In the process…processed!

The red pen of doom!Well, following the wee flash fiction contest last week, we’ve had three brave entrants: Helena Mallett, Katie Charlotte and Caleb Holland. I hugely enjoyed reading all three entries – which were vastly different from one another – and I think it would be a little churlish to try and give a first, second and third position to the pieces that our lovely writers produced. Instead, I’m going to reblog them here with a few comments on what I loved, and what I didn’t love so much, about each piece. I’m an editor in my day job, so I’m falling back on what I know. Sue me, I’m sleepy ;)

First up, Helena Mallett’s teeny, weeny nano-fiction:

Untitled – © Helena Mallett July 2012

There’s a kinda eerie fog hanging over the city as I dress to leave.
He sleeps.
He snores.
The bed creaks croakily under his bullying bulky frame.
I pad towards the porch, panther-like, hunting my prey of freedom at last. I even remember to breathe when the lock springs open and I feel the moment pause, before his hand shuts my mouth and I’m thrown headlong in front of the car, and everything goes black.

What I didn’t love: I wasn’t keen on the word ‘kinda’ in the first sentence and I’d echo an earlier comment suggesting that “creaks croakily” is somewhat redundant, despite the alliteration. I also feel that the panther metaphor – “pad”, “panther-like”, “hunting my prey” – is a bit overdone. I’d have just gone with “pad towards the porch, hunting my freedom at last.” – it’s a good image.

What I love: I really enjoyed the brevity and the structure of this piece, which seemed designed for maximum impact: the short second and third sentences help to lull the reader into what turns out to be a false sense of security before the unexpected twist at the end. I loved that Mallett avoids going for the obvious conclusion of a successful escape – that’s the key to a really decent nano-fiction: surprise!

When the lights go green © Katie Charlotte 2012

I long for freedom.

Freedom from this grey metropolis where the fog hangs thick and heavy, hiding the world from me. The lights won’t guide me, they keep me trapped here, they keep me in the dark. Every towering building is another blockade, I cannot reach the skies. All I have ever wanted to do is soar, to touch heaven.

From up there, this city would lose its greatness, its vastness. This city would be nothing; just another scar on the skin of the earth, where all the filth and the dirt and the grime gathers. Gathers and suffocates. All the little people, leading their little lives, pretending to be so god damn big.

On the ground, I am one of them. One face in a sea of thousands. I live the same life as all the rest. I wake up, I go to work, I come home. I sleep, dream. Then it all starts again. Every day is the same.

Sometimes, in the office, I will look out of my window. Across the street, a young woman sits in an office like mine, with its bare walls and grubby carpets. I don’t know her, I never will. We skirt around the fringes of each other’s worlds – worlds that are grey and lifeless, worlds that never really touch. But she sits behind the glass, in a cage just like mine… and I know we share the same dreams.

We’re both dreaming of the same skies. We’re both longing for freedom.

Every morning I sit in my car, waiting for the lights to go green. But they’re on red, always on red. I never move. I just wait, patiently, just like everyone else. Always like everyone else.

But every time, it runs through my mind, that maybe this is the day. The day I make my break for freedom. I see the lights go green, I grip the wheel, rev the engine; and I leave this city behind me, choking on my exhaust fumes. I forget my responsibilities, the family that surrounds me, the man I made my vows to, the children I have raised. I was meant for more than this, I deserve more than this.

Surely, I deserve more than this!?

But when the lights go green, I do none of these things. When the lights go green, I do the same thing that I’ve done every day and I tell myself: “not today, maybe tomorrow… maybe tomorrow you’ll have the courage…”

One day, I will have the courage to pull down the walls I never chose to build. One day the lights will shine and take me to where I’ve always wanted to be. One day the fog will lift and I will be able to breathe. One day I will soar.

I will find my freedom.

Hell, I might even ask that woman, in the office like mine, the dreamer just like me, if she’d like to come too.

What I didn’t love: The first thing that jumped out at me – perhaps unfairly, was the dreaded combined exclamation/question mark! It’s a bug-bear of mine and I think it really strips away the drama of the narrator’s question. The same goes for the ellipsis points – punctuation nit-picking, here!

What I love: I really loved how captivating the imagery was in this piece – I could actually imagine looking down on the world and seeing cities, which seem so vast, as nothing more than scars on the Earth. I really felt the alienation of the narrator, and I loved the apparent step away from hetero-normative pairings in escape fantasies of this kind.

Untitled © Caleb Holland July 2012

The dank mist rolled in during the night. It was about four when
people started rising from their beds. Eyes wide and unfocused, they
walked into the streets. Marching unevenly down residential
staircases, walking unshod and half dressed.

Sammi gaped as one hundred adults wearing pyjamas walked past the
incident in a line. Usually at a fire you get bystanders staring, but
none of these people even took a sideways glance at the blaze, they
just trudged forwards eyes dead ahead. She mentally shrugged it off,
took a deep breath into her respirator and took a few steps closer to
the blazing building. She raised her high pressure water cannon up and
gripped it tightly.

