short story

Nonna’s Hands

I know she’s home
leaning on somebody loving life
all in my mind the anvil and the weight on my back

Ben Howard, ‘Small Things’

The Hordern Pavillion was not her favourite venue but the look on her face told me she was pleased at the turn out for this gig. Ben Howard had cancelled his original date and pushed back the performance two months, much to the disappointment of his fans. The venue’s website had said his set wouldn’t begin until 9:15 PM but when she walked into the general admission at 9:06 PM, he was already on stage, playing a song from the newest album: one she did not recognise. To be completely honest, she was here for ‘Black Flies’ and the rest was all very pleasant background noise.

The crowd was thick and milling, filled mostly with hipster men clasping plastic cups of beer and leaning their shaggy heads over hippy-styled girlfriends in chunky heels and superfluous hats. The room, a big hall with tiered seating on three sides and an expansive standing area all geared towards the stage. There was Ben, backlit and frontlit and all kinds of lit really, crooning away to his guitar, surrounded by more musical instruments than musicians to play them. The band was sizeable enough: a drummer at the back, keyboardist and various percussion instruments downstage right, bass player upstage right, lead guitarist upstage left and a woman alternating between cello, guitar and obscure oversized harmonica-pipe thing downstage left.

Making her way through the crowd, she was grateful for the decision to wear shoes with a hidden wedge heel. However, she was able to see little more than the lighting rig and dozens of smart phones jutting up from the crowd. Ten years ago, people at live music gigs would have had considerably less sore arms, I suppose.

Alessa made herself comfortable in the front row of a section of seats that were completely unoccupied. She had been sitting there enjoying the last five songs when a lanky young man with thick-framed glasses and a patchy beard plopped into the seat beside her, legs splayed out front and arms stretched lazily across each chair back. Alessa surveyed his shoes: beaten up black Vans. They were in no better condition than the shredded hems of his tight-fitting jeans with a tear in one knee.

“You couldn’t have sat somewhere else? Anywhere else?” she snapped, gesturing at the empty seats around them.

It was as if he moved in slow motion, removing his glasses and angling his head to look down his long nose at her. Even his voice was slow. “Sugar, you just looked so utterly lonely.”

Alessa couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. “Sugar? Surely, you have better lines than that?” There was something about how he said it that showed he’d never used a line before.

He made a face and replaced his glasses, making no effort to respect the personal space bubble. “I saved the best for you? Honestly, walking over here and sitting down was the hardest thing I’ve had to do all day.”

Alessa fixed him with a look, quirked eyebrow and pursed lips.

“All week. All month even.”

She sighed. “You need more stimulating things in your life,” she said, patting his leg sympathetically.

He shot her a sidelong glance. “I’m sure you’ll take care of that for me.”

Alessa laughed. “Oh, alright then, what’s your name?”

“Jason,” he replied with an easy albeit slightly crooked smile.

“Alessa.” (more…)

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The Collector (First Draft)

Blond hair flashed as she ran into the bedroom. The door banged against the frame. When he tried to edge inside, just to finish the conversation, she threw something at him. It shattered against the door where his head had been only moments before.
“Christina!” he yelled. “Are you trying to kill me?”
Another object smashed as it hit the door.
Brad pounded on the door. “Christina, let me in!”
There was no reply, only the sound of drawers opening and closing and the occasional sniff. Moments later he heard something scraping against the wooden floor until it stopped on the other side of the door.
That was it for Brad. He’d had it.

