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.

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! 

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

Hesitation

Hesitation
Photo prompt 04/07/17. Credit: Kecia Spartin

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!


He doesn’t see me. He flexes his neck as he preens himself, but still he doesn’t see. It’s almost cruel, plucking him from the world without the slightest bit of notice. I want him to turn around; even if it is just the tiniest glimpse, I want him to see.

It’ll be too late, of course; even if he does see, it’s too late. He’s mine.

It shouldn’t matter, I think to myself. If anything, this is better; he’s stupid. He’s not being careful, so, in a way, it’s his own fault. I’m an innocent, just trying to survive, and he – well if he really cared, he’d be more careful.

I’m being careful. I’m looking all about myself, even now. The world’s too dangerous not to, but apparently nobody ever told him that. I stick my tongue out into the air, feeling along the leaves. I can taste him; I can taste his feathers and sharp little beak that will desperately squeak as he tries to escape.

Should have been more careful, then.

I strike.

Hesitation 2
21/05/15

 

Out of Place

Today I revisited a site that I used to use photo prompts from, called Creative Writing Ink. This is a weekly challenge and one that I find very useful to aid my writing. I therefore based this short story on this prompt, although I also found the inspiration for it by reflecting on the very real stories on some of my close friends. It’s not a nice feeling when you know that you don’t belong in a certain place or in a certain way, and that’s the message that I attempt to communicate below. I hope you enjoy!


It’s almost as if the white wall in front of me is laughing. It knows my secret, and it knows what I should be; I should be plain, white and ordered, just like the paint. That’s what I should be, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s simply not true anymore. I’m complicated, not plain or ordered. I can’t be put into those simple categories when I’m everything that they’re not.

The wall stands resolute, mocking me.

I’ve probably been sat here for too long, now, but the wall, for all its faults, is my entertainment for the afternoon. I sigh, looking away from it at long last, to instead turn my attention to the freshly laundered, baby-pink sheets that I’ve been clutching. They’re not quite as perfect as they were when I’d been handed them that morning; they’re creased around my fingers and a spider is crawling across one of their corners. I shake it off, sighing once more. It’s time for me to move now.

I change the sheets quickly, then stand, stretch, and begin to walk downstairs. The walls are still white here; they’re all white, because anything else, apparently, would be wrong. I swallow hard. I need to stop thinking like this. The photos that colour the wall alongside the staircase catch my attention. They depict me, and only me, from my first waking moments to a few months ago, all hung in perfect order, straight and in their proper place. I’ve never minded them before, but now, it’s difficult to suppress the urge to rip them from their hangings and fling them down the stairs.

Both of my parents are present in the kitchen when I enter, my father setting out the table for supper, and my mother bent over a hot stove. I look at the clock: 6:29, and suppress a grimace as I take my seat. As predicted, a timer goes off a minute later, and my mother calls out, it’s ready, as if we need telling twice. I smile as usual at her as she brings over the food, and then we all sit together as my father blesses the meal. He talks about gratitude and how lucky we all are, but I don’t join my prayers with his. I don’t feel lucky, and I certainly don’t feel grateful.

When he’s finished, we eat in silence. There’s no music playing and nobody makes any small talk. We just eat, and when we are done, my father brings out some fruit for dessert. I stare hard at the six, ordered pears in a line in front of me, and something begins to snap. I look at my father, with his hand on the cross at his chest and his head bent low in endless prayer. Then I look to my mother, who purses her lips, wiping each inch of food thoroughly before emitting it into her mouth. I look back at the pears. Everything must always be so perfect. It must be right, and ordered, and as things are meant to be. That’s all their world is, and it’s what mine was, too, up until I really thought about things.

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Creative Writing Ink’s photo prompt 29/06/17. 

I want to seize the pears and throw them at my parents. I want to see the shock in their faces as they stare at me and ask, what on earth has got into you? I want to dance on the table and laugh so loud that their eyes pop right out of their faces from their horror. I want to destroy the ordered world that they commit themselves to, if only to make them understand, because they never will understand anything but what they are. I can’t speak my mind, because they won’t listen. They’ll tell me to sit down and be quiet like a good, little girl. That’s what they’ll say, but I think that if they do, it’ll break me.

