Welcome to my third Showcase in May. Today, I’m treating you to two very different but equally powerful stories on the theme of ‘Transformation’.
The first piece, by L.M. VanGalen, is open to interpretation. It hooks the reader with the opening sentence and I found I had no choice but to read on.
We reached the third day of our journey and, to be honest, things were not going well. In the beginning, everything seemed legitimate. Five strangers sharing first-class accommodation, each receiving plane tickets in a random lottery. The trip started out smoothly enough. The flight was uneventful. We passed the time amicably before landing at the tiny airport. The local man who met us at the gate was friendly and eager to show off his island paradise.
We filled our days admiring the beautiful scenery, breathtaking in its isolation. Around the evening fire, the guides would pose questions to spark conversation; civilised debate designed to reveal who we were inside. Tonight’s topic: if you could be something else, would you rather be a bird or a fish?
The world and our existence in it are about choice. We can choose to be sad, happy, angry or bored. Many hours have been spent contemplating the merits of both sides of the same coin. Am I in the mood for salmon or steak? Or, maybe something more esoteric?
Two members of the group thought flying would be more advantageous than swimming. The other pair decided being aquatic was more beneficial, as the bulk of the Earth’s surface is water. As much as I loved looking at the ocean, its mysteries, and its depths, nothing compared to the exhilaration of flight, the sheer weightless sensation of being supported by the wind itself. The ability to ascend to heights so great the oxygen levels should decrease in your brain. And while whales and other large fish travel substantial distances, and smaller species have the protection of their school, when you need an exit strategy, there is something ethereal about flying. In contemplation, both choices are much the same on the surface.
I had abstained from commenting while staring into the flames, content to listen to them bicker about options that could never be real. Unless you were me. And until today, I had managed to keep the voice in my head from speaking out loud.
Over the course of the past two days, each participant had been randomly separated from the others, returning in a sombre mood. No longer the gregarious group that landed on this island, an unspoken silence had fallen over our activities, with sidelong glances filled with animosity and almost hatred being cast at our guide. Some looks held confusion, as though the separation had no meaning.
The voice grew louder. After years of ignoring my baser side, the screams of fear that shot through me were vivid and piercing, the cries of terror only muffled by the insistent ego struggling to calm my intuition.
Fight or flight. I warred with my inner self, working in vain to convince myself that everything would be fine. Just my over-active imagination. Too many Agatha Christie novels, ghost stories, thrillers. Tales about monsters in the dark. Or monster hunters. And the tricks they play. I am tired of playing the games by their rules. For years, I have hidden. For years, I have prayed to remain safe. For years, I have denied my true self for the admiration of strangers. Taking the compliments and platitudes as truth. The flattery and ego-stroking words meant to lull a person into submission. Look where being submissive has gotten me.
In five years, I had trusted no one with knowledge about my other-than-normal skills. High school had been a rough time, the urges tied tightly to hormonal surges common during any teenagers’ development. First dates, first kisses, first orgasms. All brought on the occasional unexpected adjustment in my physical structure. And even in my isolated community, where everybody knew what everyone else was, you didn’t just morph into your other side on a whim. Survival meant no one could find out. Survival meant staying in the shadows. Survival meant not changing into my true form with witnesses. Survival, above all, involved trust.
It made dating impossible, once I moved away from home. I had learned to stay solitary. Never opening up fully to anyone. How could I? Yet, someone had figured it out. And now I find myself in the most private place on the planet, threatened by a lunatic. And for what? To prove supernaturals exist?
To what end? In all the discussions, comments, debates, there was nothing to indicate what the guide was really seeking. I had paid attention to every word and still not recognised the threat. Searching for a clue in the seemingly random questions that lead nowhere.
“Come on, sweetheart. I know you’ve got it in you. Let’s see those pretty wings.”
The sneer in his voice grated, irritating me more than the knife flashing in the moonlight scared me.
The wind pulled at my hair, my clothes, and his words, throwing them over the cliff to twirl on the eddies created by the rock face. How dare he think I would betray my innermost secret for some stranger? And for what? Kicks?!
Focusing on his eyes, staring directly into his soul, I looked for the reason he was so hostile to supernaturals, looking for the trigger to explain the fervour. Was it curiosity? Vengeance? Jealousy? Nothing fit. The only thought that came to mind was greed. Somehow, he planned to become rich from his discovery, from my genetic abnormality, from capturing a supernatural being. I was facing a tough decision. My survival would depend on the outcome.
As I backed up, ever closer to the edge, I reflected on the fact that I had not made my choice before now. I would be a raptor, using the skies as my hunting ground, safe from the other predators that lurked in the depths of Earth and all of her secrets. A falcon, I think. Sleek, elegant and dashing. But most of all, fast. Soaring high, effortless and carefree, watching only for the shifting currents and the occasional aircraft.
Keep my secret, and die on this rocky perch, or show my true being? For a split second, I thought, ‘How did they find out?’ rapidly followed by a wave of panic, then anger about being pushed to expose the truth I had kept hidden for most of my life. Standing here, on the edge of the cliff, the waves pummelling the rocks below me, faced with the glint from the knife, wielded by our guide, I finally chose.
Time to use my beauty to an additional advantage. This arsehole wanted to see what I was made of. Was he in for a surprise! Turning on the charm, looking at him as though the sunset on his whim, I stepped towards him, coy and submissive. Playing the weak female card went against all I had fought to become and I shuddered at the repugnance of the feeling, trusting that he would only see me cowering from him, shivering in the gusts of sea air. He licked his lips; tasting victory. Poor soul. I don’t know what he’d been told about shape-shifters. But someone should have warned him.
