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! 

Unseen Hero

This week’s photo prompt from Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers demanded a fair bit of thinking about; the picture could have taken me in several directions this time around, but I finally settled on a story that came to 174 words, one word within the limit. Enjoy!


I stand at the very edge of the tower block, my eyes scanning the streets below. I can see them all from here, whether they’re strolling through the suburbs or rushing about their business in the bustling streets beyond. They never look up at me. They’re too intent on their own destinations to give a thought for anything happening around them.

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Credit: Grant-Sud

Two months back, a woman had jumped from this very building, casting her life aside as she’d dived into oblivion. No one had noticed her before it’d been too late. No one had saved her.

I move a little closer to the edge, the toes of one foot now hanging off entirely. I wonder what she’d been thinking as she’d stood here. Had she been lonely? Or had she been relieved as she’d given up the fight?

I move away from the edge once more, mind resolute. Never again will I let this happen in my home. I will watch for them. I will wait, and when they need me, I’ll be there.

 

Guess How Much I Love You

This short story is for the purposes for the competition at Creative Writing Ink.

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“This is important, Daniel,” Selene hissed, slapping her husband with the playsuit she clutched in her sweaty palms. “If it’s pink then we’re making assumptions about her future, but if it’s blue we’re doing that, too! And, you know, I was reading a report that suggested that green has military links, and–“ she stopped short to give her husband another slap.

“I know I’m going overboard,” she sighed, putting the pink playsuit back onto the pile in front of them. “I just…” she sniffed, hiding behind her curtain of thick, red hair. “I want this to be perfect… I want everything to be perfect.” Daniel smiled, putting his arms around his wife.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, I know that it’s important,” he paused, “but maybe not that important.” They smiled at each other, and Selene began to laugh, too. Daniel placed his tanned hand over his wife’s stomach. “The decisions we make now won’t stay with her for the rest of her life,” he smiled. “She’s not going to want to be a soldier because she once wore a green outfit, and she’s not going to be angry at us by conforming to stereotypes and buying,” he paused to pick up the pink playsuit once more, “a pink one”.

“I just…” Selene sighed, taking the playsuit from Daniel to look at it properly. “I want her to be happy, Daniel, and I want to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed too, hugging his wife tighter to him. “You want our daughter to have everything that you didn’t have.”

***

Selene stared down into her daughter’s tightly sealed eyes, shuddering with the power of her emotions. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful.

“She’s perfect,” smiled Daniel from the side of her hospital bed. Selene smiled back, but she didn’t raise her head to look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off the fragile life form that she clutched in her arms. She was certain that, if she looked away, even for a moment, her daughter would disappear into a tiny, billion atoms, or Selene would wake up, and find that she was still alone in her dusky attic room, hugging herself to keep warm.

Suddenly the image of her daughter before her was tarnished by her memories, as her emotions hit her hard, causing her to loosen her grip on the baby. Daniel rushed forwards and caught her, but Selene barely noticed. Her head lulled back uselessly onto her pillow as images began to flash across her mind.

She was a little girl again, living alone with her mother. She’d never known her father, but her mother was always there. She cared so deeply for Selene that it seemed to break her; she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, barely even sitting, and yet the money was never enough. Selene’s father had taken everything from her mother, and left her in so stricken a state of poverty, that, Selene now believed, her mother never expected to recover from. They rented the top floor of a block of flats; it wasn’t a complete flat, with only a kitchen and a bedroom, but it came with the attic space that Selene’s mother had attempted to furnish into a room for Selene. They lived, not content, but together, and Selene couldn’t ever remember being unhappy when she lived there.

That fateful day came though, and Selene no longer did live there. A car crash. It was so simple a thing, so common, so seemingly trivial, and yet it ripped Selene’s mother from the world and left her alone. She sat in her attic space, having fled from the police that waited in the room below, and cried more than she had ever thought possible. That had been the worst moment of her life, and, as she was stirred back into consciousness by her nurse, and tilted her head to glimpse her daughter in Daniel’s arms, she knew that this was the best. She would do everything to make sure that her daughter lived the perfect life.

***

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Annabel sat sprawled out on the bigger of the two sofas, eyes closed and mouth open. She sang to herself, thinking about school, thinking about the weekend, and waiting for her dad to finally walk through the door.

She opened her eyes just as she heard the key turn in the lock, and raced out to meet him.

