Storybook Perfect

Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Tag: flash fiction

Happy Mother’s Day (+ free fiction!)

As the title says, happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers who are mothers. In particular a huge happy Mother’s Day to my own mother for whom my appreciation can never be fully articulated (and for a chatterbox like me – that’s something!).

If anyone out there is looking for a last minute gift may I suggest a copy of the anthology 18, containing my most recent story Nightfall? Or for hero-loving mums Oomph: A Little Super Goes A Long Way.

Ha ha, shameless plugs aside, as a special gift for my mother (and I suppose everyone else can read it too) here’s a flash fiction about a new mum.

Back To Work

by Kirstie Olley

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Shona asked, trying to keep her voice even, her eyes flickering between her husband’s face and the rugged up bundle in his arms.

“I’m more worried about you,” laughed Dave as their daughter, Monique, wriggled in his arms, turning to stare up at her mother with big blue eyes.

Shona’s heart turned to mush at the sight of Monique’s tiny nose, shaped like a racing car lolly. She stooped and kissed it.

“Are you really ready to go back to work?” Dave asked, his brow creasing.

Shona sat down, tightening the laces of her boots. “I have to, besides we discussed this. You always wanted to be the stay at home dad.” They had discussed it. A lot. But the last three months had changed her feelings somewhat.

Struggling through the sleep-deprived first six weeks when Monique woke every two hours had been a form of torture she’d never endured before, but even amidst that haze there had been moments of magic. The soft, new baby smell that made her insides squiggly. The warm, floaty feeling when she cradled Monique while she breastfed. The elation when Monique smiled at her for the first time (sure some silly scientist claimed Monique couldn’t be smiling, that it was just gas, but Shona suspected soon another scientist would disprove the first). All those wonderful feelings made her reluctant to leave her daughter. Despite that she still felt the urge to get back to work. It beat in her, like a second pulse in her veins. Each time she blinked she changed her mind again.

“I know but…” Dave trailed off, looking at her as she pulled her hair back in a tight ponytail. His eyes lingered on his wife’s shape, a smile taking over his face.

“Is my uniform too tight?” she asked, worriedly glancing down at herself, unable to ignore the fact there was a little more skin around her stomach than there had been last time she’d worn these clothes.

“It always was pretty tight,” he teased, grinning broadly.

Monique cooed in her father’s arms, raising a pudgy fist up, demanding the attention of both parents be returned to her.

The ache returned as Shona looked at her daughter. She hadn’t thought it would be this hard to leave. After all she loved her job, she was passionate about what she did and couldn’t possibly give it up. But to leave Monique behind? The infant uncurled her fingers and clutched at the air between herself and her mother.

Shona’s phone gave an agitated beep. She rolled her eyes and peered at the screen where the words HURRY UP were written all in capitals followed by a ridiculous number of exclamation points. As hard as it was to leave, there were people relying on her.

“I love you,” Shona said, leaning in to brush her lips on Dave’s. “Both of you.” She bent to kiss Monique again.

“When will you get home?”

Shona smiled weakly. “You know I don’t know the answer to that,” she replied as she affixed her domino mask over her eyes.

“Come back safe.”

“I always try to.” Shona winked before she stepped out the door and flew off, cape streaming behind her.

Flash Fiction – Kina’s Climb

Another Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge accepted. The challenge for those too lazy to read it was to write a story inspired by this amazing discovery.

As always, happy for feedback. Gimme, gimme, gimme!

third-1

Kina’s Climb

By Kirstie Olley

When you started the climb you either finished it, or it finished you.

It wasn’t easy, going up the spire every few days. Dragging the weight of herself and the bulbs up over the dome at the bottom wasn’t all that difficult, but the pinnacle itself was too tall and too straight. The surface stuck to Kina’s hands, giving the illusion of safety, but each time she moved a hand or foot she had to tear it free. When she was tired, when she wanted to sag back and rest her weary limbs, the wall’s grip didn’t have the strength to hold her in place though. She had to keep her body close, distribute her weight evenly and keep soldiering on.

Kina looked up. The summit was in sight. Long thin strands stretched out from the tip of the top, slinging down to the fence, supplying the charge to the protective barrier around her home.

