Like pilgrims scurrying up a mountain, writers climb in faith. Unable to see over the next hill or page break, we trek onward and upward in search of solace or reconciliation or shared meaning or greater understanding—even of something we may never fully comprehend. — e.v. de cleyre
It’s Not Mama
When she was out of town, he slept with Jack..
An unexpected, steady thump. Had she made it home? Christmas Eve. Flipping on the light, he rolled over to see the last wag. His companion’s body went rigid, he lifted his head, his ears flat against the skull.
Beyond the window there was no car. No footprints. No one. Just the snow.
“Quiet, baby. It’s not Mama, yet.”
The animal stood, emitting a nearly silent howl, sound he felt in his stomach.
Jack leapt off the bed, his face to the wall. His trembling body was the only sound now.
This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.
Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.
Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2016, the eighth annual shared storytelling event at I Saw Lightning Fall, Loren Eaton’s blog about “narrative, genre, and the craft of writing.” For the uninitiated, Advent Ghosts seeks to recreate the classic British tradition of swapping spooky stories at Yuletide. However, instead of penning longer pieces, we post bite-sized pieces of flash fiction for everyone to enjoy.
To learn more about this tradition, read the article here about this “lost tradition.”
This is my fifth year writing for Advent Ghosts. In my first year I pulled some edited lines from a ghost story I wrote about meth addiction. It is called “The Escape.”
In 2012, I decided to try Loren’s model of writing one piece inspired by secular Christmas traditions, and another from sacred texts.
“Unwanted“ explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes.
“For Later“ is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.
I again used a sacred story’s inspiration for 2013’s “Vacancy.” I’ve always had a fascination with the innkeeper from Jesus’s birth story. I fantasize about a moment in which the larger narrative clicks for him, as it did for shepherds and kings.
2014 found me writing about the last heartbeat of a last creature. As natural as it would be, the feeling of loneliness in even a non-human animal felt very real to me that year.
I took a break in 2015. Before Loren took the reins over the more graphic content, I was feeling out of place with the tone of some of the pieces.
But this year, I’m back. I love the restriction of the 100 words — no more, no less — and how it pares down the writing to something essential. No frills! Plus, there’s nothing quite like being part of reviving a lost or fading Christmas tradition to get my inner nerd all a-tingle. Charles Dickens, I love you.
Enjoy this year’s submission, which will post not long from now, and if you like creepy little tales be sure to visit Loren’s blog, too! Just when I think I’ve read the most shiver-inducing tale, they get, well, more shivery!
This is a special re-blog for friends of Esse Diem and for lovers of the Essays on Childhood project. I hope you enjoy the latest from Longridge Review.
Issue #2 is here, and it’s special. dski design will show you the most beautiful handmade books, and a diverse group of essayists offer up their strangest, darkest, and most contemplative moments from their crossings out of childhood into adulthood. Much shadow in this issue, but also rays of light:
Daniel Blokh (Alabama) didn’t tell us when he submitted his work that he was only 14 years old, and his writing is so sophisticated and complex we never thought to ask. When he turned in his bio, we had a conundrum. Our mission is to work with the writings of adults only reflecting on childhood. But Daniel is that rare old soul who makes you want to break the rules for art. Using song lyrics, book quotes, and his own poetry, Daniel addresses an unidentified “Y” in a series of short letters about life, family, identity, loss, and finding your way to yourself. Take your time with this, it’s a beauty.
- Thanksgiving Mourning
Vincent J. Fitzgerald (New Jersey) is willing to do that thing that is so painful, he is willing to unmask a father who seems to only know how to hurt his family. No excuses, no defense. Not for his father, nor for himself years later when he begins to live out the same pattern. This is what courage looks like, facing fear rather than denying it.
- A Steady Application
Trista Hurley-Waxali (California) weaves a masterful, mysterious narrative about her mother. Why does her mother “wear the red lips” at night as she creeps down the hallway, leaving Trista to peer through the dark and pray for her mother’s safe return? A Steady Application chills like a thriller, but it was one woman’s childhood experience. This is why we do what we do.
- The Mark I Left
Kara Knickerbocker (Pennsylvania) offers something touching and unaffected in her first piece of creative nonfiction. On one level, it’s a simple story about a little girl and a new pet. But Kara offers just enough allusion to heavier truths to let the reader know nothing is simple on this day, at this house, with these people. Read her essay sitting down. It almost knocked us over more than once.