I continue up the stairs that evening just as I descended them. I smile at my parents and wish them well, saying, goodnight, sleep well mother; sleep well father. Then I go into my room, shut the door carefully, walk slowly over to my bed, and stuff the newly laundered pillow into my face to mask the sound of my own desperate sobbing.

I don’t hate my parents, because they’re my parents. I love how reliable my mother can be, and I admire my father’s endless devotion to his faith. Really, I adore them, but I hate their world, because I’m not a part of it anymore. I used to understand it, but that’s all gone now. One day, I’d just realised that, over time, my own world had been changing, and as it changed, it had taken me further and further away from theirs. We were in different solar systems now – different universes, even, and there was no way back for me, and no way forward for them.

I sit up, turning the pillow over so that the wetness from my tears is concealed from view. Then I get to my feet, and kneel at the foot of my bed. I haven’t prayed like this for such a long time, but right now I need it. I know you’re there, I think to myself. I know you can hear me, and I want you to know that I’m not grateful. It’s great to be alive and it’s great to go each day not starving or dying of some horrible disease, but perhaps I’m spoilt, because I’m still not grateful. I don’t want to do this anymore; I don’t want to have to pretend, every single day, that I’m a part of something that goes against everything that I am. I want to apologise to my parents for pretending for so long, but I can’t, because I know that I will never, for as long as I live, be able to tell them the truth. I won’t stop. I’ll carry on, because I can and because I’m a good actor… but, as it’s only you who’s listening, I need you to know: I hate myself. I wasn’t meant to be this person. I break every mould that I’ve ever known, but I need you to know, because it must be your fault. You have got to have messed up somewhere; you must made a mistake, because I know, I know, that I’m in the wrong body. Please, understand me when I say this:

I wasn’t meant be a girl.

Remedy

This short story, of under 500 words, was inspired by a writing prompt challenge issued by Sammi Cox. The task was to compose a short piece of writing centred around the starting sentence: “I’ve found the remedy”. This was an interesting word-count to be dealing with, and an interesting challenge, too. As ever, I hope you enjoy.

This picture is courtesy of https://sammiscribbles.wordpress.com/.

“I’ve found the remedy.” I heard the words leave my lips, but, even as they echoed back at me, bouncing off the cave’s sloped walls, I refused to believe them. How could I, after all that had happened? So much time had passed and so many sacrifices had been made since the virus had first reached the village. I’d had a mother then, and a little brother.

Now, it was only me.

I straightened up, staring hard at the small, leafy plant that I clutched in my sweaty palm. Part of me wanted to throw it to the ground and stamp on it, destroying with it the thought that I could have saved them. If only I’d been quicker. If only I’d checked this place sooner. It made sense, after all. The witch who’d visited us a month into our suffering, told us that the cure grew in dark, damp places; places where the light couldn’t touch it. Yet even then, even when the answer had been right in front of me, I’d never thought of these old caves, barely a mile from the village.

That didn’t matter now. All that did matter, was that I’d been too late. They were gone, all of them: the green-grocer with his lop-sided hat; the old flower lady that used to visit us sometimes; the doctor, herself, who passed barely a week ago; and, of course, my family. My smiling mother, with her open arms and dangling earrings that used to scratch when I pressed against her, she was gone now; and Freddy, with his cheeky little laugh and almost sycophantic grin, he was gone, too. Mother had been too old, they told me, although she was barely fifty, and Freddy – well he’d always been ill. His immune system was the poorest the doctor said she’d ever seen before. He didn’t last a week.

Nothing could have saved him.

Nothing. Unless, of course, someone had found the remedy. If someone had walked up to the old caves, and they’d stumbled around in the dark until their feet bled and they began to believe they would never find their way back, then Freddy might have survived.

No one had come to his rescue, though, and as he’d closed his eyes on that tiny little bed, there was no one fighting to bring him back. I’d failed him. I’d failed my mother and I’d failed every single person who I’d let die.

I threw the plant on the ground and turned away from it, tears pouring down my cheeks. I could blame their deaths on anyone; why was it me who had to find the cure? Surely anyone could? But only one person had released the toxins on the village in the first place. That hadn’t been the green-grocer or doctor. That had been me. I turned back to the plant. I’d caused it, and although it was too late for Freddy, I couldn’t let it be too late for everyone. I couldn’t kill again.