With an oomph she pushed on, struggling upward. Her muscles were a fire under her skin, and though she’d started while dawn was still a grey smudge of light now the sun pummelled her with heat, reddening her skin.

The bulbs bounced on her back, slapping her spine, kicking her kidneys. Kina wasn’t new to the sensations however, the wet goop sticking to her palms, the burning inside and out. She did this every week, it was the only way to keep the charge in the fence, to keep the Others out, and to cry for help to anyone who could hear.

There had to be others out there, didn’t there?

Just because everyone else who’d sheltered behind these walls had died didn’t mean there were no other survivors anywhere. Right?

Even internally her voice carried the quaver of a lost four year old.

And then she was there, the receptacle open before her, the juice almost empty inside.

Kina wrapped her legs around the stalk as if it were a lover and struggled with the first of the bulbs. She pulled it around by the short rope that attached it to the harness on her chest and drew it in front of her. Her stomach muscles pulled taught under her ragged shirt as she kept her torso upright.

With a wrench and a pop the cork came out and Kina poured the sloshing liquid inside into the receptacle. The lines streaming down from the spear quivered and made a short, sharp shzt that brought a smile to Kina’s face.

Every time she wondered if the source might become less potent, if the current would weaken. The Others would come in then. Despite the sun’s heat she could feel the chill of that thought.

She emptied the other three containers until the liquid lapped at the brim. Re-corking the bottles Kina scanned the area. There were no signs of any Others, but no signs of help either.

With the hem of her shirt Kina wiped the sweat from her face. She corked the last container and prepared herself for the journey down.

The world flashed. Brightness that shamed the sun seared her eyes and Kina lost her grip on the bulb in her arms. It swung behind her and slammed into her other side hard enough to bruise. The bottles bashed each other, causing a clamour.

Kina wrapped her arms around the needle, adhering every part of herself to it while she waited for her eyes to readjust. Her temples throbbed, even her body pulsed with the pain. For an instant she considered that she might have touched one of the live wires, but she knew she hadn’t, there’d been none near enough to brush.

Before she recovered the flash came again, stabbing through the air, enveloping the world.

Was this the end? Had she survived the Others all this time only to die like this? Tears stung her eyes. How could she fight this? Her spire, her fence, they could hold the Others at bay, but not this world-consuming lightning.

Something rumbled. It was a waterfall’s roar, but with a depth and resonance she’d never dreamed possible. It was as all-encompassing as the light had been.

The tower trembled, like it was trying to shake her loose. No, that wasn’t it – the tower was as terrified as she.

The noise surrounded her, her ears ached like her eyes, but somewhere through the roar she heard words, impossible as that seemed. Clinging to the pinnacle, weeping for her life, the words washed over Kina.

“Hey, come over here, check this out. What do you reckon this thing is?”

Her vision came back while another voice joined in. She looked up past the receptacle, everything was blurry, tears gushed in response.

The eye loomed over her so huge it blotted out the sky. Just its damn eye and she couldn’t see anything else of it. Even the first time she’d climbed the spire her heart hadn’t pounded like this.

Every day she’d prayed for someone to come, someone to save her. This creature, gargantuan beyond conceivability, could never see her. She would be too tiny to it. She would be smaller than a dust mote drifting in a sunbeam. Someone had come, but they were no saviour.

Kina clung, their words reverberating through her chest, their lights coming again to blind her. Kina gripped to the tower and held on to her life. If she could survive this, then the Others would be nothing.

Worm’s Comet – Super Flash Fiction

A little flash fiction inspired to life by Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge (I swear I’m going to go back and do a few old ones since I seem to be raring to go today).

You use a random title generator which is friggin’ gold for inspiration (though some of the results make you cock an eyebrow).

Anyway, the first of my random titles and some seriously flash flash fiction at only 101 words,

image shamelessly stolen from Game of Thrones

image shamelessly stolen from Game of Thrones

Worm’s Comet

Fingers clawed through the dirt. Stones ripped nails from fingers, blood soaking into the soil. Grit ground in teeth, grating as the taste of loam filled his mouth.

His head broke through the surface at last. He spat out the dirt and sucked in the fresh air. Free at last.

Overhead a crimson comet lit the early evening sky, streaking southerly.

