Four truths, one lie and one unspoken secret, part 2 (Flash fiction prompt: Love Lies/numbered)

Flash fiction prompt 29 (Love Lies) and 30 (Numbered), part 2. You can read part 1 from yesterday here. Because tomorrow’s post will be a recap of the month rather than a fiction piece, today is my final flash fiction prompt January post!

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this collection, it’ll make more sense if you read them in the order they happened rather than the order I wrote them – Push, Near-Death Wish, Drowning, Drowning Part 2 and Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 1. Today’s piece is from Noah’s point of view. Brett’s was posted yesterday.

Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 2

1. I love you.

2. When you’re holding a mug of coffee first thing in the morning and you’re still half asleep, I want to freeze time so I can stare at you forever. In those quiet moments, before you construct your mask and awaken your bravado, I feel like I’m seeing something meant only for me. I thought that feeling would lessen over time, but it hasn’t. I will always make coffee for you without asking if you want it, just so I can watch you drink it.

3. That first night, I almost asked you to come home with me. You saw exactly the same thing in me that everyone else does, but while other people walk away, you walked right into it, right into me, and it instantly made you the most fascinating person I had ever met. You are still the most fascinating person I have ever met and I can’t see that changing any time soon. Or ever.

4. The night I walked out, I drove for miles in the dark but I wanted nothing more than to come home to you, to climb into bed beside you and tell you everything. It scared me that I could miss someone so much after only a few hours and I didn’t know how to handle that intensity of feeling. I’m learning though and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. A few times but only in self-defence. I hated it and I hated myself for doing it. I only did it because I had to. I had no other option and I felt like shit afterwards. I will never do it again.

1. I would though, if you wanted me to. I would, with you.


About the photo
Another heart drawn in blood, more love and violence. A fitting final picture for the month!

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Four truths, one lie and one unspoken secret, part 1 (Flash fiction prompt: Love Lies/numbered)

Flash fiction prompt 29 (Love Lies) and 30 (Numbered), because I couldn’t resist doing a list instead of a straight-up story.  This piece is split into two parts, with the second part to be posted tomorrow. Now that the characters who have taken up residence in my head over the last few days have told me their names, I wanted to give them one more chance to speak to each other before prompt month ends.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this strange little collection, it’ll make more sense if you read them in the order they happened rather than the order I wrote them – Push, Near-Death Wish, Drowning and Drowning Part 2. Today’s piece is from Brett’s point of view. Noah’s will be posted tomorrow.

four truths one lie and one unspoken secret part 1

1. I love you.

2. When you’re getting dressed, I look at you the way most people look at someone getting undressed. You’re beautiful as you are, but watching you put on clothes is like watching you put on armour to do battle with the world. Sometimes I wish I could tear down your walls, but right now it’s enough to know that you’ve built some of those walls around both of us and I have never felt safer.

3. That first night, I would have let you do anything and I would have done anything for you. I would have let you kill me if you’d wanted to and I would have gone anywhere with you if you’d asked. The following night, I almost didn’t go back to meet you because I was scared of what would happen. I wasn’t scared of what you might want. I was scared of what I already wanted.

4. The night you walked out, I lay awake until it got light outside and imagined you coming home to me. I thought it was a fight. I thought you’d assume you’d won. Now I know better and I know you don’t see the world in such simple terms. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll stand in front of the door and refuse to move until you tell me all the things you’re scared to say. I’ll listen and even if I don’t understand, I’ll accept everything, all of it, all of you. Then I’ll move aside so you can leave if you want to but I know you won’t.

1. Never, and I don’t think I could. I don’t think I have it in me. I’ve spent my life pushing boundaries, testing limits, and I’ve found the darkest and brightest parts of myself in those experiences. But that feels like a line I couldn’t cross.

1. I would though, if you wanted me to. I would, with you.


About the photo
I wanted an image that suggested love and violence, since it’s fairly obvious from the ‘lie’ and the ‘unspoken secret’ that there might be a bit more of both in these guys’ shared future. Weirdly, or not that weirdly if you know me, I have two very similar heart-drawn-in-blood photos in my archives, taken a few years apart.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Near-death wish [Flash fiction prompt: Tomorrow]

Flash fiction prompt 28 and the guys from yesterday’s story are back. This takes place the day after Push, told from the perspective of the other person, and long before Drowning and Drowning, Part 2.

Apart from vague mentions of violent ideation in the first paragraph, this is pretty much content warning free. For a change.

Near-Death Wish

“So”, he said, past a split lip and blood-soaked teeth, “Same time next week?”. At that point, it could have gone one of three ways. An agreement, wait a week and see what happened next time. One more blow to the face, shattering the back of his skull against the wall, knowing in that moment he would have let me. And then there was the way I chose.

“Same time tomorrow”.

“Tomorrow?”. He spat blood onto the pavement, cracked his jaw, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked at me like he was wishing I’d said “Now”.

“Tomorrow. Same time, same place, no-one tries to kill anyone. We get a beer and we talk. Alright?”.

“Sure. But I don’t drink beer”.

“OK then, drink whatever you drink. And leave that knife behind”.

“How did you . . ?”

“Look, I don’t know how often you do whatever this is but you picked the wrong person this time”.