- The Egg
Jane Rosenberg LaForge (New York) is an accomplished writer who turns her pen to her childhood obsession with an egg sculpture in her mother’s closet. Jane follows her musings, as those threads lead her to her individual parents’ identities and insecurities, as well as her own. The conclusion is a tour-de-force surprise of personal, indefatigable power.
You can find it all and more right here: Longridge Review #2, Winter 2015-16.
p.s. Want to write for us? See submission guidelines here: Longridge Review SUBMIT
If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a big fan of the 100-word flash fiction model. It creates a structure that imposes discipline, as does the sonnet. There are rules. My process is to keep a tight leash on my sentences but not self-edit much in the draft phase. The fun comes when I do a word count and have to start paring down, replacing, refining.
There is an effort to collect 100-word stories on this site, 100 Word Story.
I got started with Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts. This Halloween story, “Treasure,” is for my friend Eric Douglas. I like what Eric says, “(T)his particular brand of flash fiction is telling a complete story in 100 words. Not more. Not less. It can be a lot of fun. And it can also be challenging. Sometimes what is most important is what is left unsaid.”
I will share Eric’s full Halloween 2015 round-up on Esse Diem on or after Friday, October 30.
I hope you enjoy my story. I’ve always been fascinated with how simple curiosity can morph into obsession and losing touch with reality.
I’ll leave the rest unsaid.
It was a place to hide treasures. How what she considered “treasure” changed, she couldn’t remember.
Things from the woods behind the house, the path to school. First leaves or seeds, but soon feathers. What once had a heartbeat. Claws, then tails, whatever could be preserved. That Halloween, the treasures were recent.
“Who’s next?” Seth held a flashlight under his face in the dark.
He passed her treasure box to the left, and Jeff shivered. “I’ll go.”
Then, “EW! I know that’s just spaghetti in there! That’s worse than the peeled grape eyeballs!”
No, she thought. It’s so much better.
It is with great excitement that I announce our second winner in the photo prompt flash fiction contest! Congratulations to Loren Eaton for his outstanding story, “Not One Stone Upon Another.”
I will confess, Loren writes a lot of things I don’t understand on the first read. But true to his style and my experience with it, this story snaps into place at the very end in a way that gives you chills and a kind of sudden epiphany that sends you right back to the first sentence to read it all over again, knowing what you know now.
Along with Rob Boone, Loren will receive a gift from Danforth Pewter and my eternal gratitude for sharing his gift with the world on this blog.
Clear your head, take a deep breath, and get ready for how the world ends. I give you Loren Eaton.
“Not One Stone Upon Another”| by Loren Eaton
The vista would’ve made Bosch cringe.
To the south, the smoke of Charleston ascended in a pillar up to heaven. To the north, the horizon writhed with borealis light. Cindered earth stretched west and east in an unbroken plain, the hills thrown down and the valleys thrust up, a zaffre-tinted hue coloring the blasted soil. But here—right here—a 21-acre plot in Sissonville sat untouched by the devastation, its grass green, a loop of road paved with unbroken black, a red-sided barn still standing.
Inside, a trio sat. They didn’t know Bosch from Beethoven or Bart Simpson. Two were deep in animated conversation, and the third was eating.
At least until a fourth joined them.
At the sound of the barn doors creaking open, Lula turned. “I believe we have been discovered.” She tried on a smile.
Tec raised an eyebrow, but continued chewing.
“No, not discovered, we’ve been busted,” Mat laughed.
The fourth figure Had No Name. You could tell by the way The Thing moved. The way light bent around It as though It dimpled the fabric of reality. The way the ribbon of grass upon which it had trod had gone gray.
“See?” Lula said. “That’s exactly what I was arguing. Linguistics is full of subtleties and contradictions. For instance, take—”
this is not the task with which you have been charged.
Had you been there, perhaps you could’ve described the voice. Had you been there, you might’ve said that it tore with the force of cyclonic winds or was as weighty as hadopelagic depths. Had you been there, though, you wouldn’t have been able to. Had you been there, you’d have focused on not going immediately and irrevocably insane.
Tec took another bite. Juices ran down his chin.
“Boss, come on, cut us a little slack.” Matt waved a hand expansively.
“There. Take that word,” Lula said. “‘Boss’ originally designated a protuberance some 700 heliocentric perambulations ago in the sub-continental archipelago of …” She trailed off, brow furrowing. “Rain. Clarified-suet comestibles. Barley and peat and ethane monoxide—”
the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. i personally attended to its reappropriation. An anthracite corona tinged with cobalt bloomed around The Thing That Had No Name. Had you been there, you might’ve described It as seeming irritated and just the tiniest bit self-satisfied.
