By Eithne Cullen
This week’s Thoughtful Tuesday is all about stories. We writers tell them, shape them, edit them and love them. We connect with readers who love stories in all shapes and sizes.
To begin, this week, I asked the Pen to Print writers whether any of them have Flash pieces to share. Flash fiction is defined as fiction of a type characterised by being very short, typically consisting of only a few hundred words. It’s becoming such a popular form and is fun to write as well.
Claire Buss came up with this lovely piece. It’s a haunting description of a circus scene, caught in an instant. The photo is a delightful addition to the story:
The Girl And The Bear
Once upon a time, there was a travelling circus that came to town every autumn, when the air was crisp and frost tickled your nose. Too cold really to venture out, but come one, come all, to experience the spills and thrills of the tightrope walkers, the slapstick humour of the raggedy clowns, the grand ringmaster twirling his dastardly moustache and, of course, the sideshow freaks.
In the murky gloom, the children would run from cage to cage, squealing with delight at the misshapen dummies and ghoulish puppets. They knew they were all fake but it didn’t matter. They were caught up in the magic of the circus and it was well worth the ha’penny fee.
The girl and the bear sat on a bed, looking off into the distance. She, her head in her hands, looking off to the side, daydreaming, never moving a muscle. The older children, the ones done with the running and the squealing, would stand as close as they could to the bed and the girl and the bear. Daring each other to stretch, to stroke the fur, to interrupt the gaze of the girl.
One year, a boy did it. He broke her reverie. That was back when she looked to the right. He was the only one in the tent at the time and he swears that she slowly turned her head, gazed right through him and placed her chin on the other hand. But no one has ever seen the bear move. Year in, year out, the bear sits on the bed, one paw on the girl’s shoulder, gazing out at the crowd.
The children who squealed through the tent grew older, and the teenagers who dared each other to touch the girl and the bear grew into adults and put aside their childish fancies. Knowing that neither the bear nor the girl ever moved; not really.
Another year, another winter and the circus creaks into town. It runs slower these days. The paint and the gilt is faded, peeling, cracked and worn. ‘Let’s go and see the girl and the bear,’ the old folk think, ‘one last time. Such a lovely exhibit.’ And so they walk into the curiosity tent, ramble past the fakery, not really looking at anything, marking the dust and the decay. The tent feels darker, more gloomy than before. Older, shabbier, smaller. The visitors get to the end, the trip is over, there’s no more to see. Only an empty bed with a slight depression suggesting something rested there for a very long time.
The girl and the bear are gone.
© Claire Buss, 2019
Here’s a little piece of my own; the challenge being to write a story in under 50 words:
Batman Came Visiting
Batman came visiting – crash, bang, pow. I didn’t want to see his macho tricks.
He broke my china and spluttered cake crumbs everywhere.
He smashed the cistern swinging from the chain. I threw him out – crash, bang, pow.
© Eithne Cullen, 2021
This flash piece also captures a moment in time. It’s an intriguing look at someone (Lynda?) taking a risk:
You Raise Me Up…
I haven’t dared try this since I was 11. I still remember the jibes of my supposed friends. Was I crazy? There was a pile of ironing to do and always the lure of another box set.
A warm orangey glow draws me in. The click of my heels echo and I’m handed a crumpled booklet.
“Bass, soprano or alto?”
“Over on the left.”
Familiar notes drift up into the belfry. My shoulders start to lower and I open my mouth. I’ve joined a choir, a community who – with their music – will raise me up.
© Lynda Shepherd, 2021
Next, Claire Buckle tells a heart-warming story about finding a place for ourselves:
Our gang race along the street but my weak leg means it’s difficult for me to keep up. I hear our leader shout, ‘Lonely old witch!” at the elderly woman pruning an overgrown rose tree in the tangled front garden of her creepy black house. I stay silent when the other members cackle and whoop. They keep running but a sharp pain in my chest causes me to bend over, grab my knees, and take deep breaths. This is not the first time I’ve been left behind. As I stand, I glance at the old lady, expecting to see her flustered. Instead, her expression is one of contentment as she continues to garden. She catches my eye and smiles. I realise she has found a place she belongs.
Perhaps it is time I found mine.
© Claire Buckle, 2021
My last story is not a piece of Flash Fiction at all. It’s a piece of horror writing from Steve Simler. I’m not usually a great fan of horror, but this story made me feel compelled to read to the end.
Something To Cherish
To say Arthur Brent was a keen antique collector, would be an understatement. He was completely obsessed with them: from furniture and pictures to rarities of any nature. His main passion was porcelain – china, specifically – and his drawing-room was a veritable Aladdin’s cave festooned with wonders old and new.
His wife, Vera, never seemed to share his enthusiasm but had learned to tolerate it. Although married for many years, they had not been blessed with children. The void in their lives, on Arthur’s part, had been filled mainly by his hobby and one can only assume Vera’s had remained unfulfilled. She just seemed to accept ‘what will be, will be.’
Arthur travelled from town to town, always on the lookout for treasures. Then, one cold evening, outside a tatty second-hand shop, several miles from his small village, he saw it. There, sitting and leaning against a small footstool, was a vision that made his heart leap and his pulse quicken: a small china doll with the face of an angel, and deep, sparkling blue eyes, dressed in a pink, but grubby, floral dress. . Those eyes seemed to jump out at him and he knew he needed this at any cost.