“Oh, no, I really didn’t”. A pause. “See you tomorrow then. And you can frisk me for weapons if you want”.

And with that he was on his way, limping slightly. Once he’d put a few feet of distance between us, he pulled the knife from his waistband and tossed it in the air with a flick of his wrist that made it spin. He caught it expertly by the blade, flashed me one last red smile over his shoulder that made my breath catch in my throat, and turned the corner out of view.

I lay awake for most of the night wondering how the hell this had happened. Sure, people tended to recognise me for at least part of what I was, but it mostly made them keep their distance, cross the road, walk a wide arc around me. Occasionally a random drunk would try to pick a fight but one solid punch would put an end to it before it even started. This one I couldn’t figure out at all. I got the feeling he wasn’t drunk and he was anything but random. I’d never met anyone who could take an impact like that and stay standing. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d finally met my match, then I shook the feeling away. I’d never been that lucky before, but I was curious. I didn’t understand any of this, but I wanted to.

The following night, I got there early, by accident but also not. With no idea whether or not he was going to show, I craved a cigarette. The last time I had a smoke was the night I quit my job and I swore off both tobacco and my previous profession for life. I quit cold turkey, smoking and killing, and it was all fine for over a year until I felt a vicious desire for both in the space of twenty-four hours. Because of him. And he looked . . . well, he looked good. I’d kind of sworn off that as well but maybe the general feeling of want was just finding its way around everything I told myself I wasn’t going to do.

My contemplation of self-imposed restrictions was interrupted by his arrival.

“You want to check me for knives?”,

“I want to trust you. Let’s play that game and see how it goes”.

“OK. You going to tell me your name?”.

“I said I want to trust you, not that I already do. Let’s go and get whatever you drink”.

It was a double vodka, straight, no ice. He didn’t even knock it back in one go. He sipped it slowly, actually enjoying the taste of the cheap spirit. I knew it was cheap because this particular bar didn’t have anything else, which was fair enough since its unique selling point was that it was open all night even though it probably shouldn’t have been. Plus, the staff were well versed in the art of turning a blind eye. We watched each other in silence across a table that had been decorated over the years by stabs and scores from countless pocket knives. I took a drink of my beer, slowly, amused that he seemed to think he could unnerve me by looking at me like that. Like that. I was not so easy to unnerve.

“So”, I said, “Tell me about that death wish of yours”.

“It’s not a death wish. It’s a near-death wish”. He smirked.

“And you saw me and thought I looked like the type to stop at near?”.

He shrugged. “I saw you and didn’t know. I still don’t. That’s why I’m here”.

“Because you want to find out?”.

“Because I like not knowing”.

And so the conversation continued. I had another beer. He had three more double vodkas and became sharper with each one. He told me he did things with computers. I told him I worked in security. Neither of us entirely believed the other, although no doubt there was a little bit of truth in each of our words. 5am arrived and I said it was time I got going.

“Why?”, he asked. “Don’t want to be late for church?”.

“Something like that”.

“So, same time tomorrow?”.

God, he looked so . . . the way he looked.  Throwing caution to the wind and every other element, I suggested, “Or now. Now would work”.

He grinned—a dangerous, enticing thing—as I stood up and walked towards the door. He followed, barely a pace behind. When we got outside, I stopped and turned to face him.

“I still don’t trust you but what the hell. I’m Noah”.

“I’m Brett”.

And as the world shifted from deep black to a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive, we walked away from the bar, together, and I wondered, not for the first time, what I was getting myself into.


About the photo
I needed “a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive”, so…

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Drowning, part 2 [Flash fiction prompt: Page by page]

Flash fiction prompt 27 and I cannot believe I’m almost at the end of this challenge! Today’s prompt piece is a follow up to yesterday’s, the same event told from the perspective of the other person. I’m pretty sure these are indeed the guys from day 24’s Push and I’m intrigued to see how much more of their story they want to tell me.

As with yesterday, content warning for fucked up relationships, mutual violence and emotional manipulation.

Drowning Part 2

7.09pm and the sun is setting as I drive away, encased in blissful silence and fading light. This has always been my favourite time, with clouds glowing red and orange as another day falls warm below the horizon. The side of my face is pulsing in time with my heartbeat, swelling like the symphony of your charismatic rage. I grip the steering wheel tightly as if it was built from the delicate structures of your throat, begging to be crushed in my hands. You, with your poet’s soul, who will never understand how close I came to not being able to stop, how close I come every time. You provoke me with flashing eyes to the tipping point of almost, knowing nothing of the times before you when almost was not my limit. The times before you when I knew no limits.

11.16pm and I pull in to the garage to fill up the car, letting my hair fall across my eye when I go in to pay. People already regard me with a sense of caution that I know has more to do with my demeanour than my size. I don’t want to deal with that tonight. I don’t want to be reminded that strangers can feel the violence in me. I don’t want to be reminded that it’s there, always, my defining feature. In a past life, it was celebrated by the people who put guns in my hands and money in my pockets. In a past life, it was useful, directed. In this life, I struggle to control it. You see me as calm, steady, reliable. You have no idea what it took to build these walls and what it still takes to hold myself behind them.