“Have you seen Annie and Mark Matherson lately?” said Shontay in her typically obnoxious drawl.
The women she was standing with tittered their denials.
Shontay smirked. She had them hooked now. “Well, last night I heard,” she began with a grandiose gesture to herself, “their little boy screaming of hours and hours. You know I live just next door? It was the loudest thing; I nearly called the police! But I don’t want to tell anyone how to parent their own child. My Olivia is doing just fine though.”
Shontay gestured towards the swing set where an eight-year-old girl, tall for her age with syrup coloured hair, was kicking her white sandalled feet out in front of her, trying to touch the sky. She watched Olivia whoop with delight then returned her gaze to her audience, a smug smile on her face. They however were no longer tittering with delight.
“Why didn’t you?” said the one with the short brown hair, a serious, almost appalled, expression on her face.
Shontay felt her smile slip just a little. “Why didn’t I what?”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” piped up the blond one. A few of them nodded in agreement. The brunette simply stared at her.
Shontay crossed her arms, clearly uncomfortable.
“You know that family, they let the boy stay up until all hours, give him anything he wants. Ice cream for breakfast! Have you ever heard such a thing? I thought he was just overtired.” Her expressive voice regained its theatricality with each word. “When Olivia was that age, if you didn’t put her down at 2 PM on the dot every day she was a thorn in my side until goodness knows when! I learned that one straight away. I’m sure you all had the same experience.”
As she swept her hand around the group, a few of them nodded.
Later that afternoon, Shontay was helping Olivia with a homework problem when she noticed the silence coming from next door. She went to warm up some malt milk in the kitchen and set up Olivia in the study with a glass, taking the rest over to the Mathersons’ for their unscrupulous little boy but when she knocked on the front door, she found it ajar. Thinking that was odd, Shontay called out for Annie and Mark. No reply came from within the house, although their red Hiyundai was parked in the driveway and the soft murmur of daytime television hummed through the windows of the loungeroom.
Shontay nudged the door open a crack, set the jug of malt milk drink on the hall table and started to poke around. She switched off the television set and picked up the cushions on the ground. There was an upended water glass on the carpet, which she put on one of the Monet souvenir coasters resting on the wooden coffee table.
Thinking she should soak up the spillage to prevent any mould from growing, Shontay set about to find the kitchen. The house had an eerie feel to it: it wasn’t exactly cold but there was an absence of life to it that felt the same as coldness did, as though it had been vacated for a while. In the dining room, the highchair was on its side, pees sprinkled across the ground.
Shontay passed the chair, paused over the mess and decided to move on. A small ball of panic knotted in her stomach. When she arrived at the kitchen, it was thankfully undisturbed. Shontay turned on the tap and reached for the tea towels hanging from the oven door. It was only as she was leaving that she saw the knifeblock and the handle with smallest smear of red on its pale wooden surface.

Brad finished his beer and slammed it on the counter top of the pub. After an hour or two he was hoping Christina would had cooled off enough to talk calmly with him. She was obviously being unreasonable about the whole situation. It was just a few bad deals at the insurance company, a maxed out credit card from her outrageous shopping habits…

On the fourth floor of a relatively small apartment block, the curtains twitched open just a crack. It was late at night. Danny didn’t know how late but sky was dark outside, the stars winking in the spare patches between clouds. His window looked out over the parking lot across the street and a few warehouses either side. It wasn’t much to stare at but he liked to count the number of white lines painted on the black tarmac and watch for birds or bats or rabbits.
Car headlights lit up the street and an old tan Ford slid into view. Danny pressed his ear to the glass, the faint sound of guitars and drums carried through the Ford’s open windows. When the car was parked, a women with a red Fedora got out, carrying a paper bag in one hand and a box propped on her hip.
A man strolled into view, caught sight of the woman and sped up, his hands deep in the pockets of a billowing overcoat. His footsteps echoed off the warehouse walls and the woman finally noticed him. She broke into a run towards Danny’s building and the man raced after her, the blade of a knife flashing in the orange glow of the streetlights. Danny gasped.
“Mum!” he yelled. “Mum! Mum!”
Not hearing any movement from his mother’s room, Danny pressed his hand to the glass then ran to get her.
“Danny, what? What are you doing still up?” She sat up, rubbing her eyes. Her hair stuck up and she reached to smooth it down. Danny grabbed her hand and dragged her to his room, all the while she protested, too dazed to be angry.
Danny shoved the curtains aside and pointed into the parking lot. His mother squinted seeing nothing.
“Danny, darling, go back to sleep. I don’t know what you’re worried about but everything is fine. It’ll beautiful and sunny in the morning, you’ll see. Go back to bed, sweetheart.” She ushered him under the covers, pulled the curtains closed and switched on the nightlight.
“Mum, can you stay a while?”
She smiled. “Sure, honey.” Danny moved over and she lay down beside him.
And then they heard the scream.