He peered into the dark, dismal shop and was about to turn away, disheartened when he noticed some movement at the back of the shop. After a series of rapid knockings on the window, the shop owner reluctantly opened up.
Travelling home, he felt pretty pleased with himself: five pounds well spent. He glanced momentarily at his new possession. The doll was even more beautiful with the street lights bouncing off that bone china, silky-white skin and those deep, glittering eyes. It looked almost though she was smiling.
At home, after they had finished their evening meal, Vera washed up and was just retiring to the front room when she saw the doll sitting on the table in the hall. When Arthur came into the room, Vera had become completely entranced. She tenderly held the doll, straightening its dress and combing its matted jet-black hair.
“Beautiful, what a beautiful girl you are, you will break a young man’s heart one day, Emily,” she said.
Arthur looked at his wife, bemused. “Emily?”
“Yes, our lovely daughter.We are so blessed to have such a darling girl.”
Arthur moved towards his wife and, with a cautious but reassuring smile, spoke.
“Look, it’s only a doll and once I get a nice case, I will display it on the bureau in the back room.” Vera pulled back defensively, clutching the doll close to her chest. “Are you mad? What could you possibly be thinking?”
And with that, she left the room with the doll and rushed upstairs, leaving Arthur staring blankly at the door.
Over the next few weeks, life in the Brent household took a dramatic change. Vera had made up the bed in the spare room, where she and ‘Emily’ now slept. All meals were set for three. Vera spent most of the time chatting and coaxing the doll to eat up all her food. Arthur sat looking at them with increasing frustration.
On shopping trips, ‘Emily’ accompanied Vera who lavished her with toys and new clothes. Although Vera did receive some strange looks, she promptly ignored them.
Arthur’s neighbours and friends whispered behind his back and sometimes he heard sly comments.
“She’s off her rocker, that Mrs Brent. Someone should put her in a nuthouse,” said one.
“It’s him I feel sorry for,” said another.
On the way back from one of his trips, he stopped at the local pub. He ordered a double gin and, behind him, heard a tune.
“Hello, Dolly… well, hello, Dolly” whispered a voice somewhere in the crowd. Then came a snigger, which turned into a roar of laughter from the whole pub. Arthur, enraged, swallowed his drink and ran out, the laughter trailing behind him.
He bought a large bottle of gin from the off-licence and opened it. He sat in his car polishing it off and decided ‘Emily’ definitely had to go.
Back home, Vera and ‘child’ were in the front room. Arthur, completely paralytic, struggled to open the front door and staggered into the room. The pair, oblivious to him, were laughing and playing on the rug, as any mother and daughter would.
He squatted next to them and gently stroked ‘Emily’s’ hair. He pulled her up into the air and, in one movement, dashed her head against the coffee table. Almost in slow motion, the bone china doll shattered into a million pieces.
Vera was now standing. Her face filled with rage; she lunged, screaming at Arthur, pushing him backwards. He fell to the floor, with his wife pinning him there, under the weight of her body.
He became aware that Vera had her hands at his throat, pressing against his windpipe. He gasped for air as the room faded into darkness. As the life was squeezed out of him, he groped desperately around him. His hand connected to a wire, some sort of flex. He yanked hard and heard a loud shattering noise. The flex belonged to the crystal table lamp which had crashed to the hard wood floor and broken into shards of glass
Vera, momentarily caught off-guard by the sound, released her grip for a split second and Arthur seized his chance. Glancing to his right, he grabbed a jagged piece of glass and plunged it deep into the side of Vera’s neck. Her face turned to horror as a small trickle of blood oozed from her arterial vein. Arthur watched her slowly pull the glass out, a fatal mistake, as a fountain of blood gushed out, in a steady pumping jet. She tried in despair to stem the flow but it was already too late. She slumped over him, dead: a dark pool encircling them both.
Arthur screamed and tried to push the dead weight off. Covered with slick, warm blood, he kicked violently and was free. He was horrified by what he had done and gazed sorrowfully into Vera’s dead eyes. She appeared to be looking behind him…
He turned and was filled with terror. The doll’s head, previously smashed into myriad pieces, was now unscathed. But that was not all: the toy inched closer and closer. He tried to move but was rooted and struck dumb. It reached his face, staring at him, and stretched a china hand towards him. Arthur’s heart raced alarmingly as he scrambled to get away…
The next-door neighbour alerted the police about the shouting and sounds of a struggle and they arrived at the scene a short while later.
“Another case of drunken domestic violence and murder,” said the lead investigator. “The wife stabbed to death, the husband also dead, obviously from some sort of seizure or heart attack. Look at his face – it’s filled with terror. Don’t think we will ever really know what actually occurred.” Bending down, he added, “Look at this: what a pretty-faced doll. Such sweet blue eyes. Shame about the blood on its dress.”
© Steve Simler, 2021
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s stories. If you feel inclined to try your own stories, you might like to submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org – see you next time!
Stories - we writers tell them, shape them, edit them and love them. We connect with readers who love stories in all shapes and sizes.