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!
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
This short piece of writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only a 150 word count and a weekly word prompt, this week’s word being “hinge”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, for a chance to win £1000!
The corridor looms before me as I creep on, strange shadows dancing around the corners. I know that if he hears me now, it’ll be over. I’ll never get away. So, I step carefully over the broken floorboards and begin my steady progress down the stairs, hardly daring to breathe.
The second stair lets out a deafening creak. I turn, staring hard at the bedroom door, but the house is silent. I breathe again, creeping down to the hallway below. There, I straighten and begin to fiddle with the lock on the door, but it’s stiff.
Another noise makes me freeze. Was that the sound of a hinge as it was pried open? I ignore it; this house is always making strange noises.
I finally manage to force the lock across the door, but before I can open it, I feel a cold, gnarled hand pressing down on my shoulder.
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.
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.
This is my second 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 “mimic” and the prose challenge was to tell a story in less than 50 words!
They dance and they play, rolling over one another as they rejoice in their freedom. I watch from below, my limbs heavy and eyes weary. How I wish I could mimic these clouds; how I wish that I, too, could be free, but I can’t. I’m trapped.
This is my second attempt at Sue Vincent’s photo prompt challenge. It’s a fair bit longer than my usual writing, but, as there’s no word count to this prompt, that can’t be a bad thing! I hope you enjoy!
Nobody knew about Freddy. For some reason, he liked to hide from other people. I suppose he’d once hidden from me, too, but I spent far too much time in the forest for that now; it would be more difficult for him not to talk to me.
At home, everything was noise. I had a big family: three brothers and two sisters, along with a mother who was inclined to shout at everything she saw; a father who was partially deaf; and two dogs, who had recently taken to yapping whenever they were lonely, hungry, sad, or just thought things weren’t quite loud enough as they were. The forest was my escape. There were no screaming siblings or parental reprimands there. There were the just the trees, the grass, the gentle tweet of birds, and peace.
In a way, I was jealous of my friend. He never had to leave the forest like I did. I had to go home before six every evening, or my family would assume something terrible had happened and start sending out search parties. Freddy, however, didn’t have that problem, because Freddy didn’t have a family. That’s what he told me, anyway. I couldn’t believe him; everyone had a family somewhere, or else how would they have come to be? Whoever they were, though, he certainly didn’t like talking about them. Whenever I raised the question, he would quickly change the subject, distracting me by pointing out some rare species of bird or suggesting that we went for another walk.
I loved walking with Freddy, because he was so good at it. When I’d used to go walking in the forest with my family, they’d always make so much noise, kicking up the leaves and shouting to each other. Much to my dismay, they chased every animal away within a hundred miles. Freddy was like me, though; he learnt where to tread to make as little noise as possible, balancing on the mossy parts of the path and remembering to step over the twigs, rather than causing them to snap loudly as he broke them in two. One day, we’d crept right up behind a peacock, its plumage extended to reveal a fantastic rainbow of colour. I’d never seen one before, and just wanted to stare at it all day, so Freddy had pursued the peacock for miles after I’d had to leave. The next day, he’d produced a rainbow feather for me, telling me that he hoped it would cheer me up whenever I felt sad or alone.
My parents, of course, were worried about me. They’d started giving me more chores about the house, stopping me from leaving whenever I tried to sneak off. They also kept asking me why I loved it out in the forest so much. I would never betray Freddy, of course; I would never tell them about him, but they were worried, because they thought I was by myself all the time. Some days, I wanted to tell them so badly, if only so they would stop pestering me, but I knew I never would, no matter how annoying they were. It wasn’t my secret to tell, and I didn’t want to lose Freddy as a friend.
That Thursday, they were being particularly irritating. My mother had first asked me to change all the sheets in the entire house, and, just as I finished and made for the shoe cupboard, she had handed me a mop and bucket, telling me to wash the car. I’d scowled and I’d complained, but there I was, a few minutes later, washing the car.
The annoying thing was, it wasn’t even dirty; my mother had evidently been running low on excuses to keep me tethered to the house, so had started to make them up, instead. I scowled at myself in the wing mirror I was supposed to be cleaning. I wasn’t really; I was just rubbing a dry mop over it half-heartedly; what I was really doing, was keeping both eyes on the kitchen window. I could see my mother watching me, sipping her tea as she leant against the window sill. As soon as her back was turned, I would ditch the mop on the floor, and run for it. I was patient, moving about the car ritualistically as I waited for my window of opportunity.
It happened when I was brushing down the second wing mirror; there was a sound of breaking glass from the kitchen, and I looked around to see my mother rushing away from the window. I didn’t wait to see what had broken who the culprit was. If my mother called me back now, it was too late; I’d tell her later that I hadn’t heard. She didn’t shout, however, and I escaped telling-off free to the boundary of the forest.
Freddy was probably wondering where I was by now; it had been long enough. I rushed down the bank towards the valley, turned a few corners and raced towards Freddy. Except Freddy wasn’t there. His bed was there, the magnificent frame carved from a single tree trunk, but someone much taller and much balder than Freddy, was now looming over it.
“Hey!” I shouted out indignantly. “Get away from there, it’s not nice to touch other people’s things!” The man, for I quickly realised he was a man, and not a boy, at all, turned sharply around to look at me. His eyes widened slightly.
“Oh, sorry, do you play here?” he said, taking a few steps towards me. I backed up instinctively, suddenly nervous. Where could Freddy be? He was always here when I came looking for him, no matter how late I was. Perhaps this man – this intruder – had done something to him somehow.
