealed the path to the water. She watched him hesitate for a moment, and then dip out of sight.

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October 2012

She leant back in her seat, wishing she was anywhere but here. By now, her brother would have joined his friends on the sand, a beer would be shoved into his hands and he would be circling around some innocent – would it be a boy, or another girl, this time? She didn’t want to know. She was just lucky that his friends didn’t know that she was out here, hiding in the dark. Loyal to her brother though they might be, she highly doubted that their loyalty would stretch so far as to refusing to beat up his sister. Any excuse to cause pain, that’s all they wanted.

She kicked the front seat angrily, digging her heel into the soft material. She wanted to be home, snuggled on the sofa with a book or a film. Her brother only dragged her into this because it would look suspicious, otherwise; that was the price of having a twin. Their mother would worry if Kayla didn’t go to all the same parties that Martin did. Well, maybe she should worry. Maybe it was about time.

A sudden scream made Kayla sit up abruptly and reach instinctively for the door handle. She slipped out into the half-light, squinting towards the source of the noise. It hadn’t sounded like it had come from the beach below, but from he heath on the opposite side. She whirled about in the dark, fear clouding all other thoughts. Was there someone else out here with her? She took a couple of steps towards the heath, the mossy grass cloaking her frightened footsteps.

The night was silent now. It was almost as though Kayla had imagined the sound, but she knew she hadn’t. She continued to stumble onward, her feet slipping slightly as her path took her slightly downhill. It was warmer away from the beach, and there were more cars parked down here; she supposed they were her brother’s friends’. She hesitated, looking nervously back over her shoulder. Night had fallen almost entirely now, the stars and moon above her providing only a pale, ghostly light for her to see by. Any number of people could be skulking by those cars, and yet Kayla felt sure that their owners would be down at the beach by now. They wouldn’t want to miss all the fun, she thought bitterly, as she took a few more steps forward.

Then she froze. There was someone stood by one of the cars, but it wasn’t one of her brother’s dumb friends. It was a girl, about her age, with long, dark hair and deep, green eyes. She was watching Kayla from over the top of the large book she held. Then, smiling, she returned to her reading, her eyes flicking furiously across the page.

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Credit: Creative Writing Ink

Kayla swallowed, clearing her throat slightly as she approached the girl.

“Who are you?” she asked rather bluntly, coming to rest on the car besides the girl. She smiled again, but, still, she didn’t speak, and she didn’t put down her book. “Do you know someone down at the beach?” Kayla pressed, looking hard into the girl’s eyes, but she didn’t reply; she only smiled and continued to read.

Kayla’s eyes fell on the cover of the book, taking in its strange symbols and old, crumbing spine. She wondered wildly if the girl even spoke English. Perhaps she was just some innocent tourist who’d wondered too far from one of the nearby campsites.

Kayla had just about decided that it was time for her to go, when the girl moved closer to her, holding up the book for Kayla to see. Her eyes fell on an old photograph of a pretty, dark-haired girl dressed in leotard and tights. Beside the picture, was a cutting from an old newspaper. With a nod from her mysterious companion, Kayla began to read, scanning the headline, which read, Olympian Gymnast found Dead. The article was about sixteen-year-old Jessica Marlin, who had died seven years ago, found beaten and raped at the bottom of a gutter. Kayla remembered hearing about Jessica on the news, although she’d only been small at the time. It had been awful; she’d been one of the country’s high hopes for the upcoming Olympics, but she’d never made it there. Some thug had killed her before she’d gotten the chance. He was in prison now, of course; it hadn’t taken them long to catch him, but that hadn’t brought Jessica back.

Breathing rather heavily now, Kayla looked back at the girl, who was fiddling at something at the front of her coat.

“Do you know what’s happening on the beach tonight?” she demanded, stepping away from the girl slightly. “Do you know what they’re doing?”

The girl merely smiled, undoing her coat to reveal, underneath a thin cardigan, a shining leotard, glinting by the light of the moon. Kayla stumbled backwards, losing her balance and falling to the ground. Her head hit the uneven earth with a horrible smack, causing the world to start spinning out of control. She rolled over, coughing violently and clutching to the ground for support.

By the time the pain had cleared enough for Kayla to open her eyes again, the girl and her book had vanished from the car. Whether they’d ever really been there, Kayla would never know, but, what she did know, as she pulled out her phone and glanced in the direction of the beach, was that she was really, truly scared, and that she had been for a long time now. Swallowing hard, she dialled the number that she should have called nearly a year ago. She bit her lip as the phone began to ring, and then,

“Police, please,” she whispered.