4.35am and the dark miles stretch out before me like the faces of the fallen, the worlds I have ended with only the barest of consideration and tragically little remorse. I used to drive at night then too, telling myself every time that I could just keep driving if I wanted to, that there was no good reason to go back. The truth is, I needed it. The money was just an excuse. I would have done it for free. You only know half of this story because I can’t get past the feeling that if I told you everything, I would wake up one morning and find you gone. For all we have done to each other, for everything asked for and given and received, we are still standing knee-deep at the edge of a bottomless sea and I have spent too much time at its centre. I was never caught in the current. I was directing the tides.

7.43am and I imagine you at home, in bed, still clothed and unable to sleep. I imagine being the kind of person who could be beside you now, the kind of person who could trust myself as much as you trust me. Instead, I sit in my car and fill more pages of a book that holds all the words I would never dare to speak out loud. A book that holds my past, my secrets, all the things I wish I had the emotional capacity to regret. The last thing I write before I slide the book back through the carefully concealed tear in the leather of my seat is for you. The last thing I write is, “I’m sorry”.

9.02am and I close the car door quietly and head back into the house. I walk with steady footsteps and hang my coat on the hook in the hall, smoothing the fabric with my hand before I go to the kitchen to make coffee. I know the smell will wake you because it always does. I know you’ll arrive downstairs in a few minutes, dishevelled and captivating as ever. I know you’ll think of this as a battle and assume I’ll believe that I won. I’ll make two cups of coffee because it feels like the right thing to do and I’ll try to smile when I hand yours to you. You’ll see the bruises on my face and I’ll see the bruises on your neck and for a fleeting moment I’ll feel like maybe I can tell you everything. But I won’t.

11.51am and you settle back against me as the fire burns with almost as much heat as you. I welcome warmth into frozen places, trying to ignore the fear that one day I won’t be able to stop myself and you’ll see past the parts of me you love to the reality that I suspect might be too much, even for you. The darkest fear is reserved for the possibility that you won’t fight back, that you’ll look into my eyes with pure acceptance and in the end your undoing and mine will be too perfect for either of us to bear.

We are the calm and the storm, the secret whispered in the moment before the tidal wave crashes. And for all the times we have pretended to dive into this darkness willingly, the truth is we are falling and we have so much further to fall.


About the photo
I rarely get to take pictures of sunsets from cars because I’m usually driving. This time I wasn’t.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Drowning [Flash fiction prompt: 3057]

Flash fiction prompt 26 and I don’t know who these characters are but I suspect they might be the guys from Push.

Content warning for fucked up relationships, mutual violence and emotional manipulation.

Drowning

3.05am and seven hours since you calmly picked up your keys, told me not to wait up and walked out. Anyone else would have shouted. Anyone else would have angrily grabbed their coat from the hook on their way down the hall. Anyone else would have slammed the door as they left. Anyone else would have floored the accelerator as they drove away to add volume and drama to their exit. But not you. Never you. You, the master of the stone-cold promise and the heavy silence and the ominous unspoken threat. You, the elegant conductor of the hammering in my head. Everything I do is wrapped in you and soaked in you. My lips worn pale from drinking your poison, a taste of us both on a sliver of ice. The moon hangs in a misty sky and all I can think is I am so out of focus. I am so out of focus.

5.23am and I sleep with one eye open still, just as I should. Forgiveness rarely finds its way to souls like ours. In my half-awake world of in-between dreams, I shoot myself. In the head, in the heart, in the mirror. A slow motion bullet ricochets from bone to muscle to glass until it is swallowed up by the emptiness that hangs in the air. My silence, flash-frozen, left behind by your measured steps that punctured my lung as you turned your back and walked away. I still breathe, but only for you and I no longer choke on the blood from the loss you slid between my ribs. Your absence holds me with prison guard keys and spits its demands in my face. Stop. Fall. Kneel. Lie still. Lies, still. The reality of you is dead calm. The lack of you is a tornado.

7.43am and I imagine a place where I can walk down the street wearing no shoes. Where I can stare directly into the sun with eyes wide open. Where I can fall asleep in someone’s arms and be carried to bed. I imagine the sound of your car pulling up outside, the crunch of your footsteps on the path, the turn of your key in the door. I imagine the gentle tread of your shoes on the stairs, the soft drift of fabric against skin as you get undressed and lay your clothes neatly across the back of the chair. I imagine the brief chill as you lift the covers, replaced by the welcome warmth of your body as you climb into bed next to me. I imagine your breath on my neck, your fingers sliding around my wrist and gripping just a little too tightly, the way I like it. I think, “I’m sorry” and wonder for a moment if I said it out loud.

9.14am and I awaken to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling the house. I am still wearing the clothes you last saw me in and even though I couldn’t care less, I know you’ll notice. I would like to believe that you’ll assume I was angry, that I lay alone dreaming of how to destroy you, but for everything I’ve ever been wrong about, we know the truth of each other too well. Before I go downstairs, before I say a word, I know you’ll be aware of how much a night without you hurt me. I know the corner of your mouth will lift in quiet satisfaction as you pour coffee for both of us without asking if I want any, because I always do and you never ask. I know you’ll count this as a victory because we are nothing if not a war. We are each other’s strategic targets and collateral damage. Neither of us really wants to win. Neither of us ever will.