The shortcut Brad had decided to take passed through the local reserve. There was a playground with a swing set and slides, a broad grassy field and a path bordered by rocks that divided the sand and water from everything else. The beer Brad had taken with him was nearly empty; he took the last swig and bent down to leave the bottle jammed in the rocks.
Just as he stood a tiny flash of light caught his eye. It was a knife, a long wicked think with a pale wooden handle and a dirty blade. Crude but it would do the job.
Brad picked it up and surveyed it.
No. It couldn’t be that easy. But it would solve all of his problems. Christina was an only child from a wealthy father who’d passed away only a year ago. Her mother had died in childbirth and she had no extended family to speak of. No one would miss her.
No one would suspect… Not if he did it right.

“I want my mummy.” This was the voice of a child.
“Oh sweetie, it’s ok. I don’t know where your mummy is but I’ll take care of you until we find her,” said another voice. It was high-pitched and female, nurturing.
“I’m not sure we will find her.” That was a new voice, a young woman, all husk.
“What are you saying?”
“Where do you think we are?”
“I… I can’t… I don’t know. I don’t see anything.”
“It’s because we’re dead.”
“What’s dead?”
“Sh, sweetie. Give me a minute…
“If we’re dead then what is this place?!”
“Hell if I know! Man came after me with a knife and I was in a hell of a lot of pain. And then nothing.”
“Oh no. Brad, he finally did it… He killed me… My husband killed me for my money… And I was pregnant.”
“What’s dead?!” screamed the child.

Quelle Horreur!

My hands grip the steering wheel, twisting this way and that to hide the tremors and squeezing until my knuckles show white bone through the skin. The car is a small white hatchback model from ten years back. It’s old and grey on the interior and entirely unfamiliar. Beside me sits Casey. Alia and a young man who I assume is her boyfriend—but he’s not Manny and Manny is her boyfriend? (I quite like Manny but he’s much too old for her.)—occupy the backseat.

It’s hard to say where we are exactly. The area vaguely resembles the northbound side of the Bradfield Highway, nearing the exit to Military Road. I don’t remember ever crossing the Bridge though. For some reason I can’t turn my head to look behind me; my eyes are stuck staring straight ahead and the image in the rear-view mirror is blurry and indistinct. Why is this such a secret?

A giggle comes from the backseat as Alia strokes the man’s cheek. They murmur to each other, unaware of any impending danger.

My companion seems panicked. The blood has drained from Casey’s face and her eyebrows are high on her forehead. She squishes her hands between the seat and her thighs, nervous.

We’re going so fast now the car smashes on the concrete barricade between lanes, pulling some of the metal sheeting off the side panels. It is flung from the car and crashes to the bitumen, bouncing briefly as we ricochet off the divider into a car on the other side. Still travelling fast but not fast—it doesn’t feel fast at all. (Where is that sucked into the back of the seat feeling?)

Pieces of the car break off and fall away as the vehicle rebounds of obstruction after obstruction in a perilous zigzag, speed steadily increasing until I’m sure we’re out of control now. (Where we ever in control?)

We ascend the exit ramp and are supposed to veer right. Instead we continue through another concrete barricade and plummet to the strange, caged floor of a wall-less warehouse or shed. My chest expands with the falling sensation and when we land I feel nothing. No impact. The only change is the absence of the sense of my stomach entering my throat through a straw. There is no thump or bang. Not one of us is injured. Images of bloody head wounds and broken bones and glass and steam and the heat of fire fill my head anyway.

I lived.

