Remember that contest I told you about a while back? The flash-fiction thing I was a finalist in? The one I had a mental breakdown over because I was traveling during the last week and had only one day to write my final entry and everything seemed bleak and dismal and–
Yeah, so, I won.
This was… wholly unexpected. I even forgot to tell my best friend I was in the contest, let alone a finalist, because it was so wholly unexpected. But needless to say… yeah. Here we are. I feel encouraged.
The Writer Games was an interesting contest because we had to write a new piece of flash-fiction each week, with the word-count increasing every time. My first entry had to be a 6-word story, which my mom didn’t believe was even a thing.
“You can’t tell a story in six words!!” she bellowed in protest.
As I sat at my desk, ripping my hair out piece by piece and bashing my forehead into the keyboard, I couldn’t help but agree with her. But eventually, this random thing popped into my head:
He beckoned peace with bloodstained hands.
The second entry was a 100-word piece, with the prompt, “Slay your own dragons, princess.” You would not believe the amount of agony I suffered over this little thing.
“I CAN’T WRITE A STORY IN ONE-HUNDRED WORDS!” I wailed, as mom nodded sagely in the background.
“Write it about someone falling off a cliff,” Anna suggested, trying to be unhelpful.
My mouth opened, ready to scoff–
They never told me falling would be beautiful – the ground dancing below, so close and yet so terribly far, so soft I want to reach out and touch it. They never told me about the wind, or the raindrops, or the touch of clouds on my skin.
“Slay your dragons, princess,” they said, even as they watched me fall, as the sky exhaled and tossed me away on a puff of breeze. “Slay your dragons,” as though they were mine to kill.
And I wonder, as I fall – I wonder if the dragons I should have slain will catch me.
Thank you, Anna.
The third story would determine whether I made it into the finals or not, but this was probably the easiest for me to write. 500 words, off the prompt, “Carry on, little Soldier.”
She comes here to be alone, wrapped in the darkness and danger of her mind; an old janitor’s closet, tucked in the back of the library. A space. Her space. The fraying corners of her mind tangle and come undone as she yanks open the door, but it’s alright because here she is safe, here she is—
A little boy peers up at her.
(Someone’s in her space, someone’s in her space, she needs to be alone but someone’s in her space—)
Her hand closes around the doorknob. The metal is cold, like the bruises on her fingers. “What are you doing?” she snaps, yanking her sleeves down to cover streaks of scarlet and blue.
He flinches. “Hiding…?”
Anger broils on her tongue, but no – this isn’t sarcasm. He huddles in the dust, cobwebs crowning dirty hair and freckles framing downtrodden eyes. Ten years old, maybe eleven – he’s old enough to know crying is for cowards.
(Cowards show fear. Cowards blubber like stupid little girls. Cowards—)
“Get out.” The words are hard. (She doesn’t care.)
He flinches again. “I just… it’s quiet in here, and I thought…”
(Don’t think, you’re too dumb to think, thinking isn’t for a brainless idiot like you—)
The boy doesn’t respond, staring instead at her arms. “Did someone beat you up?”
She yanks her sleeves down again. “You don’t know anything.”
“Yeah I do,” he says, with such authority she hesitates. He shifts. Faded, purplish marks peek beneath the thready hem of his shorts.
Adrenaline is a worthless drug, shooting through her like a lightning strike and leaving her insides burned and blackish. She plucks at her sleeves, suddenly exhausted. “Look,” she relents, shuffling into the dusty patch of darkness, “this is my space. I come here when life is rough.”
Snot drips down his lip. “Yeah.”
She shuts the door, slumps, sneezes – he whispers, “Bless you,” – and that’s it. Silence. Fire in her arms. Safety, spreading like warm honey through her soul.
The boy moves first. “I gotta go,” he mutters, scrambling to his feet. “My dad—”
Her breath hitches—
“—will get here soon, and then I’m gonna make him punch that bully!”
She chokes on the bitterness of her laughter, because of course not – stupid, why would she think—? Normal people have normal fathers, fathers who buy them ice cream and take them to the park and teach them soccer and—
(Stupid girl, why were you even born?)
“Hey—” the boy’s dust streaked face brightens— “maybe your dad will punch your bully, too!”
She tries to smile but can’t, so she shrugs instead. “Yeah. Maybe.”
But the boy doesn’t know that. So she musters up a smile, pulls her sleeves down, waves him away – “Carry on, little soldier,” she says – and when he’s gone, when she’s wrapped in darkness and the danger of her own mind, she whispers it again, just to taste the strength of the words.
And somehow, I made it in the final round. Which I still find crazy. And then the March for Life happened, among other things, and I found myself with a day and a half to write and edit my final entry.
(Needless to say, I was stressed.)
The only requirements for this one was that it had to be 1,000 words and based on my original 6-word story. So yes, behold, the fruit of my labor and love of my heart:
They meet on a morning of innocence – she skips downtown and whistles a hymn, he languishes where the roaches frolic. She’s wearing her Sunday best; he’s stained from tobacco. She’s sixteen and foolish and happy to be so; he’s old and greasy and covered in grime. He shifts as she passes, upsetting the resident swarm of flies.
“Ma?” His voice is hoarse, chipped and faded from cigarettes. “Is that you?”
Panic presses her heart, rises up in her throat and paralyzes her voice. She squeaks, skittering off the sidewalk and into the road as she snatches her skirt from his reaching fingers.