9.32am and I walk into the kitchen, pausing to savour the sight of your shirt stretched tight across the muscles of your back. You turn, with precisely the half-smile I predicted, and pour two cups of coffee. Then you push your hair back from your face and my heart swells like the bruise around your eye. My hand throbs, remembering the impact. As I tilt my head to crack the bones in my neck, your pupils dilate when you see the marks from your fingers that have darkened on my skin. The thing is, we both knew exactly what we were getting into and this has never been anything other than what we wanted.

11.51am and the fire crackles in the hearth as I lean back against your chest and your arms find their way around me, exactly where they belong. You are solid and honest and real, the rock I break myself against, the cliff I leap from, the earth that catches me. I am the explosion, the unpredictable flame, the molten core that melts the frost in your blood. We are tangled, tied, entwined, not a disaster waiting to happen but a disaster that happens a thousand times a day.

We are the hours between the seconds, the gulp of water disguised as a gasp of air. And for all the times we have pretended to reach for the surface, the truth is we walked into this drowning with no intention of ever trying to hold our breath.


About the photo
I took this during a camping trip in the snow. I don’t remember it being cold but I remember it being beautiful.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Spark [Flash fiction prompt: Kilojoules]

Flash fiction prompt 25 and this is probably one of the most grim things I’ve ever written or researched. Yep, I spent all day Googling information about exactly what happens in an electric chair. My search history this month is amazing.

Content warning for detailed description of execution, brief mentions of child murder (no details) and mentions of animal torture (a few details).

spark

And in the end, it all came back to energy. Kilojoules, calories, newtons, lumens, decibels, volts . . . mostly volts. I started to see units of measurement everywhere, numbers to define how something could be experienced, seen, heard, felt, pressed, fuelled, burned, used, destroyed. It started when I read that 2,450 volts of electricity would be passed through my brother’s body and energy began to mean something different to me.

These 2,450 volts would bring intense heat, muscle spasms and death. They would burn and cook his brain and his skin, make his eyes bulge and melt, and his bowels release. They would cause him to jolt so violently against the leather straps that his bones would break. They would stop his heart. They would comfort the families of his victims, watching from behind glass in a room that was at once too close and too far away. They might bring nightmares fuelled by cognitive dissonance to the men who unlocked the door, led him down the corridor, tightened the straps, pulled the lever. I had no idea what they would do to me.

I left a long time ago and I never expected to be back. There was nothing here for me and in just a few hours there will be nothing here for me again. I only returned because he asked me to. He wanted someone there who had no connection to the boys he had kidnapped, tortured and killed, the four carefully chosen, helpless, innocent reasons for his arrest, sentencing, imprisonment and execution. Any real connection I had to him was severed long ago when I bought a one-way ticket and never looked back, but he had no-one else. I wanted to say no. I wanted to carry on with my life as though my brother hadn’t killed children in a country I no longer resided. I wanted to maintain my distance with my new name from a brief marriage and oceans between us. But for some reason, I said yes and I went.

We communicated by letter at first. He told me he had come to understand it was unfortunate that he had caused suffering but that he couldn’t help it. He knew each of the boys he had killed was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend, someone, but his need to do what he did outweighed all that. He said he had always felt the need, that it started when he was younger than the boys whose lives he had ended, and he always knew it was only a matter of time before he progressed from doing what he did to animals to doing what he did to people.

He asked if I had been scared of him when we were children, if I had seen it coming, if I had known what he was. It took me a week to reply to that letter because I didn’t know what to say other than yes. The truth is, I had always known and when I heard he had been arrested I spent a year in therapy I couldn’t afford telling a well-meaning stranger that I should have said something, should have done something, to stop this. The other truth is, I know that there is nothing I could have done. I couldn’t have changed something so entrenched in the core of his being. I couldn’t have turned him into someone else.

Where we lived, hunting and butchering animals was perfectly acceptable, often admired. It was a running joke that he was a terrible shot, but he wasn’t that terrible. He never missed entirely. He only missed enough that it was always necessary to finish the job with a knife. The loudest alarm bell was not rung by the killing of the animals he hunted to eat but by the killing of the animals he hunted simply because he could. Sometimes he started to cut them up before they were dead, although I think I was the only one who knew that.  I found him elbow-deep in the still-twitching body of a stray dog in the back field one day after school and all he said was, “Don’t tell anyone”. So I didn’t. And a year later, I left.

I had seen pictures of him on television and in newspapers, but during my first visit to the prison I was surprised that he was no longer the fifteen year old boy he had been when I last saw him in person. His eyes were the same though—dark, cold, empty apart from the occasional flare of something like anchorless resentment—and I felt a stab of ice in my heart when he looked at me. He said he didn’t think I would come but he was glad I did, that he understood why I hadn’t stayed before, why I hadn’t come home when both our parents were killed in the house fire that he had escaped from unscathed at the age of eighteen. Of course there had been no definite proof of arson but I knew and he knew that I knew.

When the day came, he was given the opportunity to speak his final words before they brought down the hood to cover his face. He said only, “I want to thank my sister for being here today and for leaving before. Her presence was the only thing that held me back and when she left I was finally free to do what I needed to do”. Then he smiled with a gentle, honest acceptance.

