Short Story: Spring Spirit, pt. 1

It’s been a little while since I last posted on the blog.  As I work to reclaim my writing life, I went back to a writing exercise that’s been inspirational for me in the past.  Here’s part one of the story that resulted.

If anyone else wants to try making a story with the same parameters, I’d love to read it!  Post the link or story in the comments section.  : )

My challenge:

Use at least 10 of the 20 words chosen at random from A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham: lucky, convincing, bluffing, red, cross, board, insisted, modesty, rose, flayed, effort, stalked, gratitude, recognized, fingers, reminds, offer, generations, conjurings, envy, crocus, strangled, branches

Spring Spirit

The crocuses had just begun to show, green and new, amid the dead leaves and the remnants of the last snowstorm.  Dahlia couldn’t help the feeling of gratitude that rose in her when she saw them, despite what they signaled.

That night, Dahlia woke up to fingers gripping her arm and a strangled whisper in her ear.  Whose conjurings had originally brought forth this ghost, she didn’t know, but as sure as spring came every year, this frantic spirit returned and stalked her nighttime hours.

This year, Dahlia vowed, would be the last.  She took out a spirit board and placed her hands lightly on the planchette.  “I will do whatever it takes to help you,” she offered.  “Tell me what you need.”

What came through in the series of swipes across the alphabet on the board held no hint of gratitude or modesty.  The spirit laid out instructions and insisted they be followed to the letter.

Dahlia spoke words she didn’t recognize and blew out a candle as she stepped into a design she’d drawn in chalk on her kitchen floor.  A cold wind blew through her.  This is it, she thought.  The end.

In front of Dahlia, a woman appeared, dressed in a tattered gray dress and wearing a smirk on her red lips.

The cold didn’t leave Dahlia, but instead seemed to deepen until it was all she felt.  Dahlia looked down and realized she could not see her own body.  She spoke, and the voice was only in her own head.

“It took me three generations to figure out how to escape the spirit realm and find humanity again,” the woman in gray said.  “I wonder how long it will take you.”  She laughed and Dahlia felt a sinking feeling.  She clutched at the woman who slept in her bed, clawed her way into the woman’s dreams, found ways to move small objects, but none of it helped.

When spring turned to summer and the days were hot, Dahlia’s power to affect the world dwindled.  She knew she had to wait for the crocuses to reappear.  Until then, she would watch and listen.  She would speak to other spirits, if she could, and ask after this strange curse.   

TO BE CONTINUED…………To read Part 2, click here

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Flash Fiction: The Toad

I didn’t have a chance to work on some of my extended projects this weekend, but I did work on a new flash fiction piece, drawing on the following list of words for inspiration:

rotting, trapped, slab, faith, paradise, mangle, toad, match, wolf, lamb, ginger snap, nursing, bones, newts, bathtub, abroad, protectors, lodging, elapsed, diminished, married, confidence, indulgence, welcome, ragged, mysteries, lively, intelligent

Words selected from Life Studies and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell (1964) and Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell, Penguin Edition (2004)

*

The Toad

            The feeling had diminished, whatever it was.  Earlier, she had felt it crouched inside her: a lumpy toad, spreading a rancid chill amongst her organs.  It was, she supposed, a type of depression.  There were strains, too, of anger.  There were hints of loneliness and undertones of dissatisfaction.

Harriet had given lodging to the toad.  What choice had she had?  Yet, she’d left the door to the creature’s abode open, to try to tempt it to leave.

Time had elapsed, and the toad had left her abdomen and had hopped onto the kitchen counter, where it watched her preparing dinner.  It sneered at the french fries as she poured them, frozen, but still greasy, onto the pan.  Under its intelligent eyes, she felt guilty for the indulgence.

After the terrible meal, her stomach had become a slab, and the toad hopped to it and settled there once more, and he made her feel cold and little afraid, so she ran a bath for herself: hot with fragrant bubbles.  These were enough to make the toad unsure of his welcome, and he once again departed from her, though he didn’t go far.  He sat on the vanity and peered down at her obscured, but naked form in the bathtub.  Harriet felt sure that none of her mysteries were secret to him, and saw that his eyes were more lively than she had hitherto realized.

Regarding the toad from tub and meeting his liquid eyes, she felt herself warming to him.  Might he not be a protector?  A supernatural gift?  A benign influence bent on nursing her back to health?  It might only have been her own bleak feelings which had initially framed him as a bad omen.