He looked at the sky, stars winking to life. He admired the crimson glow. That blood-red comet, that harbinger of doom, that was his comet. It warned the world that he was here now, Worm was coming for them all.

The Funny Thing About Flash Fiction

The announcement in the paper

The announcement in the paper

I’m quite chuffed with myself at the moment because I recently learned one of my stories has been shortlisted in the Redlitzer Writing Competition. The whole awesome name-in-the-local-paper deal and everything. Of course this brings in a tide of friends and family asking about the story that won. This taught me a funny thing about flash fiction.

I sent in a piece of flash fiction called Stolen Hearts, and because I never thought I’d have to do a summary for it (like I do for books and longer short stories) I never created one. This leads to me trying to explain a lot of what happens in the story that is subtext so people will understand what I think is so great about my story (as well as what happens).

Of course, by the time I’m done saying all that I’ve very nearly taken up as much time as I would have if I’d just handed the 1,000 words over to them.

In flash fiction so much is implied and hinted at that a reader will usually glean for themselves, so a thorough description of the story exceeds the length of the piece itself.

I could always just give people the story I suppose, but I’d rather get as many people as possible to check out the anthology when it is released 😀 You can be sure I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Flash Fiction: Eyes On The Sky

Another piece for the Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge (which is a great prompt, because it encourages me to create on a weekly basis beyond my own ideas).

This time the random number generator gave me 10, 10, 1, which is ‘the moon’ for my motif, ‘mythpunk’ for my genre and ‘a train’ for my setting. Technically I got 4 for setting, which was a labyrinth, but I’ve recently written a labyrinth story, so wanted something different, so rolled the die on that on again (cheating, naughty naughty, though this time I did manage to stick to the 1,000 word limit).

Well, without further ado:

picture courtesy of the creative commons

picture courtesy of the creative commons

Eyes On the Sky

I first saw him when I was forced to stay back at work, labouring over an Expression of Interest for a contract my company was desperate for. They were so desperate they actually paid me overtime, otherwise I would have left the office long before the moon rode in the sky.

He sat, elbow propped on the very thin sill beneath the train window, staring through the scratched-on graffiti up at the moon. She was fat and full in the sky and his eyes were full of her.

He was tall and slim – not an underfed slim, but that lean, muscular slim that hides more strength than you expect. His eyes, shimmering silver with the moon’s reflection, were blue under all that light and his blond beard was kept trimmed close to his face while his hair flared out in loose golden curls.

I wondered who he was, watching the sky with eyes full of melancholy. My heart ached and the next day all I could think about was him.

Desperate to see him again I worked late, this time unpaid, and left in time to catch the same train. I wasn’t sure he would be on the train, he had been dressed casually so may have been visiting a friend on a once-in-a-while trip. I walked the entire length of the train, checking every car. My heart skipped a beat when I found him in the front-most car, elbow on the sill, staring up at the moon.

I sat across from him, hands folded in my lap, and watched him.

He didn’t glance at me once, but that did not deter me.

The next day I didn’t care to stay back at work, so I sat at the train station reading as train after train clacked by.

When my train pulled up he was seated by the window directly in front of me. His eyes bored through the concrete roof of the station. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his eyes were trained where the moon hung in the sky.

I sat across from him again, admiring the strong cut of his jaw and the beauty of his expression as he watched the moon. Again he didn’t notice my presence.

It was the weekend and I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I wanted the weekend to be over so I could go back to work, stay late and catch that train. My friends dragged me out to go dancing with them, and though I went I insisted on dancing by the window so I could look up at the moon – knowing he would be doing the same somewhere.

When Monday arrived I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. But something was gnawing at my stomach too. He never looked at me. He didn’t know I existed. Fine, tonight I would change that.

At the station I read my book, pulse thrumming, while I waited to finally talk to him. What would I say? What would he say? What would happen after that? I could barely focus on the story in my lap. Then something caught my eye in the tale.

Star-crossed lovers were the focus of this tragedy. The Sun and the Moon, Apollo and Artemis, in love, but never able to meet. During the night, when he could roam the earth she rode the sky, and during the day, when she was not trapped in the sky, he was instead.

The train screeched to a halt in front of me.

I boarded the train, my head hurting. It was a coincidence, wasn’t it? I just happened to read a story about a man in love with the moon. Right?