2,450 volts.

The thundering beat of my heart as I walked towards my rental car. The slam of the door shutting. The spark of the ignition as I turned the key. The roar of the engine as I drove away. The falsely warm glow from the streetlights overhead. The gathering speed as I headed towards the airport. The heat of the tears streaming down my cheeks. And in the end, it all came back to energy.


About the photo
The person in the picture is my husband. I needed a photo of a male-looking person with a hood covering most of his face and a particular type of smile. Also, there’s a bit of poetic justice in this. I didn’t see the Green Mile for years after it came out because Tom Hanks annoys the shit out of me and I rarely watch anything he’s in. I eventually gave in and said I’d watch the film “As long as you don’t actually see anyone actually getting electrocuted to death”. My husband, who had forgotten the MOST HORRIFIC PART OF THE FILM, told me that no, you didn’t. So yeah. It’s fitting that a photo of him is accompanying this story.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Push [Flash fiction prompt: Discharge]

Flash fiction prompt 24! I hate the word discharge almost as much as I hate the word moist. I had a bit of trouble getting past that so I looked up the dictionary definition to see if I could find a direction to take it in. Dictionary.com gave me to “fulfill, perform, or execute (a duty, function, etc.)” and I was sorted.

Content warning for detailed descriptions of violence in an evenly-matched context and the enjoyment of said violence by the (male, in case it makes a difference to you) people involved.

Push

We met at 3am. I was out for the kind of walk you might go on in the middle of the night because whether you want to admit it to yourself or not, you’re seeking an ordeal. Through boredom, frustration and a rarely satisfied desire for violent release, I chose my route carefully, hoping to run into exactly the kind of people no-one else hoped to run into. I had a knife concealed in my waistband and although I was ready to use it, I was hoping for an opportunity to use my fists instead. I had developed a skill for recognising the right ones, for feeling the potential of a vicious temper from a distance. Never the overt perpetrator, all I needed was an excuse and when I saw him heading towards me, I knew I had found it.

He was tall and broad, a stature that made self-defence a feasible justification should it come to that. I was hoping it wouldn’t. I didn’t want this to be over too quickly, but I wanted it to be over tonight. I felt a familiar twitch in my fingers. It had been too long. He was looking at the ground as he walked so the eye contact I craved to get things started wouldn’t come easily. Blatant provocation always felt dull to me but needs must, so as we were about to pass each other I took half a step towards him and crashed my shoulder into his chest. I allowed myself a fraction of a second to glance up at his face, past the square jaw waiting to be broken to eyes as dark as an angry ocean. He looked down and there it was. Eye contact. Perfection.

His hands were huge and with the force of his weight behind the punch, I felt the inside of my cheek split open against my teeth as his fist connected with the side of my face. It was exquisite. It had always felt good before, but never this good. I looked up at him again, taking my time now, and smiled, feeling the delicious iron warmth of my own blood coating my teeth and pooling around my gums. The knife could stay where it was for the time being. This one was too good to waste on a blade. This one deserved my hands.

He hit me again and I stood still, licking the blood from my lips. Stronger than I looked with a surprising ability to absorb impact and a distorted perception of pain, I savoured the moment when he realised that I wasn’t going to go down as easily he had first assumed. At his size, he must have been used to taking people out with one punch, two at a push, but I was still standing, still smiling. He was stunned into inaction as I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and launched myself at him, equal parts unstoppable force and immovable object.

I usually lose myself in the fight, running on autopilot until I end it, but this time I was deliciously present for the entirety. The most pronounced difference from my other encounters was that I was holding back, not enough for him to knock me out, but enough to let him do more damage than I normally allow. I couldn’t help myself. It didn’t normally feel this good. By the time he slammed my back against the wall, I was almost ready to let him finish me if he wanted to. He grabbed my wrists, lifted my hands above my head and held me with a grip like steel chains. I made no effort to move though. If it had been anyone else I would’ve been kicking like a mule, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t stop looking at him. His face was a mess and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man? Are you fucking enjoying this?”. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as he spoke. I wanted nothing more than to taste it.

“Why? Are you?”. I tilted my head, raised an eyebrow, flexed my hands in his grip, then relaxed, my whole body loosening and resting against the wall, the knife in my waistband completely forgotten.

“I . . . I  don’t . . . what the fuck is this? What do you want?”. He let go of my wrists but didn’t move back.

Slowly, I reached up and lightly trailed a finger through the blood on his cheek, at the corner of his mouth, on his chin. He didn’t look away, even when I held my finger to my lips to feel his blood mix with mine on my tongue.

It was one of those rare experiences where time stands still and you step outside of yourself and watch from something like another dimension, a not-quite-physical plane overlaid on top of the reality you’ve spent your whole life in up until that moment. It’s such a cliché but a few seconds really can stretch out to feel like an eternity of high-definition slow motion with a sudden understanding that there is truly something of yourself outside of your body and your senses. It makes you think in first-person and second-person and third-person, in cause and consequence. It confuses your concept of past and present and it feels like an ending and a beginning and an entire turn of the wheel all at once. And the most wonderful and terrible thing about it is, you get to share it with another person knowing that neither of you should have ended up here in the first place, but through a collision of accident and decision, you did. And here you both are, watching yourselves and each other from outside and inside and before and after, waiting for whatever comes next.