“Alright, alright, champ,” Daniel laughed, pushing her off him so that he could walk through the door. “don’t panic, I’ve got the chips.” They feasted in front of the telly that night, and Annabel got to choose the film. They laughed together, and flicked chips at one another. One time, Annabel hit Daniel right on the nose, at which point he wrestled her to the ground and tickled her all over. Then, at last, he let out those dreaded words:

“Okay, champ, time to go and get ready for bed.”

“But Dad,” Annabel complained openly.

“It’s too late already,” Daniel chortled, ruffling her hair. Annabel sighed and got up to leave, but she found herself pausing in the doorway, her back still turned to Daniel.

Annabel,” he threatened.

“What happened to my mum?” Annabel asked, turning back around to face him. His smile drooped, eyes closing for a few minutes. Annabel waited awkwardly in the doorway, afraid that she had done something terribly wrong. Daniel sighed, and then patted the patch of sofa beside him.

“Come here,” he said, and smiled again, but this wasn’t his usual smile; it was strained – broken. As Annabel came to sit beside him, he reached over to the bookcase, and pulled, from the very top shelf, which Annabel was too small to reach, a very thin book.

“This,” he began slowly, “belonged to your mother.” He handed it over to Annabel, who read aloud the words, “Guess How Much I love You”, and then turned over the page to see two inscriptions, one on top of the other. The first was addressed to a Selene, from her mother, and the second, to Annabel, from hers.

“It was given to your mother when she was a very little girl,” Daniel continued, solemnly. “It meant a great deal to her, and when you were born, she decided to give it to you.” Annabel turned dusty page after dusty page, looking at the strange illustrations of rabbits, and endearing quotes as the little rabbit’s mother explained how much she loved it.

Annabel smiled, but still did not understand.

“Where is she?” she pressed, looking back at Daniel. He rubbed his face with his palms, then leant towards Annabel, placing a tanned hand on her arm.

“When you were very, very small,” he began, “your mother was desperate to give you everything that you could possibly want. You see this house – how big it is? I couldn’t give you this, Anna, but she did. She worked so hard for you, so determined to give you everything that you deserve. She loved you so much, but–“ Daniel clenched his fists slightly, his fingers digging into Annabel’s arm. “She made herself ill, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, eyes wide.

“She died, didn’t she?” she asked, a strange sense of numbness falling over her.

“Yes, Anna, she died,” Daniel sniffed, hugging his daughter tightly to him. “But she loved you so much, just like I do, and that’s never going to go away.” He wiped his eyes and thrust the book back at her. “I want you to keep this book, and whenever you’re feeling alone, scared or miserable, I want you to read it. Your mum loved you, Anna.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and took her hand as he led her up to bed.

He tucked her in, turning off her bedroom light before he crawled into his own bed, sobbing silently into the darkness. Annabel lay awake for hours that night, finally getting up and turning her light back on. She reached for the book left on her bedside table, and examined each image, turning the pages with extreme care. As she, too, cried herself to sleep that night, her tears landed heavily on the book, meeting much older tear stains, that had existed long before Annabel. When she finally fell asleep, she still clutched the book tightly to her; she lay in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest, as her thick, red hair, sprawled across the sheets.

Book Review: “Wuthering Heights”

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With its complicated themes and layered narrative, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is renowned for being one of the leading novels of the gothic genre. It is undeniably a fascinating read, if only due to the numerous character and plot interpretations that can be had from it.

However, you should not take this book on if you’re not prepared to be fully committed to the storyline. Lockwood, a seemingly unnecessary character, is, in many ways, merely a device for the story to be told through, and yet the first few chapters resolve primarily on his impressions of the Wuthering Heights building and its inhabitants. Arguably, this gives depth and a better understanding of the isolation that Heathcliff and his family experience, but, in many ways, the gripping story of Wuthering Heights doesn’t really begin until after Cathy’s death, and the relationships within the next generation become steadily more intriguing. One thing must be made clear, though; this is not a love story. It is not a cheerful, upbeat novel in which readers have no choice but to expect a happy ending.

Wuthering Heights is a brutal insight to the class divisions and xenophobia of the Victorian Era, its narrative intrinsically linked to themes of envy, betrayal and revenge. Some critics would even go as far to say that the famous couple, Cathy and Heathcliff, never really had a mutual love between them; perhaps Heathcliff’s insanity produced an entire relationship for his deprived mind to obsess over; perhaps our impressions of the perfect, untainted love between them are, in reality, completely deluded.