Casey slams the passenger door and stalks away. The sound jolts me from my daze although I still don’t feel quite awake. (Awake? Am I asleep?) I spring out of the car, compelled to follow her. Her distress is palpable and catching.

“Are you okay?” I ask when I finally catch up to her. We are no longer in the strange empty factory and have somehow found ourselves on climbing the side of a grassy embankment. Yellow daisies wave thoughtlessly in the wind as I chase after her. I can’t help stepping on some and breaking their stems.

“Hey, Casey!” I call, reaching for her arm but when my fingertips graze the sleeve she yanks it away.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she shouts, whirling around to face me. So many thoughts seem to cross her mind, all of them fuelled by fury and fear . I think she might yell at me again but instead a darkness passes over her.

“Leave me alone.”

For a moment I watch her go; already a figure in the distance hunched against a temperatureless wind. Remembering Alia, I rush off to find her. She’s a ways off to my left, following her companion up the embankment.

“Alia! Alia!”

Shaking her hair away from her face to look at me, I see a smile on her lips but panic distorts expression and it becomes a mask.

“Where are you going?” Please don’t leave me alone.

Alia shrugs, the smile looks obscene, and gestures towards the boy- man- friend…He’s not Manny. I’m so confused.

 

Time passes in the space of nothingness.

I don’t know where I am but I’m running around and trying to figure out if it was all a dream.

The car.

The crash.

Casey.

Alia.

I feel like I haven’t heard from them in days. I think I try to call them. I’m convinced it wasn’t real. I have no idea where that car came from or how we would have survived the ordeal.

I can’t find Casey anywhere and isn’t Alia in Canberra? That’s where she lives. Why were we even in the car?

Casey isn’t answering her phone, like she might be mad at me. Or at work or busy. But it feels like she’s avoiding me.

I log on to Facebook and I think I see evidence of the car accident in status updates.

 

Jolting upright, I gasp. The panic dies down as I feel the soft sheets and the weight of the duvet. Knot my fingers in them as I slow my breathing and rapid heart rate.

It was a dream.

I snatch up my phone to call Casey but it rings out. That’s ok. She was going to sleep when we last spoke. I dial Alia’s number and listen to the rings. She’s surprised to hear from me. The conversation is awkward but she’s my best friend and I needed to check she is ok.

You’re Gonna Be Home Soon

Picture this: in a world where it’s every germ for themselves, the common cold is like a fierce army, equipped with swords and nuclear bombs alike, preparing to take on…the human body. They have three types of defence to make it through. The first consists of several kinds of barriers within the body; skin, mucus and cilia are like a castle’s walls with its moat and portcullis. In order for them to survive they need penetrate the walls and get inside where they will meet the second line of defence: the white blood cells. In the event a germ manages to make it through phagocytosis, they face a final battle against the mighty B and T cells.

Phase One:

They are sent flying through the air, the sneeze causing a mass exodus from the cushy confines of the nose. The world is really big, blurs of colour and sound, and they are so very small. If they don’t land where they need to be, it’s going to be another long sleep until someone brings them back again. They don’t want to go to sleep though. This sleep isn’t anything like a normal sleep. It’s like dying only to come back to life in some unknown future.

They fall into a bowl of peanuts.

“Here we go, boys! It’s like the ball pit all over again!” It’s the sergeant. He’s the one in charge; he knows everything there is to know about our enemies. “Watch out for the hands, they aren’t as sticky so you’ll need to hang on tight.”

One such hand descends over the bowl and they assemble on the peanuts nearest the top, ready latch onto any skin they can find. The hands are clean and sealed, no cuts or abrasions to pass through. When the hand moves to place the peanuts in the mouth, everyone rallies at the back, far from the threat of saliva. A few are too slow to move and they perish in the snare of the mouth. The troops must wait for this host to touch nose or eyes. The others bide their time. Being pushed out of homes again and again, they’ve developed patience in their desperation for belonging.

Then, after much procrastination and waving around, they are finally near the face again, coming closer and closer to the eyes.

