Hearing in Color (Flash Fiction)

Source: For 2019’s first flash fiction post, I’m going to share the story that placed 1st in the The Writer’s Workout’s September 2018 500 contest.

Prompt: Write a story embodying the concept of depression in under 500 words.


I can’t hear the music. It used to play nonstop inside my head, each new moment stirring up melodies. Most people perceive color through sight, but I found it inside song. Now the world is gray.

I stare up at my ceiling. The light fixture above my bed hangs loose at one end. The sun seeping in through my curtains blanches my room and stings my eyes. At least it’s comfortable beneath the blankets, safe, something like pleasant. I should get up, but I already know how the day will go – I’ll sit down at the piano and feel just as blocked as I did yesterday. Time will slip away. Night will come again. I’ll toss and turn. Repeat, repeat, repeat, like the notes in a song in which I’ve forgotten the next verse.

My stomach growls for the third time. I can’t ignore the hunger pains anymore, clenching like my body wants to curl and fold itself up until it can blow away on the breeze, taking my mind with it. I wouldn’t mind floating through the air, aimless and at rest. At least I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.

With a sigh, I push myself up on my palms. Something is wrong. I’m too weighed down. I look back to see my shadow staring at me.

“Stay,” my shadow orders.

I try to rise, but my shadow sticks to the bed. It’s heavy, as if all of the void is condensed inside its ink – all of that vast emptiness we spend our lives trying to forget.

“I have to try,” I tell it.

“It’s not worth it,” it tells me. “Any song you write will be erased by time. Anyone who listens will forget it. Nothing worth anything can come out of your useless soul.”

My phone buzzes on my bedside table. “Hey,” a text flashes on the screen. “I picked up tickets for your recital next week. Looking forward to it!”

…I was looking forward to it, too.

“You’ll disappoint her. You’ll disappoint yourself. You’ll fail.”

I pull forward with all of my strength, and my shadow rips free from my bed.

***

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My fingers summon the notes of a familiar song. It sounds blank at first, all of its colors gone, but I keep playing. Even if the song seems like silence to me, maybe someone else will hear what I used to.

I tap out the chorus, and for a moment, my walls turn blue, my hands turn tan, the sunlight turns gold. Then the gray returns.

I smile, just a bit. Colors flicker like the stars in the void. Even if I can’t always see those stars through the fog, I can hear them in the echoes of my notes. Maybe one day the abyss will be the night sky again – not empty, but full of planets, fire, light. For now, one note after another is enough.


I hope you enjoyed this brief story! If you’d like to read more, members of my email list get first access to updates and sneak peeks.

Halloween House (Short Fiction)

(Flash Friday: Every other Friday (or so), I’ll share a flash fiction story and the prompt that spawned it. Catching up for last week today.)

Source: This is a slightly longer story from the 2017 Fall Writing Contest at The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break (this piece didn’t place, but was shortlisted).

Prompt: A love story themed around the autumn.


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Even though a year had passed since Emma had seen Clyde, his face looked exactly as she remembered it. Unkempt amber hair framed painfully familiar features. His lips seemed as tender as they had during the first and last kisses they’d shared. His soul shimmered in his speckled blue gaze.

She smiled, and he smiled, too.

“Emma…”

Clyde’s voice drifted through the otherwise silent bedroom, and Emma savored it like a favorite song replayed on the radio after years of static. That sound – so deeply embedded in her memories – was all the proof she needed that he was really there.

“I shouldn’t have come,” he said, his smile wilting.

Emma searched for his gaze through the dusky flickers of candlelight. He was right. Maisey and the rest of her friends would think her insane if they knew about her visits with her former fiance. Her reputation would never recover from the scandal. “I don’t care,” she decided. “This is what we want, so what does it matter what everyone else thinks? You’re the only one I need.”

“No, Emma…” His features tied themselves into an anxious shape she’d never seen them in before. “I…don’t want this anymore.”

Her joy disappeared as if she’d been dunked beneath the autumn ocean. Her mouth opened, searching for words and failing to find any that made sense.

“You’re miserable, Emma,” he sighed. “We both need to move on.”

“No!” Emma startled at the volume of her own voice. “I waited for you, just like I will next year! I don’t mind, as long as we have Halloween night.” Her fingers wrapped around the cross pendant laying across her chest – the same one that had once belonged to him.

His eyes hardened, narrowing in on the pendant. “Give that back to me, Emma.”

She shook her head, her grip tightening around the cold silver. “If I don’t, you’ll keep coming back, won’t you?”

“You may as well be holding me hostage,” he growled. “Do you really think this is anything like what we had? Clinging to memories won’t give us our old life back.”

Three knocks echoed up through the floorboards from the front door below.

Emma held Clyde’s stare for a few seconds longer, sucking down the hurt with a deep breath. “Don’t you go anywhere,” she ordered. “I’ll be right back.”

***

Emma pounded down the stairs, the house groaning beneath each footfall like a weary, living thing.

Her visitors were probably the same damn kids who pranked her each year. She lived in the so-called Halloween House, after all. The neighborhood entertained itself with tales of strange voices, inexplicable shadows, and slamming doors. Boys and girls in costume had taken it upon themselves to knock on the door during the dead of Halloween night as proof of their bravery.

She grimaced with an anger that wasn’t entirely directed at the children when she reached out for the doorknob, already imagining the shouts she’d use to shoo them away. If those brats were searching for a good scare, she’d give it to them. This was the one night of the year she shared with Clyde. No one was going to ruin it for her.

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