Tec rolled his eyes and spat a bit of gristle into the dust.
“Yes, England,” Lula continued. “But a few hundred solar circumnavigations later, in this particular supraaquatic land mass it acquired the meaning of … well, what you are.”
it is called the constitutional republic of the United States of America, with which you three were charged and thoroughly briefed. A tendril of smoke began to rise from a nearby bale of straw.
Lula glared. “I know we were. But no one ever explained that ‘boss’ could denote a hump and a—” Here a tangle of syllables rolled off her tongue, and had you been there, you would’ve found that your mouth couldn’t have replicated it. “—and, in that southernmost penal protectorate, a farmer.”
Stamping out the fire, Matt raised a warning eyebrow. “Cool story, brah, but what’s a farmer have to do with the price of tea in, uh, Comoros, no, that’s not right—”
A wind colder than any Arctic blast lashed the barn, whipping up dust motes that writhed in the light striping through board walls. Had you been there, you might said it sounded like a breath huffed out in annoyance. China. but Mathelyous is correct. you have yet to explain your failure to follow the edict ratified by a supermajority of the Harmonious Synarchy, its will be ever praised.
“Its will be ever praised,” the three echoed.
i await your clarification.
Outside, a street sign made a pained squealing, vexed by the vestiges of the wind.
Finally, Lula bowed her head, raised her palms, a gesture of supplication. “Understand, we proceeded according the plan—”
“The most right and true plan, don’t you know,” Matt added.
“We began at the three intercardinal cartographic zones and worked our way here—”
“But then it, like, went all pear shaped.”
“We spoke to one another about what we had seen.”
“For shizzle, boss, like art, civic works, commerce, communications, education.”
i fail to see the relevance.
Tec burped. Then he said, “Culture. Beauty. Creativity. Accomplishments.”
The Thing sighed. No rushing wind, no splitting earth, no kindled flame. Had you been there, you would’ve called it a sigh, plain and simple. they had those things in abundance and yet hardly seemed to acknowledge them.
Tec nodded. Then he held out what he was eating. “Drumstick. Tasty. Want some?”
no. a drumstick comes from the gallus gallus domesticus. which only has four toes.
Tec squinted at the end of the drumstick, lips moving as he counted. When he reached five, he said, “Oh.”
“I told you so,” Lula said.
“Totally grody,” Matt said.
“Shame to waste it,” Tec said.
a shame to waste all of it, The Thing With No Name said. Then It hastily added, but we fulfill whatsoever the Harmonious Synarchy decrees.
“And what has been decreed?” Lula asked.
a trans-galactic conveyance repository.
“You mean, like, an interstellar parking lot?” Matt asked.
yes, a parking lot.
At that, the trio made its way out of the barn. They didn’t look remotely human now. Tec clutched a fan of ribs as if for future consumption. But by the time they reached the road, he seemed to have thought better of it and tossed it aside. The cage of bone struck the sign and snagged on it for a moment. Had you been there, you might’ve described it as some macabre Christmas ornament. Then they fell. And the sign did too. And then the barn. And as the sky turned black as sackcloth, you would’ve been glad you were not there.
Perhaps it was a mercy that no one was.
CONGRATULATIONS to Rob Boone, winner of the Esse Diem flash fiction contest to write a great story under 1,000 words about this photograph:
What made Rob’s story the winner?
There are the simple things that anyone who wants to have his writing published anywhere needs to have in place. He followed directions. His work was in on time, in the submission format requested, topical, and within the word limit.
But that’s just enough to not get thrown in the round file. Rob’s story goes well beyond the minimums with a variety of effective narrative techniques.
Rob knows to put the reader right into the thick of things from the beginning, especially when you only have 1,000 words. Who is “she”? We never really know. Neither does the narrator. Maybe. Maybe he does. How do we define who someone is, anyway?
And how about those four caves . . .
How’d she do it, exactly? They seem so young. We know why she did it. She changed his life forever.
Forgoing the quotation marks around dialogue is not something that would work for every story, but it works beautifully here by creating a kind of quiet that supports the setting and overall tone of this narrative.
That’s all I’ll give you for now.Read on and enjoy this terrific spooky, gorgeous tale by Mr. Boone. You won’t forget it.