“IMPACT!” the sergeant yells, preparing everyone for the coming invasion.

Phase Two:

A war cry is heard and the remaining survivors turn to face those cursed B and T cells. The sergeant reaches for his weapons and all others follow suit. Swords clashing against that of the T cell warriors ring out all around. Other T cells carry messages and a few germs are dispatched to cut them off while another squad is sent to target the B cells. The B cells keep sending flares up, identifying where all the germs are so the T cells and the phagocytes know where to attack.

Imagine the end of this battle inside a phagocyte. They know it engulfs you but no one knows what happens after you’re inside. Imagine pushing away the fold of tissue, a cosy waiting room is revealed. A cushioned armchair beside a fire: the perfect place to hide out. I stay there for a while, days at least, feeling warm and full and large. Everything is bigger. The room is starting to throb and waver and wobble and it’s no longer a place you can stay. You’re so hot you erupt and then you’re nothing. Better to be outside, fighting T cells with swords and bombs and having a home for a little while longer.

The Beautiful Rose (Second Draft)

When Aoife awoke that morning, a steaming cup of tea and a plate of fruit were on her bedside, as she had grown accustomed to after having to stay here for so long. However, unlike before, a leather-bound book with an embossed pink and silver rose on the cover accompanied the breakfast meal. She wondered who would have given her the book. Surely not the beast, perhaps some willing servant or shy suitor instead? With trembling hands she took up the volume and cracked the spine, the thick smell of paper and ink winding towards her nose and distracting her from her quandary.

Upon a page marked with a pink ribbon were the words:

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;

And for that name, which is no part of thee,

Take all myself.

Aoife took up the book and the food and passed the day in a window seat above the castle’s magnificent garden, alternating the exquisite sonnets of Shakespeare with the view of her beautiful flowers until she had read all the words it contained.

At supper that night, Aoife ventured a question from her host: “Have you ever been in love?”

The Beast erupted from his chair and stalked past the fire.

“Why would you ask such a thing?” he roared, voice transformed, whether by rage or by physical appearance she could not be certain.

“I’m sorry I asked.” Aoife closed her mouth quickly to conceal the sob building in her throat. She was too slow and it echoed in the corridors as she dashed from the dining hall to her chambers.

In her dreams, an alluring man spoke from beneath a balcony to her in riddles of eloquent words that made no sense and all the sense in the world. His blue eyes were eerily familiar and when she awoke, she could remember nothing he said except for the look of longing in his face.

The next day another book appeared with her breakfast. She pushed the plate of food aside and hurried to her window seat with the book under her arm, eager to absorb a new world of words and life. The words were themselves a connection, as though she was with her family again in the outside world. She missed them so dearly and yearned for a way to know of their health and happiness.

Aoife drew her fur cloak tighter and advanced further into the garden, eyes transfixed by the thicket of roses buffeted by the harsh wind. As she gazed upon the soft full petals of the crimson flowers, she considered her father at home. How he must have felt when the Beast threatened his life for the act of stealing a single blossom. How she wished she had never asked for the flower when he left; if she had not she would be home with her family, embroidering by the fire with her sisters. Aoife reached for one of the blooms to smell the sweet scent: roses were such a weakness of hers. A sharp pain touched her fingers and blood welled from a thorn prick in her finger, mingling with the petals and falling in fat droplets to the dusty ground below. She cursed softly and sucked at the wound, the coppery taste on her tongue. They gave her a new appreciation for the Beast: too hideous to venture beyond the castle walls without striking fear in others yet too intelligent and caring to remain within without yearning for something more.

Later that night, Aoife ate her supper in silence while the Beast watched from his chair at the opposite side of the table. He had inquired about the bandage on her hand but she had brushed it aside as a simple accident. A considered look filled his eyes and an idea began to take shape.