Reading her thoughts, the toad launched himself down to her from the vanity, and perched his squishy body upon the edge of the tub.  Next, he would slip down into the water.  Harriet felt a quiver of apprehension at that, a wavering of her confidence.  Why had the great beyond sent her a toad, after all?  Why not a wolf, or a lamb?  Why was her familiar a creature so universally known for ugliness—a creature whose only defense mechanisms are camouflage and peeing into the mouths of predators?

The toad read these thoughts in Harriet’s eyes and turned, launching himself onto the bathroom rug and exiting the room.  When Harriet stood, toweled herself dry, and peered into the hallway, she was alone.  The toad had gone, punishing her for her lack of faith.  Who knew what he might have been, if she had been patient?

Harriet felt a new heaviness settle inside her, as yet unfamiliar.  She vowed that she would not be so careless with this entity.  She would guard her thoughts.  She would strive to be grateful.  She would hold back any desire to cringe at an unexpected form.  She would kneel at the knee of this new shape, and she would study its lessons and recite its mantras.

As she made these fervent promises, the new creature lifted its head from its coils, and Harriet reached out a hand, free of trembling, to stroke its scales.

*

If you liked “The Toad,” please take a look at my other works of flash fiction, “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”  

Flash Fiction: “Just in Case”

I decided to try another flash fiction story.  These have been helping me to focus my writing brain before working on some on some of my ongoing projects.  I departed from Robert Frost for my inspirational words this week, and pulled two other, much-loved books off of the shelf.  I hope you enjoy–if you’re minded to try the challenge of writing a 150-word story using at least ten of the twenty words below, I’d love to see your story in the comments section!

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: shook, colors, rattling, discontent, name, bells, chill, tattoo, moaned, scratched, winding, gallantry, commands, deserved, warming, grinning, iron, cage, wicked, inheritance

Words are taken from Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Just in Case

In the dim light of the party, he’s grinning at her.  She’s warming to him, though her eye drifts to the tattoo on his arm: an iron cage with its door wide open.  It chills her; there’s something wicked about it.

He offers his name: John.  Perfectly ordinary.  He is all gallantry, getting her another drink, asking about her life.

Still, the warning bells sound.  But perhaps they are wrong.  She’s been on edge so long, ever since her sister disappeared.  Since then, her environment has degenerated into flashing signs: Warning!  Caution!  Yet away from the alarming colors of the outside world, there is only dull discontent.  Part of her has been caged, and now it scratches at the lock, wanting.

John runs a hand down her arm.  He asks her, low and charming.  As she follows, she sticks her hand in her purse, feeling the outline of the knife.

* * *

If you liked “Just in Case,” I hope you’ll check out my other two flash fiction stories, “The Song in the Night” and “The Arrangement.”

Another Flash Fiction Story: “The Arrangement”

I had a lot of fun with the challenge of the 150-word flash fiction story last week, and I wanted to try again.  There’s something really rewarding about whittling down the story to its core.  What do you think?

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: ladder, witness, prefer, alarm, kissed, clutches, seldom, orchard, excavated, arrangement, shrinking, heart, scythe, surrounding, tendency, mischief, misgivings, satisfy, drops, faithful

All words are taken from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem

Fall

The Arrangement

The wooden ladder lay abandoned in the orchard, soaking in the dew.   No sign of Lucy.  Peter fought his alarm.

Often, they had kissed and shared tender clutches under the apple trees, but when Peter spoke of marriage, Lucy shook her head.  Still, Peter was faithful.  

She was supposed to meet him here.

Heart full of misgivings, Peter approached Lucy’s home.  Her father was just exiting.

“Morning.”

He turned.  “Peter?  Bit early to call.”

“Is Lucy inside?”

“Haven’t seen her.  Must’ve risen early to pick apples.”

“Yes, sir.  Only, I came through the orchard—she’s not there.”

A shadow crossed his face.

They searched.  When Lucy’s father saw a ribbon speared on a branch, he sank to his knees.

“It’s my fault, Peter.  I made an arrangement.  I signed his book, in drops of blood—he gave me money for the farm.  Said in eighteen years, he’d take his payment.”

* * *

If you liked this story, check out my first attempt, “The Song in the Night.”  If anyone would like to try this experiment with these words or some others, I’d love to see your results in the comments section!

The Six-Word Story

I was recently reminded of the existence of the six-word story.  One often attributed to Ernest Hemingway is:

“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The idea is to give the reader a sense of situation and emotion with extreme word economy.

 

Here are a few I came up with:

Grimly, she watched the wallet sink.  

“Careful!”  A horn blares.  Too late.  

Breathing fast, she jumped, arms outstretched.

They came home.  Debris was everywhere.

He leaned in.  She turned away.

 

What do these stories make you think of?  Do you have your own six-word story?  Post it here!