“So”, I said, breaking the silence, “Same time next week?”.


About the photo
Another one from the archives. It was a make-up test for a ‘Glasgow smile’ so not entirely in keeping with the details of the story but weirdly the only photo I have of an injured male face that isn’t full-on horror style make-up.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

I will follow the teacher [Flash fiction prompt: Virgin/HB pencil]

Flash fiction prompts 22 (virgin) and 23 (HB pencil) have been combined in this story cause it was a weird challenge to combine those two things and I also don’t want to get behind on my days. I had to take a break yesterday because I’d slept a total of 5 hours out of the previous 63 and I’d forgotten how to word.

Content warning: This story is set in a cult. It’s not any specific cult and I was very careful not to attach it to any kind of existing religion. There are suggestions of the creepy culty stuff going on, cause that’s the point of the story, but no descriptions of anything. 

i-will-follow-the-teacher

Anna

I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve been in here. I was trying to keep track but it’s difficult because sometimes they wake me up when it’s dark outside and then I’m tired so I sleep when there’s light coming through the shutters. I remember it being seventy-four days the last time I was sure but now it could be a hundred or more. I don’t know and they won’t tell me. They said I had to stop asking because it didn’t matter. They said it was right that I was in here, that the Teacher had told them to keep me away from everyone else until I stopped being bad. I would never dare to say this out loud, not until I’m far away from here, but the Teacher is full of crap.

 

Emily

I was really little when we first came to live on the farm. We were given our own house for me and my mum and my big sister Anna. My dad didn’t come with us. It was exciting because there were so many people living on the farm and lots of other children to play with. We had school where we learned about the Teacher and how he’s going to save us and we were allowed to play outside in the field as long as we were good. We made up games and even though we were always quiet like we were told to be, it was fun. We helped with the cooking too. We set the tables for meals and did some of the washing up afterwards. The grown-ups even taught us about how to grow our own food. The Teacher always said we had to know how to do these things because it helped us to serve him.

They made us wear funny clothes, not like the ones I remember having before. Girls weren’t allowed to wear trousers which annoyed me at first because I missed my jeans but then Anna showed me that my dress was just like hers and I didn’t mind so much. Anna was so pretty and clever and I wanted to be just like her. When she put on her long white dress, I told her she looked like a beautiful angel and she helped me get dressed so I could be an angel too. She looked a little bit scared, but I think she was trying not to. It reminded me of way she used to look when Mum and Dad shouted at each other downstairs and she told me not to cry because she would look after me. I believed her because she played lots of sports in school so she could run fast and she was very strong. And Anna never, ever lied to me.

She got in trouble though and had to go away, which made me sad. I cried a lot but Mum looked frightened and said I mustn’t cry, that the Teacher knew best and Anna had been bad. I don’t know what happened but I heard Mum talking to one of the Teacher’s High Helpers and they said Anna’s name and the name of a boy she had been friends with. The High Helper said lots of things I didn’t understand and Mum kept saying sorry. She even said that what Anna and Jared had done was her fault because she hadn’t taught Anna the right way to be before we came to live on the farm. The High Helper said all girls must be virgins until the Teacher invites them into womanhood himself. I didn’t know what that meant but I hoped I was a virgin because I didn’t want to be sent away too.

After Anna left, we weren’t allowed to talk about her at all. We weren’t even allowed to say her name. Any time I asked about her Mum looked scared and told me to be quiet. I didn’t want Mum to be scared anymore so I stopped asking. Some of the other grown-ups started coming to our house in the evenings to talk to Mum but I wasn’t allowed to stay so I sat in my bedroom and drew pictures with the special pencils Anna had kept in a tin under her bed. I wanted to draw pictures of Anna but I knew that would be bad so I drew pictures of the Teacher and the farm instead. Next to my pictures, I wrote some of the things the Teacher said, about how he would save us and how much he loved us.  One day I brought my pictures downstairs to show to Mum and one of the High Helpers was there. He said I was a very special little artist and he even borrowed one of my drawings to show to the Teacher. I was so proud! I thought Anna would be proud too. And I hoped this meant I was a virgin.

 

Anna

I have no idea where Jared is and of course they won’t tell me that either. At the start, right after they put me in here, they told me Jared had been taken for purification but that’s all I know. I asked if I could go with him but they said no, that my purification would be different and I had to wait for the Teacher to decide how best to do it. I know what they think we did but we didn’t do it, we really didn’t. We might have done it if they hadn’t found us, but we didn’t. I’m scared for Jared but I’m more scared for Emily. She’s so young and I know she’s started to believe all this, just like Mum. When Mum said we were going to live somewhere Dad couldn’t find us, I was relieved. I figured I’d stick it out wherever we ended up until I was eighteen then I’d leave but I don’t think this is the kind of place they let you leave.

One of the High Helpers came by earlier and told me that the Teacher had asked for my presence tomorrow. I’m not stupid so I know it wasn’t really a request and I don’t get to say no but I swear to every god anyone ever made up, I am not letting that bastard purify me. We did self-defence classes in school and I’ve seen enough films about fighting to have at least some idea of how to get away. I just need to wait until I’m on my own with him and then I’m going to do it. I’ve been eating everything they’ve given me while I’ve been in here and I’ve been doing my exercises as often as I can so I know I’m still strong. And more than that, I’m really, really angry.