Phone Call

**Caution: following writing contains autobiographical details and metafiction, read at own risk**

The phone vibrates against the frosted glass surface of the desk, the vibrations causing it to wiggle indirectly towards the abandoned computer. The girl grudgingly shifts her gaze from the Sudoku before her to the screen of the phone. Some part of her hoped it was her boyfriend. She isn’t surprised when the caller ID read “MUM”. Returning to the Sudoku, she debates for a few moments over numbers, letting the phone’s ringtone kick in: the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons.

I’ll really have to change that, she thinks to herself. It is so popular now, gracing radio stations such as Mix 106.5 and 2day FM, nothing like what she thought of it when she first heard it in the credits of The Host at the cinema with her father.

Unlocking the phone, she props it against her ear, sighing. “Hello.”

“Hi, sweetpea. You sound so flat. Why are you flat?”

“I’m not. Everything’s fine.”

“But you sound exhausted, what is it?”

“Nothing. What’s up?”

She taps the pen against her lips and tries to conjure some numbers for the Sudoku. The puzzle is “moderate level” – just a little too hard for her but “easy level” was too easy.

“Well, I spoke to the agent today… are you sure you’re ok?”

“Yes, go on.”

“Ugh, that tone of yours,” she mutters. “So he wants to cancel the opening this weekend. Even though we haven’t settled with that couple who made the offer yesterday or the other couple from Sunday.”

“Sure.”

“Well, the first couple, the ones with the Golden Retrievers, have called up and made an offer. They’re all offering the same amount.”

“I guess that’s good.”

“You’re really not interested in what I have to say.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“Ok, the first couple have backed out because their solicitor says it’s not safe as they haven’t got the money yet. So we’ve gone from no one wanting our house to three lots to two lots.”

I’m bored by this story. You’re bored too, I can tell. I can feel it. Look, I’m actually this girl and I have a lot of stress going on in my life and no I’m not really ok right now. I’m sitting at this table tapping my pen trying to figure out this Sudoku instead of writing one thousand five hundred words worth of short stories. And my mum calls me up and bugs me about every hour or so. Like she believes asking me if I’m ok will magically have the effect of making me ok.

So I’m stressing over these short stories not materialising on the laptop I’m very conveniently ignoring. And then there’s you know, my boyfriend and the whole being-in-a-relationship thing. He’s hard to get in contact with but at least he’s my friend on Facebook now. And oh look, it took me about an hour to write most of this up after it happened. So logically, the phone is ringing again. I have to go. My mum is calling.

***

Prompt: write a story in which two characters have a conflict but do not specify what the conflict is

I also got bored and experimented with metafiction.

Barry’s Water Pistols

Barry crawled up the hill, stomach pressed close to the cool damp grass, careful to keep his head down below the summit lest someone catch sight of him and guess at what he was up to. On the other side there was a low table covered in a white cloth. Many small cake stands adorned with yummy nibblies were stationed around the table for the six young girls in their pretty summer dresses with ribbons in their hair.

He drew in a deep breath to steady himself and then turned to look back down the hill behind him. Below a line of boys copied his movements. He motioned them forwards and they wiggled on their elbows up the slope like little fish. Barry sighed in frustration, wishing he had better troops to work with. This was important business! He heaved himself up to survey the scene below.

One girl in particular, with a plastic pink tiara pinned to her curly blond hair, held her arms above her head twirling around and around while the other girls watched. The wide fairy wings strapped to her back rippled this way and that and her skirt billowed out. This was it. This was his moment.

Barry leapt to his feet, brandishing his pistol and letting out an almighty war cry as he ran down the hill to the unsuspecting girls. A few heartbeats later the other boys followed suit, yelling as loudly as they could before reaching the party site.

“Fire!” Barry cried, squeezing the trigger of his pistol and letting a jet of water spray all over the twirling princess. The boys were having a blast despite the girls’ devastated screams. Her wings were destroyed instantly; the painstakingly applied makeup turned to ink as tears mixed with pistol residue and redecorated her face.