He wasn’t in the car I boarded, but he was in the next one along.

I sat myself beside him and stared at him. His golden hair ruffled out from his head. I swallowed as the thought crossed my mind that his hair was like the sun’s rays. I was being silly. Gods don’t walk the earth and myths are just stories.

His eyes shone, sad and silver and full of her. There was no mistaking his expression.

I swallowed hard and opened my mouth.

“Are you…” I trailed off; I couldn’t say it.

Slowly, reluctantly, he tore his eyes away from the moon. He looked at me, eyes a little wide, like he never expected there to be another person on the train.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” He asked, his voice like a creaky old door from lack of use.

“I… er, I wanted to tell you…” I frowned and looked away. “Sorry, no, I wanted to ask you…” My eyes flicked down to the book in my lap.

His eyes followed mine and widened again.

“It’s tough being a celebrity.” He sighed.

I couldn’t talk for a few moments. He watched me, calm, waiting for me to collect my thoughts with the sort of patience only an immortal could possess.

“So you are? Apollo, I mean?”

“In a fashion. Apollo is just a name I’ve been given. I have thousands of them. But essentially, yes, I am the sun.”

My heart burst while my mind broke.

I don’t know why I didn’t doubt him, I just knew that he wasn’t lying. But that wasn’t what mattered, what mattered was that he was there, on the train, looking at the woman he loves and can never have.

The train pulled in to a stop.

I glanced at the sign and was shocked to see it was my stop. I apologised, dipping into a curtsey because that was all I could think of to do when departing the presence of a god, and I exited the train.

On the platform I watched as the train hissed back into motion, clutching the book to my chest with tears in my eyes.

Apollo looked up at Artemis and I watched as the memory of me faded from his eyes and filled with the sight of her.

I seem to be fond of a theme of obsession. Also, I think I kind of bludgeoned the reader to death with my motif. What do you think? I don’t love this one with quite the passion I have for Emily’s typewriter, but this was still fun and another chance to write a little out of my comfort zone.

Please, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your reactions.

Flash Fiction: Emily’s Typewriter

This is a piece of flash fiction I penned for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Competition, a super-fun competition using a random number generators to pick your story’s genre, primary conflict and another aspect.

I was hoping for a few specific options from the list and luckily got one of my desired ones – Lovecraftian for genre, though I think it has come out much more Lovecraftian in voice than in genre.

This isn’t my usual voice with writing, but that is mostly because it’s a first person piece told by a man from a much earlier time period. I imagine my husband would be quite amused to read it and see some similarities between his own wife and Emily ;p

So, without further ado, I give you “Emily’s Typewriter”

picture courtesy of the creative commons

picture courtesy of the creative commons

 

When first I laid eyes upon that infernal contraption I at once knew it would be the death of me. Where this mysterious shade of prophecy came from I know not, but I knew it for the fact it was.

My wife bought the typewriter home on a cool autumn afternoon, her cheeks rosy with her delight. Emily loved to pen stories, but found the nib and ink pot a frustrating method for her pen could never keep pace with her mind. This device she assured me could keep pace with her ever expanding ideas.

She set the typewriter down on a desk by the window that overlooked her beloved garden, the gourd plant she tended daily’s leaves framing the scene. The view was pleasing to her and she insisted it would be good for her inspiration.

Her inspiration had the opposite effect on her garden.

Enveloped in her ideas my wife forgot herself. She never left the house to tend her treasured garden, instead she typed. As the leaves of the gourd plant browned and curled in on themselves I noticed the neglect inside the house as well, dust on surfaces, cobwebs lacing the corners and grime smearing the windows.

I would return home of an evening to discover she had not cooked dinner. At first I was furious, but it dawned upon me I had never noticed the extent to which Emily worked each day to make this house our home. It was after this realisation that I began to worry.

She sat ensconced before that typewriter every day tapping away at the keys. The only time she moved from the typewriter was to sleep and more and more it seemed she came to bed later and rose earlier. One day, in a fit of fear for her well-being, I stayed home from work.

All she did was sit there. The entire day passed and she did not even notice I had not left for work. All she did was type, push the small silver handle to begin a new line and feed new paper into the roller. She did not rise to eat. She did not rise to use the outhouse. It was not until I went to retire to bed that she rose from the desk and came to bed.