“Darkness” | by Rob Boone
She always felt more comfortable in the darkness, she said. Said it was more honest than the light.
We spent a lot of time in those woods back then. We relished the freedom of it: no walls, no parents, no rules. We hiked during the day, though- that’s the thing.
We’d converge at the corner of the neighborhood, where the asphalt gave way to the pines. Where the road—and, as far as we cared, the rest of the world—ended, there was a small patch of grass and dirt, about 20 yards square. Just beyond that, the woods opened up into three dirt trails that forked off in different directions, then descended over the hillside that couldn’t be seen unless you walked to its edge.
On the Other Side, there were four caves. These were our destinations, on those days that we chose to have a destination. We named each one: Fisherman’s Cave was the nearest and sat next to a creek bursting with small fish (we didn’t know which kind of fish back then).
Dwarf Cave made everyone feel small; it was cavernous, but dry, which made it a good spot for making out. Angel’s Cave was a hike, and when the sun shone through the trees after a rain, it produced a halo effect just above the cave that you could see if you stood 28 feet northeast of it.
Billy’s Cave was miles out. We’d named it after Billy when he got lost trying to find his way back and was grounded for being out three hours past curfew. By the time he got home, he was covered in mud up to his knees and scratches up to his elbows.
But that was daytime. The few times we ventured into the woods at night was always on a dare. Boys will be boys, we said, but the girls never backed down from the challenge, though they were always the first to give in and head home.
So when she came along, I didn’t know much about darkness. Just that most people didn’t want anything to do with it.
She’d come from Wisconsin, some said, but the guesses were numerous: Alabama, Oregon, Maine. Some even said she was born in Russia but had moved to the States so young that she’d lost all trace of an accent. Her mother was a psychiatrist. No one knew what her father did.
It was June, and I was trying to find my way back to Angel’s Cave. I’d made a rare wrong turn, and was lost.
I heard her before I saw her. Don’t move, she said, and I turned to find her sitting on a lopsided rock with her knees in her chest, a drawing pad resting on her knees.
I didn’t move. Two minutes later, she stood and started towards me, holding out the drawing. She’d been drawing the forest, and since I’d entered the picture, she drew me, too.
Now you’re part of it, she’d said.
We met in the woods every day for the next three months. We met later and later, until one September night when she asked me to meet her at one in the morning.
There’s not a boy alive who would admit to a girl that he’s afraid to go in the woods at night, so I went.
She’d built a fire to help me find my way, and that tiny glimmer of light was my compass. When I reached her, she was laying on a blanket, reading a Nancy Drew novel.
Trying to sound more curious than afraid, I asked her why we were meeting at night.
I like the darkness. I’m comfortable in it. It’s so much more honest than the light, you know? The light makes everything visible, it lays everything bare, but life isn’t like that. Life is mystery, it hides things from us and leaves us to fill in the gaps.
I nodded and muttered, not knowing how to answer.
I’d looked at girls, but had never really seen them. That night by the fire, I saw every movement she made. She moved her hair our of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, letting the shadows dance on her face. I watched her eyes, normally brown, but yellow by the firelight, move towards the fire, and I found my eyes moving with hers.
The middle of the fire was a slightly darker orange than the ring of light that surrounded it. I inched closer to get a better look. Eventually, my eyes settled on an object in the fire pit: the smouldering bones of a rib cage.
I looked at her with the obvious question in my eyes.
I killed it a few days ago, then skinned it and took it apart, she said. I feel like if you want to know about life, you have to know about death.
We said little before I walked her home. That night, I lied in bed thinking about the fire, about the deer that had been sacrificed in the name of knowledge, and about the shadows dancing on her skin.
We moved the following year, but I still consider that place home. I went back as an adult, fifteen years later, and made it official. My wife, my three kids, and my terrier now call this place home, too.
She left ten years ago, and no one knows where she went. Some say she went home, but I think this is still her home. I think she belongs here.
If one day she does come home, I’ve made sure she feels welcome when she gets to the place where the asphalt gives way to the pines. Dangling from the U-turn sign that marks the end of the road, a ribcage hangs, the darkness made visible.
Rob Boone loves silence, coffee, and great books. He hates small talk, despair, and game shows. He believes that we each have a duty to be a better person than we were yesterday, and he believes that laughter is the most fundamental element of life. Connect with him on his website, http://www.rboone.com, or on Twitter, https://twitter.com/robertsboone. He pretty much rocks.