The princess dissolved into weeping mess of a girl, crying so many tears Barry feared a flood would strike. His trigger finger went limp and the pistol drooped, falling to his side and then hitting the sodden grass with a “plop”. His troops ceased fire, looking to their commander in bewilderment. This was not the fun they had imagined.

Barry rush to his sister’s side, taking hold of her shoulders and squeezing gently.

“Don’t cry, Nessy,” he pleaded. “It’s ok. We can get you dry. It’s only a bit of water.”

Nessy only howled louder. The sound functioned like a car alarm. Barry knew its effects: bringing their parents at a run as though Nessy were a homing beacon to them. He dreaded their arrival, realising his punishment would arrive alongside Nessy’s comfort, and tried once again to quiet his sister.

“Stop crying! Stop it! You’ll get me in trouble!”

“You—” hiccough “—deserve it.”

Barry pulled at the itchy sleeves of his woollen coat. The costume was ridiculous.

“More tea, mademoiselle?” He bowed, offering a tray with a teapot, sugar and milk.

Vanessa waved her magic wand in the air and sniffed. “No thank you, Baxter. Go away.”

 ***

Prompt: write a story based on a newspaper heading

The One (3rd draft)

The first thing she notices is the sounds of laughter and talking, the dull clink of what can only be knives and forks against china. They take a few steps forwards and he manoeuvres her through the room, his warm hand firmly covering her eyes.

Part of her cannot help noticing how cliché this whole thing is. Another part of her is secretly thrilled.

“Here we are,” he says and removes his hands.

A table set for two is revealed: lit candles in ornate stands frame a centrepiece of gorgeous orchids in a crystal vase atop a deep crimson tablecloth. At one setting is a medium-sized box. Her heart lurches in anticipation.

Well, it can’t be a ring, she tells herself. The box is far too big.

“Please, sit.” He pulls the chair back for her and she obeys. After scooting her forwards, his hands rest on her shoulders and he plants a kiss on her cheek.

She reaches for the box and start to open it… and someone knocks into her side, jolting her back to reality. Slumped over a table, she can see blurry wood grain. There is the smell of antibacterial soap and metallic tang of cheap cutlery. If the plain black slacks and a black top weren’t obvious enough, the apron and notepad clue her in and with a sinking feeling she realises where she is.

She peers around the partition and sees the diner bar and Suzy, with her bright pink hair and her notepad, flirting with a customer. Checking her watch, she sees it’s well after midnight. Her shift is nearly over, thank God. She must have zoned out while on her break. The rest of the shift is spent out the back, polishing cutlery—it never stays clean—and she’s out of there as soon as she can be.

Her car is a ways away. The only sound she can hear is gravel crunching loudly underfoot. Then someone grabs her from behind, an arm around her waist and the other hand covering her mouth. Any screams stay stuffed in her throat. The arm is thick and beefy, her finger nails catch on the wiry hair. He smells of salt and tobacco and she kicks out and flails helplessly, stomach rolling in revolt.

“I like a little fight,” he mutters, slamming her against the car.

She falls, limp from the impact, and is spun around like a doll, his body pressed against her, hands tearing at the shirt. It’s no use. He’s big and she is small.

“Please. Stop.”

She tries to push him away but it only encourages him. With her eyes squeezed shut, she recognises the sound of him unzipping his pants. This is her last chance, she realises dimly. Using as much force as she can muster, she rams her knee in between his legs. He drops with a roar and she bolts for it.

***

In bed, shadows creep across the walls. She cannot close her eyes without that night, that man, revisiting her. The same immobilising weight against her body: too hot and heavy on her front; cold metal crashing hard against her back.

She drifts off somewhere close to dawn.

The box is in front of her. She reaches for it and a breeze passes through. The smell of salt and tobacco. She knocks the box from the table and runs as far as she can.

***

Prompt: rewrite a previous story from a different point of view.