I gave him a searching look, taking in his shabby coat and torn, muddy jeans. He was holding up his hands to me as if making a silent surrender.
“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said slowly, this time not moving any closer. “This is where I sleep, that’s all. I’m normally out at town in the day, which is probably why we haven’t met before, but I’m ill, I’m afraid, so I thought I better stay put.” He smiled at her, sitting down on Freddy’s bed. “It’s okay,” he said in what he must have thought was a reassuring voice. “I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow and you can play here to your heart’s content.”
“I don’t play,” I snapped rather brutishly as I folded my arms in front of my chest. “This is Freddy’s bed.” The man gave her another toothless grin, seeming to relax slightly.
“Now, I can’t say I’ve seen no Freddy around here… are you sure you’re at the right bed?” I scowled at him, biting my lip slightly out of frustration.
“This is the only bed! And it’s not yours, it’s Freddy’s!” I was beginning to get quite upset now; I figured that Freddy must be waiting until the man left, but if the man was planning on sleeping here, Freddy would have to hide from him all night. “You can’t stay here!” I insisted, rushing forwards now and pulling at the man’s uneven cuff. “He won’t come out if you’re here! You have to go!”
“Alex!” called a horrified voice from the top of the bank behind us. I spun around to see my mother stood there, my little sister at her arm. “Get away from him, now!” The man got to his feet again, and I backed hurriedly away, moving towards my mother.
“I didn’t mean no harm, mam,” he was saying, putting his palms in the air again. “She just came running up to me, trying to make me move.”
“Alex, get up here right now!” my mother hissed, the anger in her voice paramount. I swallowed, but couldn’t not obey. It was strange how she held such power over me. I hadn’t had a second thought about running off earlier, but now that she was so angry, it was like I had to do as I was told. I ran back up the bank to stand at my mother’s other side, eyes on the ground. “You stay away from her!” my mother shouted at the man as she dragged her children away, pushing us in front of her around the corner and towards the house.
Back home, I was sat down at the kitchen table in front of my mother and father. The dogs had been shut outside and my five siblings had been banished to the upstairs whilst us three ‘had a talk’. I knotted my hands in my lap, not looking at either of them. I didn’t know what they wanted me to say. I understood why they’d be worried about me talking to strange men in the forest, but Freddy wasn’t a man, and I’d never seen the one today ever before. I doubted that they’d ever believe me, but I had to try.
“Have you forgotten everything we have ever taught you?” my father began, his voice desperate. He was taking a different tack to my mother; whilst she was relying on her raw anger, his voice was dripping with disappointment. I couldn’t lie: it was effective.
“No,” I said to my hands. “I’ve never seen that man before. I know it’s wrong to talk to strangers but I haven’t… I only spoke to that man just then because-” I stopped myself, remembering my promise to Freddy. I couldn’t tell them about him, I just couldn’t – but I was in so much trouble now; wouldn’t he, as my friend, understand?
“Because what?” my mother pressed, her arms folded tightly across her chest. I was strongly reminded of how I’d addressed the man earlier in the forest, and then I remembered how worried I’d been about Freddy. What if the man had done something terrible to him?
“That man doesn’t live there,” I said quickly, throwing all caution to the wind in my desperation. “My friend does. He’s called Freddy and he’s really nice, but I’m worried that man did something horrible to him.”
My parents looked at one another, their expressions unreadable.
Ten minutes later, I was pacing back and forth across my bedroom floor, fuming. How could my parents do this to me? How could they be so cruel? It was one thing to not believe me, but another to make me sound like a little kid who couldn’t look after themselves. I was fourteen! I was fine by myself, and didn’t need them making up lies about Freddy. It wasn’t fair. Freddy was real. He wasn’t – I shuddered at the thought – he wasn’t my imaginary friend. I was too old for that; I lived in the real world, and I’d spent so much time with Freddy! He was as real as I was!
I collapsed on my bed, still fuming.
I didn’t know what it was that I was feeling anymore. A strange sort of panic was coming over me now, constricting my throat and making it difficult to breath. Freddy was real, I told myself firmly.
But then why has no one else ever seen him? Asked a nasty voice from somewhere at the back of my mind. Why are you the only one he talks to? I shook my head, trying to get rid of the thoughts. Freddy was just scared, I reminded myself. He didn’t like people, not after his family had abandoned him.
But why does he never talk about his family? The voice pressed, forcing me to my feet in anger. Because they’re not real, either. He hates them! I thought desperately. Why would anyone want to talk about someone they hated? There was so much depth to him; so much reality when they talked. It was absurd. It was like saying everyone she knew was made up. There were no dogs and no siblings; maybe there weren’t even any parents, not if Freddy wasn’t real.
I kicked at the underneath of my bed angrily, tears beginning to roll down my cheeks. Why did no one ever believe me? Why didn’t they understand that I didn’t want to sit inside all day? I wanted to spend time with my friend, my real friend, in the slice of peace that I shared with him. All of that was all okay, because he was real. He had to be. I allowed my head to drop into my lap, eyes closed. Was there something seriously wrong with me? Had I managed to invent an entire person?
I opened my eyes, and caught sight of something poking out from where I’d kicked earlier. I reached for it instinctively, turning it over in my hands.
A shiver of pure delight erupted down my spine. It was shrivelled and misshapen, but there was no denying that it was: a beautiful, rainbow-coloured peacock feather.