Using one last distraction, I slowly removed my clothing, until I stood in all my glory, naked beneath the moon, my back to the precipice, trusting the baser instincts of the male of the species to focus on my physique, not my face. Delicately, I stepped back until my heels brushed the edge of the abyss. My predator did not disappoint me. The desire flared in his eyes, his arousal becoming obvious as he ambled closer, licking his lips once more; this time with a new intention. And then I fell, hurtling towards the sea, trusting my choice. As the surface broke, and I sank beneath the waves, the change overcame me and I brought the life-bringing oxygen in through my gills. The sensation of the warm ocean water caressing my charcoal-grey skin was pleasant and, after a moment of adjustment, I set my destination and swam off into the depths, confident I would not be missed.
There is something freeing in the motion of swimming, of coasting along on the tides, gliding amongst the coral and all manner of aquatic life. And while there is power in being the biggest predator in the sea, on any other day, I’d rather be a bird than a fish.
(c) L.M. VanGalen, 2021
I found Choices extremely thought-provoking. Tales about shape-shifters go way back. In Greek mythology there is the transformation of Gods and, in contemporary literature, stories of vampires and werewolves are popular. But in Choices, a young woman has to change in order to escape persecution and the plot’s relevance to current times is pertinent.
In contrast, Those Precious Cracks, by Slawka G Scarso, is a realistic story, powerful in a quiet way. Slawka says, “I got the idea for this story when I was attending some lectures in cultural anthropology at the University in Rome. I remember writing the first draft as soon as I got out of the class, just to be sure I wouldn’t miss the inspiration on the way home.” A reminder we should all carry a notebook to write down ideas immediately before they disappear!
Those Precious Cracks
“Your daughter hit a boy during recess,” the headmistress said. “She gave him a black eye.”
My mother glanced at me, waiting for me to translate, but then the stern look on my father’s face confirmed it was a serious matter. As if having the entire family suddenly summoned to school wasn’t enough. Her gaze moved to her hands. Tightly folded on her lap. Like my own.
“I’m sure there’s been a mistake,” ventured my father. “My daughter knows how to behave.”
“Well, clearly not. I have two witnesses, two teachers,” the headmistress replied firmly.
The news I was to be suspended came as no surprise. I expected no less. The fact this also included the school band, however, made me scream, “But that’s not fair!”
I jumped, and knocked over the headmistress’s empty coffee mug. It was her favourite; everyone knew it. It landed on the floor, in pieces.
“Sit down,” the headmistress said.
And then she looked at my parents, showing the palms of her hands as if she’d just proved her point. My father did not reply. My mother, instead, kneeled to collect the broken mug.
“Oh, Mrs Finch, there’s no need to.” But my mother could not understand. “Please, Mr Finch, tell your wife…”
My mother quickly collected the pieces. She offered them to the headmistress, who pointed to the rubbish bin, but my mother shook her head, kept what was left of the precious mug in her hands.
“Give me a reason, at least,” my father said later. We were both sitting at the kitchen table. He looked surprised, not cross. But my mother was there, too, cleaning the counter yet one more time. Saying nothing. Understanding nothing. And how was I to say that Patrick called me yellow while pulling his eyes to look Asian, and laughed at me, every single day, for weeks? How was I to translate that?
“Can I go to my room?” I begged.
“No, first you have to tell me why.”
“I have my reasons,” I said.
He laughed. “Your reasons? You’re eight!”
Then he let me go upstairs.
Later, just as I was getting ready for bed, the doorbell rang. My father answered. I heard the voice of a woman. It was Mrs Patterson, Molly’s mother, from the band. I leaned on the stairs, trying to catch what she was saying. But they were whispering. I only saw my father shaking his head, his hands in his hair.
“Thank you, thank you for letting us know,” he told Molly’s mother, “and thank Molly too.”
Then he turned, looked up at the stairs, and saw me peeking. I thought he would be cross, but he smiled.
“Go to sleep,” he said.
And so now he knew. And now my mother would know too.
She came to my room, not long after that. She was holding something in her hands, cradling it like a little bird. She was calm. Her eyes didn’t look like she’d been crying. She left the mysterious object on my bedside table. It was the headmistress’s mug, and it was back in one piece. The cracks were filled with gold.
I asked her if I could touch it. She said yes.
“Utsukushī,” I said. It’s beautiful.
It was. It was even more beautiful than the original. Mother told me how, back in Japan, her mother also used to repair broken things like this. Using gold or silver paste. It was called kintsugi. It wasn’t just a matter of repairing; it was like creating something new, more precious. It was the cracks that made it precious, she said. The cracks made it unique.
I told her the headmistress would love it even more, I was sure. And then I asked her if she would teach me how to do it myself, someday. She nodded, and then kissed my forehead.
“You’re learning already,” she said.
(c) Slawka G Scarso, 2021
I was intrigued by the way Slawka showed us the mother’s character through her actions. Her child’s journey through life will be very different to her own in Japan but, through the art of kintsugi, she makes an important connection. The mug suffered damage, like the child, but it is transformed into something more beautiful, its imperfections embraced. It is a philosophy that deserves exploration.
I look forward to sharing one of my own flash fiction stories with you next week.
Don’t forget issue 8 of Write On! magazine is out. Read it online here.
If you’d like to get in touch with me or see your writing appear in the Write On! ‘Showcase’, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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