The Beautiful Rose (working title)

Aoife drew her fur cloak tighter and advanced further into the garden, eyes transfixed by the thicket of roses buffeted by the harsh wind. As she gazed upon the soft full petals of the crimson flowers, she considered her father at home. How he must have felt when the Beast threatened his life for the act of stealing a single blossom. How she wished she had never asked for the flower when he left; if she had not she would be home with her family, embroidering by the fire with her sisters. Aoife reached for one of the blooms to smell the sweet scent: roses were such a weakness of hers. A sharp pain touched her fingers and blood welled from a thorn prick in her finger, mingling with the petals and falling in fat droplets to the dusty ground below. She cursed softly and sucked at the wound, the coppery taste on her tongue.

Later that night, Aoife at her supper in silence while the Beast watched from his chair at the opposite side. He had inquired about the bandage on her hand but she had brushed it aside as a simple accident. A considered look filled his eyes and an idea began to take shape.

When Aoife awoke the next morning, a steaming cup of tea and a plate of fruit were on her bedside, as she had grown accustomed to after staying here so long. However, unlike before a leather-bound book with an embossed pink and silver rose on the cover accompanied the breakfast meal. With trembling hands she took up the volume and cracked the spine, the thick smell of paper and ink winding towards her nose.

Upon a page marked with a pink ribbon were the words:

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Aoife passed the day in a window seat above the garden, alternating the beautiful sonnets of Shakespeare with the view of her beautiful flowers until she had read all the words it contained.

The next day another book appeared with her breakfast. She pushed the plate of food aside and hurried to her window seat with the book under her arm, eager to absorb a new world of words and life. The words spoke to her, as though she was with her family again in the outside world. They gave her a new appreciation for the Beast. Too hideous to venture out without scaring others yet too intelligent and caring to remain inside the castle walls without yearning for something.

***

Prompt: rewrite a fairytale.

http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/Tales/BeautyAndTheBeast.html

The Fight (First Draft) (Title Subject to Change

Someone sneezes and I’m sent flying through the air. The world is really big, blurs of colour and sound, and I’m really very small. If I don’t land where I need to be, it’s going to be another long sleep until someone brings me back again. I don’t want to go to sleep though. This sleep isn’t anything like a normal sleep. It’s like dying only to come back to life in some unknown future. I miss out.

I fall into a bowl of peanuts. It’s like a smaller version of that ball pit I was in once before. Everyone’s hands were so sticky there. Here, the hands are much larger. One descends over the bowl and I hide behind a peanut until it’s lifted into the air. Then I cling to it, holding on for dear life. This is perfect, straight shot to the stomach and none of that pesky skin or noxious fluids to get stuck in.

Rolling around in this mouth for a while, I’m thankful I’m small enough not to be crushed by those huge, chomping teeth. Unlike that there peanut, you’re doomed, buddy!

I feel a blade on my shoulder and turn to face that cursed saliva. It’s going to be another fight for my life. I can’t believe I forgot about these idiots. Their medieval defensive strategies are legendary. My sword clashes against theirs amidst the crunch of peanut sludge. Gotta be careful not to get stuck. We parry for a few steps and I block each attack. It’s not easy with all the change of surface. I just need to bide my time, wait until this body swallows. They swallow much more quickly than they used to. It gives me a break from ridiculous sword fights with old-fashioned enemies.

My only chance is coming now. Dodging this next blow, I dive for the sludge and slip down the slippery pink slide of the oesophagus, a rollercoaster ride I should be more concerned about the end of. The last thing I want is to survive a fight with saliva only to be vaporised by the nuclear substances of the human stomach.

There! It’s a soft spot I can grab a hold of. I hang on just long enough to save myself from certain death and pull myself up. Pushing away the fold of tissue, a cosy waiting room is revealed. A cushioned armchair beside a fire: the perfect place to hide out. I stay there for a while, days at least, feeling warm and full and large. Everything is bigger. The room is starting to throb. My host gives a sudden hacking cough, large enough to topple me over. It seems my stay has come to a close.

***

Prompt: present a character in a negative light and make him/her redeemable to the reader