Story Starters: A Collection

My biggest problem as a writer has always been sticking to one story after I create the initial opening; it’s too tempting to move onto something new and more exciting! Here’s three story starters, varying in length, that I’ve, at some point, abandoned.

1) This opening story sentence is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 25 words, and the picture prompt seen below.

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A snowy owl swooped low above the forest, invisible against the white trees, and ignorant, for little did it know of the danger lurking there.

2) The flames roared high above them, great waves of smoke towering higher still. They choked and coughed as they ran, ducking and diving around the broken infrastructure that now surrounded them. Time was running out; they were already scorched and burned in more places than they knew, the agony of their wounds occasionally causing them to contort their steps as they raced onwards. Great chunks of wall and ceiling were crashing around them, too, wires dropping down into the fiery mass and sparks exploding from every direction. The reality was that they had entered hell itself, and every runner accepted that fact with a bleak resolution. There was no turning back, and, chances were, there was no escape. Hell had become the endless corridor of fire that they now faced, and they were all too aware of it.

3) The sirens were louder than they should have been. Even before her body crumpled and collapsed onto the pavement, they were there with us, ringing in our minds and pounding in our hearts. Craig was bent over her, muttering to himself and beating the ground with his fist. Little Pete was at his side as usual, waiting for the directions that would never come again. I didn’t need to crouch over her as they did, though, because I knew. In reality, I think we all knew, even before we’d hit her; we’d known even before she’d been lit up in front of my car headlights and Craig had fought to avoid her. There was no use checking her pulse or breathing rate. There was no point, because Kelly Holmes was dead, and we’d killed her. We were murderers.

“We should run,” Craig breathed, turning to face us in the half-dark. “The sirens don’t mean anything. They could be hours away yet.”

“I agree,” Little Pete piped up instantly, not even allowing a breath between Craig’s suggestion and his own sycophantic plea for attention. I shrugged, but I doubted that they could see the slight movement in the darkness. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t want to run. I was a murderer. I had to stay and face the police, no matter how devastating that would be.

“Dan,” Craig persisted, ignoring Little Pete. “We need to go, now.” I swallowed hard, feeling braver in every new cry of the sirens.

“Then go,” I whispered, looking not at Craig and Little Pete, but at Kelly. She was beautiful even now, her long, dark hair a mess about her shoulders and back, and her slender, ghostly form almost shining in the light from the surrounding street lamps. I’d known her since she was little, from when we’d played together in my back garden. She was dead now. She would never breathe again, never laugh, never smile. She was simply gone.

“Dan, they’ll get you!” Craig whispered, his voice slightly incredulous. I could not look at my best friend, though. He wasn’t like me. He wasn’t feeling this like I was. He felt only fear, whereas I felt only loss, grief and a furious, biting sense of self-hatred. I had done this. “Dan, you know what that means!” Craig persisted, shaking my shoulder now.

“If you want to run, run,” I snapped, looking at Craig at last. “Save yourself. You better hurry up, though. It’s been too long already.” Craig stepped back slightly, confusion edging its way into his fear clouded mind. He looked at Little Pete then, suddenly lost and vulnerable. Pete looked back, and suddenly they were no longer leader and disciple, but two scared boys: criminals.

Without another word, they took off, running in the opposite direction from the houses and sirens beyond them. There were fields not too far off, and after that, the forest. If they made it that far, they were safe. It was said that fugitives and criminals caked the trees themselves, living amongst the branches and leaves on the earthy floor. I used to have nightmares about the place, but for Craig and Little Pete, it had just become the last hope. Maybe, just maybe, they would be okay.

I looked back at Kelly then, and my heart shuddered to a halt, too.

Lean into Me

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “lean”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which boasts of a prize of £1000! 

An avalanche of emotion ripped apart my soul and threatened to throw me from the Earth’s orbit. I rocked and fell forwards, landing face down in the dirt where no one could see me. They tried to pull me up again, but it was no use.

I didn’t want to see them, I didn’t want to hear their voices, because they didn’t look like her and they didn’t sound like her. No one ever would again, because she was gone and I was alone.

Then soft hands were about my shoulders, gentle, but firm. They pulled me up and hugged me close, a gentle whisper telling me not to open my eyes.

“Lean into me,” she whispered, and, as I was reborn into my childish state, I clasped onto my mother with both hands, sobbing into her chest. I was alone, but I was home.