The next morning I woke to the sound of metal arms flying up to stamp through inked ribbon onto paper. The sun had barely risen and she was already typing.

I knew that something was wrong as I sat there behind her, watching her fingers fly. The sounds of those metal stamps pounding the paper made my stomach wrench as if it were a dish rag Emily was wringing out. Except she no longer did that. The reek of food, still caked onto dishes and rotting wafted from the kitchen where the plates piled so high I wondered if adventurous mountaineers could not be called upon to assist me in cleaning them.

I desperately wished to speak to someone but had no idea whom I could talk to.

Too ill to go to work I sat at her side, softly calling her name while she had eyes only for the letters on her keyboard. I made lunch and placed it on the table beside her typewriter, but it was ignored. I offered drinks and suggestions to take a stroll together by the river, holding hands as we had when we were newly-wed. She did not respond to anything but the tale she was typing.

As the sun set I lit the lamps and wondered what story was eating her alive.

I picked up a small sheaf of papers bound together with string from the bottom of the pile and read.

A light-hearted romance full of fluttering eyelashes and accidental brushing of hands came from the page. These were the stories my wife loved to read and she told them beautifully, easily a rival for any tale of that ilk. I grabbed another sheaf from the middle and read.

A similar story of lovers. Before long I noticed the setting was unfamiliar. The landscapes were misshapen, houses watched with dark eyes and the horse-drawn carriage was pulled by a beast of scales and claws with a sunken multitude of eyes.

My heart in my throat I threw the sheaf to the ground and snatched the latest story from the top of the pile.

What I read called forth lunch from my stomach.

I opened the back door to deposit my partially digested meal. I put the paper down with a shaking hand. The tears that blurred my vision were only slightly from the acid taste of bile.

My wife sat at her desk undisturbed by the ruckus I had created.

I doused the lamps and went to bed. There I cried myself to sleep like a child.

I was roused in the night by a stirring in the bed. My heart leaped with hope and fear simultaneously. Emily had come to bed at last, but was the woman sliding under the covers beside me still the woman I had married?

I edged closer, trepidation making my pulse thrum through my veins.

“My dearest,” I asked, my voice breaking like a pubescent boy’s. “I was thinking we should go to church tomorrow and talk to Father Peterson…”

My words died in my mouth as my hand touched her cheek. Her skin was slick and oozing. My hand recoiled and I threw back the sheet, fumbling to light the bedside candle.

My wife lay there, eyes closed, her skin pallid like a corpse’s, her cheeks sunken, but this was not what was disturbing. From the pores of her skin seeped a viscous fluid, greenish in colour and it bubbled out, the stream slow but continuous.

I screamed and ran from the room. My feet tore me through the biting chill of the late autumn night to the church where I thumped on the old oak doors until my fists hurt and the Father opened them.

My words tumbled from my mouth. Father Peterson did not believe me, but he followed me like a dutiful parent would follow a child back to their room to show them no monster hid under their bed.

The priest’s face paled upon sighting my wife, lying in the puddle of green ooze on our mattress.

Father Peterson turned at once to the desk that entombed my wife daily and grabbed the typewriter. He raised the damned machine overhead and smashed it upon the desk. On the bed, still laying prone, Emily shrieked, her cry so shrill it stabbed at my ears. He raised and struck the cursed contraption repeatedly, despite the screams of my wife, until it lay in pieces.

Satisfied with the fragments on the ground the priest took the cross from his neck, slid it over my wife’s head and gave her a benediction. He left, visibly shaking, assuring me he would return in the morning.

Trembling I swept up the mess and threw it outside. I then took a damp cloth and sponged my beautiful Emily clean.

In the morning Father Peterson returned with more crosses, holy water and acolytes. There was no need for the ceremonies he performed. My wife sat there at the battered desk by the window with the view of a withered gourd plant. She stared out the window, hands on the desk, fingers twitching amongst the splinters typing on unseen keys.

She sits there still, every day staring sadly out the window, her eyes as soulless as her body.

I thought the machine would be the death of me, but it was far worse than that. It was the death of my heart.

Feedback is always appreciated.

picture courtesy of the creative commons, original posting here.

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