The sleep walkers filled the pavements and spilled into the streets.
The traffic had all stopped. Upon closer inspection they weren’t
stopped in wonder, but the drivers had the same glassy expression as
the walkers. Some walkers clambered into the vehicles, motions slow
and stiff.

In fact, all the people were clambering into cars, orderly, precisely,
with no pushing and no confusion. Taxis, police cars, busses, pickup
trucks and every other kind of vehicle, all were filled with people,
every last seat.

Moving out of the city the roads were becoming clogged. The cars and
busses were moving slowly, calmly, sedately. There was no revving of
engines and no impatient tailgating. An eerie calm settled on the
road. The drivers shunned the traffic lights, moving slowly and
constantly, leaving space for traffic from minor roads to join the
freeway smoothly, without need for stopping and starting.

The madness of the waking sleep would take the drivers onwards towards
a mystery destination. The only clues to the direction of their
uncanny migration were the road signs that they were passing. Arkham
turnpike, 12 miles.

What I didn’t love: I have to be honest, this piece has edged its way into my number one spot – it’s right up my street. Like the other two pieces, there isn’t really much that I’d change – a few of the sentences are a teeny bit clunky and could stand to be chopped down, and I’d like to know more about how the fire is connected to the mass exodus, if at all.

What I love: It was the sheer weirdness of this story that caught me: a female fire-fighter (not weird, just unusual!) is putting out a fire and spots a mass exodus of people heading for a destination, the significance of which is unknown. The contrast between the odd behaviour and the calm way that the actions are described left me thinking about this story long after I’d finished reading.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the brave individuals who submitted their work here! It’s been such a pleasure to read them, and to see the wide variety of ideas that can come from a single prompt.

To everyone else, please do take the time to go and have a look at these writers’ blogs – they’re well worth a read!



In the process…

At the moment, I’ve got about five unfinished short stories on the go – all really different from one another. It’s frustrating to have so much unfinished but, at the same time, it means that I can find something to write about no matter what mood I’m in. Heavens, small mercies etc.!

One of the longer short stories is based on a couple of photos I’ve got in my visual prompts folder – both of which have been featured on here before. I thought it might be fun to share those with you and see what you can come up with using the  two photos together. I won’t tell you what my story’s about because I’m curious as to how you’ll interpret the images!

If you do write something, let me know in the comments! In fact, consider it a little competition – I’ll repost my favourites here, if I get a few entries, with some comments :)

Closing date for entries is Sunday, 29th July – have fun, everyone!

Mist covered cityStreetlights by Sourpatch

Visual writing prompt #10 – departures

Streetlights by Sourpatch

Just a single photo this time – I spotted this picture on Flickr and couldn’t resist sharing it.

Taken by Flickr user, Sourpatch007, aka Elana, this beautiful photograph (called “Street Lights”, so you can see how I came across it!) captures a lot of the feelings I’ve been having recently about travelling, transitions and departures.

I think it’s the uncertainty of the image that I like the most. Is it dawn or dusk, or just a dark, rainy afternoon? Is the photographer (or subject, if you’re going to image a story from it) coming or going? They’re headed somewhere – there are green lights up ahead – but where? Why is there so much traffic? Is the picture being taken during a quiet and relaxed moment in the middle of rush-hour chaos or could it be something more? Perhaps the subject is trying to get away and is being held back by all those cars up ahead.

To me, the muted colours of the image under a yellow filter, the indistinct shapes and the tiny drops of rain suggest a sad departure, perhaps the last view of a much-loved city as the subject of our imagined story leaves for who knows how long. I love how the line of traffic and the suspended traffic signals seem to curve up around the sky, cradling the blue-green and the clouds. So beautiful, and yet such innocuous subject matter.

I love this picture.

Photo shared with kind permission of Elana – aka Sourpatch007.

Our lady of the streetlight II

He decided to wait for her one night. He wasn’t sure what he’d say to her, or whether he’d say anything at all.

He reached the bench by the lamp post just as the lights had started to flicker pink.  Kicking an empty can away into the road, he sat down gingerly and picked at a curl of paint that was coming away like bark. There was no real sunset, just a quick deepening of the murk that had hung over the whole day.

The wind had started to bite now and the last of the late commuters were leaving the city, their headlights on full beam. Leaning forwards, he squinted at the can that he’d kicked earlier, peeping over the edge of the kerb at him. It rocked noisily as a car passed too close, clattering against the concrete, and he sat back.

He pressed his back against the cold painted wood and tipped his chin back, baring his face and neck to the streetlight above him, vivid orange.

To his left, she stood quietly, her anorak cheap and oily in the harsh light.


[Not so much a continuation of Our Lady of the Streetlight, more a snippet of a story set in the same context]