 

Emily

The Teacher came to our house to talk to me today. Not to talk to Mum, just me, on my own. He said the High Helper had shown him my picture and he immediately knew that I had potential and could be one of his Companions when I’m a grown-up lady if I want to. He told me I had lots to learn while I was growing up and that he would teach me himself as long as I promised to keep what happened in our lessons secret. I recited for him, “The Teacher know best, The Teacher knows all, I will follow the Teacher and answer his call”. He looked happy and said I was a good girl. Mum came in just before the Teacher left and she looked happy too. I was glad Mum was happy.

That night I was so excited I lay awake in bed for ages but I must have fallen asleep because I remember waking up later. At first I thought I was dreaming because Anna was sitting on the edge of the bed. She had blood on her clothes and in her hair and her dress was ripped so it felt like a bad dream and I was scared. Then she put her finger to her lips so show that I should be quiet and she held my hand so I knew it was all real.

“Emily”, she whispered, “Remember I said I would look after you? Well, you have to trust me now. We’re going to go outside and we’re going to run but you have to be quiet and you must not let go of my hand. It’s all going to be OK but you have to run with me as fast as you can and not stop or look behind you, not until I tell you it’s safe. Then I’ll explain everything, I promise. Can you do that?”.

I nodded, got out of bed as quietly as I could and followed her. The moon was big and round in the sky. I ran as fast as I could, I only looked straight ahead and I didn’t let go of Anna’s hand because my big sister never, ever lied to me.


About the photo
I was thinking about how to express the concept of willing capture and came up with this idea. It felt weirdly familiar but I couldn’t work out why. Then I realised I’d already taken this photo. Years ago. Clearly the effects of sleep deprivation haven’t entirely worn off yet.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Landmarks [Flash fiction prompt: Cut and paste]

Flash fiction prompt 21 was another challenge to write from a perspective that is nothing like anything I have ever experienced or will ever experience. Having grown up literally never hearing the words “When you get married”, I tripped and fell in love with my best friend when I was twenty and got married when I was twenty one. In spite of the impression that may be given by all the dodgy relationships that seem to come up in my writing, we’re still happily married fifteen years later.

landmarks

From one man’s house to another man’s house, handed over, cut and pasted. Given away. Isn’t that the tradition? My father gives me away to my husband. I stop being one man’s responsibility and become another’s. The crazy thing is, I never even questioned it. This is just what happens. People do this every day, thousands, millions of people and it just is what it is.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about when I would get married. Not if, but when. Because there was never any question. It was simply what was expected of me. It’s what she did. It’s what her mother did. It’s what every other woman I know has done or will do. My mother has also talked a lot about when I will have children. Again not if, but when. Because I don’t really have a choice in the matter. Get married, have children.

Of course there are other steps that must be elegantly danced through. Go to school, go to university, be accomplished. Be beautiful, get married, move into a big house filled with furniture I don’t really want, have children I don’t really want. Go on expensive holidays to places I have no interest in, attend events on my husband’s arm like a sweetly smiling decoration. Spend money, make sure people know how much money I spend without ever specifically telling them. Don’t age, stay thin, stay perfect.

I’m well aware of the bubble of privilege I’ve grown up in. Obviously I have little practical experience of life outside the bubble but I know it exists and I know I’m on the inside.  “Don’t you know how lucky you are?” was my parents’ favourite retort on the odd occasion when I dared to express distaste at anything that was expected of me. I learned to do as I was told because I did know how lucky I was. I do know.

It’s not that I have a vision for a different life. The truth is, I can’t even imagine a different life, not really. I’ve grown up with this, all of this, around me and within me forever and it’s all I know. I am part of it, it is part of me and this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. When I look back on my life so far, all I see is a neat row of landmarks, reached at precisely the right time. Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a thread in a tapestry of someone else’s creation. I might be a bright golden thread but only because that’s what someone else made to suit their purpose.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I feel sorry for myself because I don’t, not at all. I’ve had everything I could ever have asked for, apart from choice. Perhaps choice is overrated and the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed really is the best option but just for once I would like to know what it feels like to decide something for myself. I don’t even know what I want beyond what I’ve been told I should want.

I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that I’m somehow ungrateful for not wanting all of this, for not wanting you. And it’s not that I don’t want you. I don’t want you to take this personally because it really isn’t personal. Everyone I know has told me countless times how lucky I am to be marrying you. Handsome you. Rich you. Charismatic, educated, taking over the family business one day you. And you’re so genuinely lovely, so kind and polite and interesting. If we’d just met somewhere along paths that happened to converge and got to know each other, maybe we would be together anyway. But it didn’t happen like that. It’s not an arranged marriage but it may as well be.

I wonder if anyone has ever asked you if you were happy, if you wanted this. Did your father ever ask how you felt about being moulded into another version of him? Did you ever get to choose which subjects you studied? Did anyone ever ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? If they did, what was your answer? Do you love me, really, deep down in the pit of your soul? Did you propose to me because your heart sang every time you saw my face or heard my voice and you couldn’t imagine waking up in the morning without me next to you? Did you choose that ridiculously huge diamond ring because you imagined me crying with joy when you slid it onto my finger or simply because a ridiculously huge diamond rind was what you knew you were supposed to choose?

