Monday, October 27, 2014

Lightning Flashes

It's October. And one of the greatest things about October is Halloween. And I'm not just talking candy and costumes. October is a time for tricks and treats, but also for frights, thrills, bad movies, and scary stories. The theme for the Writers Ramble this month is Scary Stories, specifically flash fiction. Each member of the Writers Ramble has written a spooky piece of flash fiction specifically for this month's post. Unfortunately, I got a little side tracked working on a guest blog post over at The Fictorians, and so I failed to write a complete flash story. Instead, I decided to try my had at micro-fiction, which, if you can believe it, is even shorter than flash fiction. 

Recently I read a collection of two sentence horror stories. Some were fun, some were kind of lame, some were actually pretty chilling despite the fact that they're shorter than the Trick or Treat rhyme your kids say at the door. So, working under a time constraint, here's what I came up with:

When I was a child, hearing my mother’s footsteps on the stairs down to my room always panicked me, because she might catch me in mischief. These days, those same footsteps terrify me…because she’s been dead for ten years. 

Now, it's not a great story. The idea, I think, has been done before. But it was fun to write. The feedback from our writing group was almost universally the same: "This is a great hook for a longer story." And they're right. Once I saw that, my mind started spinning, weaving a story out of these opening lines. I haven't put anything to paper yet, but who knows? Maybe something great will still come of this idea.

Since I failed to complete the actual task of writing a spooky flash fiction story for this month, I decided, along with my micro-horror story, to include a few flash horror stories that I wrote a few years ago. (That way this post is more than a half page long.)

So first up is a story I wrote in 2013 for an online horror flash fiction contest over at the Escape Artists forums.

Janette stifled a yawn and glanced at the clock. 1:05am, far later than she’d intended. She dog-eared the page and closed her book. A quick check of the house, turning off lights as she went, and— 
Janette stopped dead in her tracks. Outside the large front window stood a dark silhouette—a man, watching her. Janette’s breath caught. The figure, tall and broad shouldered, made no move, its features completely shrouded in the darkness.
The baby! Janette’s first thought. She raced to his room, wishing Tom wasn’t away on business. She pulled the baby from the crib ignoring his cries of protest.
The figure stood outside the baby’s window.
Janette ran from the room. He was still outside, but what if he tried to break in? She had to call for help.
She reached the stairs and skidded to a stop. The figure—still cloaked in shadow—stood at the top, silent, unmoving.
Janette screamed and ran. How did he get in? She raced for the cellar. The baby wailed as she clambered down the stairs slapping at the light switch as she went.
Reaching the dank cement room below, Janette slammed the door shut. There was no lock. She had to block it—
The figure hovered in the back corner of the cellar. Janette froze. He slid towards her. Terror overwhelming her, Janette backed away until she pressed against the closed cellar door. The baby choked on its screams.
The figure stopped inches from her face, its features blank; a solid form of black.
Run, it hissed. Get out...
The figure moved back and Janette flung the door open and dashed upstairs. This time she headed for the front door, bursting out into the cold night beyond.
She was met by a circus of emergency vehicles rolling to a stop on the street in front of her. Responders piled out, making for her house. Someone stopped to ask if she was all right. Confused, Janette turned to find the attic of her house consumed in flames.
How hadn’t she noticed the fire? It was the upper floor only that burned. She’d been downstairs the whole time.
The roof collapsed, imploding into the rest of the house. Janette gasped. If she hadn’t been running from the shadowy figure…
“Mrs. Buxton?” A voice said from behind.
Janette turned to find a man in a suit who introduced himself as the Chief of Police.
“It’s about your husband, ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry to bring this to you, especially at a time like this, but there’s been an accident. I’m afraid he’s been killed.”
The Chief’s voice faded in Janette’s ears as the news washed over her. Tom was dead. And she’d nearly just died herself
She searched and found the shadowy figure standing under a tree not far off. He was still hidden in blackness, but his stance now seemed familiar.
Then he was gone.

Again, not a great story, but it did make it to the semi-finals of the contest. When I sat down to write this story, I thought about what the scariest thing in the world to me is. The answer is a black silhouette watching me through a window. That image in any movie or book has me crawling out of my skin. So that was the starting point for this tale. There are a few plausibility issues, and some severe coincidences to make this story work, but even with those faults, I was pleased with the semi-finalist outcome.

The other story I wanted to share comes from the same contest.

Abby Carter slurped the last of her daiquiri through the straw and rested the wavy glass on the table beside her beach chair. The taste of strawberries lingered on her tongue while foamy waves lapped at the sand before her. A seagull’s screech split the air, the only creature in sight.
Abby nestled into the wooden chair and pulled her sunhat low. Her bronze skin soaked up the rays of the sun overhead and she reveled in the warmth.
Her stomach growled. She took another sip of daiquiri. She didn’t know who had refilled it. It didn’t matter.
In this moment, she was happy…

Cory Steel’s knuckles glowed white as he clung to the cliff face. The midday sun baked his bare back, sweat trickling from his shoulders. He glanced up, the apex of the rock mere feet away. Cory dug the tip of his climbing shoe into a chip in the smooth stone and lunged, groping with his free hand. He found purchase and pulled himself atop the sandstone monument.
He reached for a granola bar, but found his fanny pack was empty. Though the view was glorious, the beauty to Cory was the climb itself. He longed to do it again.
A new stone monolith towered over him. He glanced up with a grin and began to climb. He didn’t know how he’d gotten there, but it didn’t matter.
In this moment, he was happy…

Michelle Davis whooped as Jimmy scored the final goal. Whistles sounded and Michelle clambered from the stands to congratulate her son. The throng of other parents parted for her. The community soccer team had no bigger fan than Michelle.
She high-fived the other children as she made her way to Jimmy, who wore a wide, gap-toothed grin. They talked about the game and Jimmy’s numerous goals. Michelle reveled in her son’s victory and the joys it brought. She wanted nothing but to cheer him on in every game possible.
A whistle blew and Michelle wished Jimmy luck before sitting back in the stands, scanning the crowd for the hotdog vendor. She didn’t know how another game could be starting so soon, but it didn’t matter.
In this moment, she was happy…

Zeniph Gunther looked out across his collection of people. A few he knew—Abby Carter, a co-worker; Cory Steel, the pizza boy; Michelle Davis, his neighbor. The rest were strangers, taken from the park, a darkened ally, or public campsites. They looked so peaceful lying on their gurneys, the neural transmitters attached to their shorn scalps with a thousand tiny fingers massaging their slumbering heads.
Zeniph sat back, replacing the receiver cap on his head. Emotions washed over him, a flood of stolen euphoria, and he relaxed.
He knew at some point the authorities would catch him. Maybe not before these people died of starvation, but eventually. The more victims he took, the longer the trail he left. But it didn’t matter.
In this moment, he was happy…

This was a lot more fun to me, because I tried to break out of the typical horror style and do something a little different. In fact, one of the comments the story received during the contest was that they thought someone had gotten mixed up and submitted a non-horror story to the contest. That's what I love about this piece. You have four seemingly unrelated stories that don't tie together until the last few paragraphs. If I did it right, the reveal at the end should have given you chills. 

Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite right, although this story did make the finals in the contest. It didn't win, because there are a few plausibility issues here. But again, that's ok. I have fun writing it, and to me, that's all that matters.

I hope you've enjoyed story time this month. If you have time, head on back over to the Writers Ramble to check out the other flash stories our members have shared this month.

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