“Ma?” he says again, and she screams.
Passersby are curious now, heads turning and paces slowing. A man (a hero) steps forward. “Hey now, you, leave the young lady alone!”
The creature falters, slinking back into the gutter, almost invisible among the filth. Confusion wells in pale eyes. Greasy hair plasters his face, skin sick with scars and sunburn. She wonders if he’s human – a corpse would seem more alive, or a toad, or a clod of mire vomited up from the netherworld. “I figgered—”
“No one cares what you figured,” the hero snaps, before turning back to her with softened eyes. “Never mind that fellow, miss. They say he fought in a war and came back with half a brain. He wouldn’t hurt you – might just cry at you and call you his mother.” The man pauses, glancing at her flushed cheeks. “Are you frightened, miss?”
“A little,” she admits, pressing trembling hands to her chest and warming them with a spark of pity. “Though I feel sorry for him, in a way.”
“Don’t. He would sell the other half of his brain for whiskey.”
She meets him again two years later, on an afternoon so bright the sun matches the giddiness of her soul. Bibles have been replaced with boys, wide-eyed innocence with winged-eyeliner, and where once she whistled, now she gossips to the girl beside her as they stride arm in arm down Main Street.
“I saw Thomas at a party yesterday,” she giggles, flippancy coursing through her veins like blood and drugs. “He told me—”
Her friend stiffens, pulling them both to a stop. A man sprawls in the middle of the sidewalk. His lumpy arms and legs wiggle as he mutters, “Party,” over and over again. “Party, party, party…”
“Oh, it’s just him,” she says, an old memory resurfacing. “He’s a harmless old fool.”
He grins at her knowingly, eyes glimmering. “We went to war so you could pray,” he says, spraying laughter and spittle, “not party. We went to war so you—”
“Oh, shut up,” she snaps, her ears tingling with crimson annoyance.
Her friend stares at her, wide-eyed. “Aren’t you frightened of him?”
She pats her dress down (it’s new, bought yesterday) and huffs primly. Fear would be the response of a child, someone small and unused to the world. But she is eighteen, almost nineteen (completely grown-up), and disgust is easier than fear, easier than kindness or common sense or all the other things a child would feel.
“Me, frightened of that pathetic creature?” Her lips curl in a pretty sneer. “I’d sooner be frightened of a toad.”
They meet for the last time when the moon is out, when she’s twenty years old and a party transforms into something worse. Lipstick smears her mouth like blood, staining the cigarette clenched between her teeth. Her head aches, her body aches, her mind and soul ache and she must get out, yes, just for a moment to taste fresh air on her tongue and spit out smoke and sin.
She stumbles from the room, bursts through the door, out of the smoky little row house and into the dark street. Music pulses behind her. The ground wobbles.
“I used to do that, too.”
The voice is raspy and vague and swims through her whiskey-saturated senses like molasses. Swaying, she turns. A dark shape slouches against the building.
“I… I know you,” she says, even though she doesn’t.
The person guffaws. “I was you,” he says, as if that makes any sense at all, as if this sordid creature and herself could ever have been the same person. “Once, way back. Then a war messed me up.”
Bile burns like acid on her tongue. “You’re disgusting.”
“So are you.”
She doesn’t know what that means, spoken from a man missing teeth and scratching at fleas. Music still throbs in her head, gathering up anger and disgust and all the darkness of her soul in a single, pulsing flame of pain. She hates him. She hates him, and she doesn’t know why. Once, when she was younger, her heart only had room for kindness, but she’s too drunk for pity, too drunk for anything but the weight of her own wretched soul.
“Shut up,” she mumbles, staggering away as the world smears at the corners. The ground is spinning, she is spinning, lights are spinning, closer, closer, devouring ground, tires skidding, breaks squealing, and light, too much light, devouring her—
Her knees hit the asphalt. (Blood.)
His body rests between her and a car. (More blood.)
“Go on.” Red stains his teeth. “Get drunk. We went to war so you didn’t have to.”
Shiny with blood, he reaches out – beckoning her or beckoning death, she doesn’t know. Peace comes in the blankness of his eyes, the smile on his lips as his head falls back to touch the pavement.
(Horror mixes with blood, and the wail of approaching sirens.)
“Hey!” Car doors slam. Someone drops down beside the body, someone else grabs her arm. “Are you alright? That man pushed you out of the way and—” He pulls back, disgust forming a familiar pattern on his face. “Are you drunk?”
(We went to war so you could change.)
She trembles, and prayer replaces alcohol on her lips.
*fingerguns* Yaaaay for open endings.
Also, shout-out to my honest sister for reading the original draft and saying, “Sarah, if beauty is what you’re going for, then I give it a thumbs up, but I’m just not seeing how this brings glory to God.”
So I tweaked it, and we read it together, and I tweaked it again, and we read it again, until both of us were happy. I can honestly say it wouldn’t be half of what it is now if she hadn’t given her input, and I wouldn’t feel nearly as satisfied knowing I had written a cool but pointless story.
And… yeah! I won! I still can’t completely process the enormity of coming in 1st place, but I’ll get there eventually. A huge thank-you is due to all the lovely people who voted for my story in the final round. They didn’t know it was mine, since the stories were posted anonymously, but it still warms my heart and encourages me greatly. You folks are awesome, as well as the girls who put on the actual contest. Go look them up. They deserve your recognition.
Carry on, my people!