When I think about tomorrow, I feel nothing but a profound emptiness. At my final dress fitting, my mother cried. I didn’t. I didn’t react at all. I said nothing. She thought I was just so happy that I couldn’t find the words to express my joy at the sight of my own reflection. I couldn’t find any words at all. None of the details of tomorrow were really anything to do with my desires because I didn’t have any. I knew what I was supposed to want, what I was supposed to like, what I was supposed to choose.

I’m not naïve enough to think that by doing this I’m giving you an unexpected gift of freedom. Of course I’m not. You will be embarrassed. Our families will be embarrassed. A lot of money will be wasted but the humiliation will be more meaningful than money because money is endless but scandal has power.

I’m sorry if this hurts you in whatever way you might be hurt. I don’t believe your heart will be broken. I don’t believe you will be alone for long. I honestly do believe you will be fine. And I know I will be too, but not like this. I’m sorry I waited until now to do this but I couldn’t have done it before. I needed to be right at the edge, looking down, before I could truly understand that instead of jumping or standing passively waiting to be pushed, I could just turn around and walk away.

I wish you the best, I really do. I wish you every good thing that I know will come your way. I hope that one day someone asks you what you want and that you can answer with your own truth. More than anything, I hope you can find your truth. I hope I can find mine. I know exactly what I’m walking away from but I also know that I need to start searching and I need to start now. I can’t wait until it’s too late. I can’t wait until I’m weighed down by regret and missed opportunities.

The sun is coming up and I need to go. The boat is waiting. The world is waiting.

Goodbye.


About the photo
This photo was taken from a boat, although it was sunset rather than sunrise. It was taken when I was leaving the place where I grew up, although not when I was leaving it for the first time. And my husband was sitting beside me at the time, not reading a letter detailing why I was running away from him.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Curare [Flash fiction prompt: Planned]

Flash fiction prompt 20 and it felt like time for something dark again. The title comes from a poison, just one of the things that are making my internet search history extra weird at the moment.

The story is as twisted as you’d expect of something named after a poison that paralyses but doesn’t prevent the conscious experience of physical sensation, but there’s no actual description of anything violent. I guess content warning for impending murder?

curare

This one is my favourite. It’s very old. It belonged to my father and his father before him. I suppose you could say it’s a family heirloom, although it was never technically passed down to me. I just kind of borrowed it when he didn’t need it any more. I don’t think it’ll be missed though and I’ll use it for much more interesting things than he ever did. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The handle is hand-carved and blade is still so shiny and new looking, even after all these years. I’ve sharpened it especially for tonight, especially for you.

This one isn’t quite so significant in terms of its history, but it was very expensive. I assume that will appeal to you because you always seemed to prefer things with price tags that would make other people gasp. If you ask me, you preferred them because the price tags made other people gasp. It has a high carbon steel blade and I’m sure it’ll reassure you to know it’s the kind all the best chefs use.

This one is an absolute delight, don’t you think? The pattern in the blade means that everything it cuts looks extra special. It’s called a decorating knife. I know it’s not strictly necessary and it was probably a bit of a frivolous purchase, if I’m honest, but I couldn’t resist.

The fillet knife, however, is completely necessary. It looks so delicate but it’s surprisingly flexible and ever so useful. It’s meant for fish but I got the biggest one I could find and I think it’ll do nicely. Besides, I know you’ll appreciate my creativity in using tools for purposes other than those for which they were intended.

Isn’t this one lovely? It looks like a regular cleaver but it’s actually a Chinese chef’s knife and it can be used for everything from cutting to smashing to tenderising. It’s really very versatile so I think we’ll get a lot of use out of it this evening.

Oh, I’m so excited! I’ve been looking forward to this for absolutely ages and I do love preparing surprises, especially for people who deserve them. And you really do deserve this one. I’ve been planning everything so carefully, right down to the tiniest detail. I had the most fun researching chemicals and getting hold of what I needed was surprisingly easy—it’s amazing what money can do. It’s very important to me that you stay conscious and even though you won’t be able to talk to me, you’ll be able to hear me talking to you and I’ll be sure to keep you informed of everything that’s going on. I’ll even help to keep you breathing so you can stay alive for as long as possible.

I understand that you might not enjoy all of this quite as much as I will but I’ll do my best to enjoy it enough for both of us. I know you can’t really open your eyes at the moment—one of the unfortunate side effects of the drugs coursing through your veins—but I’ll be very gentle when I lift your eyelids to show you which knife I’m going to use for each part.

I’d love to say this won’t hurt a bit but that would entirely defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? You lied to me so often but I’m going to be the bigger person and be completely honest with you. This will hurt. Every single second of it will hurt. It will hurt more than anything you have ever experienced in your life. I like to think that if we added up all the pain you’ve caused me over the years, we’d be even. Try to think of it as justice. Poetic justice. Redressing the balance. You see, I’m really just an agent of karma and you must know you’ve had this coming for a very long time.

Now, shall we get started?


About the photo
I promise this knife has never been used to torture or kill anyone. It’s pretty though.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.