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.

Smile (Flash Fiction)

(Flash Fiction: Every fourth Monday, I’ll share a flash fiction story.)

denny-muller-532461-unsplashThe cupboards were nearly empty, and within a few days, they would be.

Melody, sluggish from hunger, dug through the last cans of tuna and bags of stale chips. The electricity had died a couple of days ago, so she needed something she didn’t have to cook. So much for her dreams of culinary school. Filet Mignon and chocolate Chambord cake were things of the halcyon past.

Sighing, she settled on a bag of chewy cheddar popcorn a few weeks passed its expiration date. Lacking the energy to make it upstairs to her bed, she plopped herself down on the couch. She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders – the heat had wilted with the electricity, and it was nearing the beginning of winter. Soon, it would snow.

She had nothing to do but stare at the wall and a blank TV screen while stale seeds got stuck between her teeth. Her eyes wandered to the pictures lining the stairwell. Her mom, her dad, her older brother. The End had taken them away six weeks ago, and now their faces only existed behind the glass, flat and still.

Melody’s gaze watered without her permission. She clamped it shut while soggy popcorn sat on her tongue. Her days were as empty as the kitchen shelves. She cherished no one and nothing, and no one and nothing cherished her. She’d used up all of her sorrow and all of her fear…now her insides were as empty as her outsides.

Another Melody smirked at her from the photos, her eyes as bright as the summer sun behind her. That version of herself also remained only within wooden frames, as dead as the rest of her family.

Melody laughed, the noise leaving her mouth as if her lips had taken on a mind of their own. The girl in the photos had thought she’d had a future. So had the millions the End had taken. She’d –

A giggle echoed from somewhere outside her curtained windows. At least, she thought that was what she’d heard, before she realized she had to be mistaken. Her gaze shot up, her ears waiting intently with every expectation of disappointment.

But the sound came again, followed by a second joyful voice. It was muted, but she wasn’t mistaken. There were people. Other people. Other survivors.

Melody got up and ran to the door, her body reacting before her mind could. She reached out for the knob, sucked in a breath, and broke the seal protecting her house from the rest of the world.

Her eyes stretched wide when she saw them on the street. Men. Women. Children. She managed a noise – a wordless squeak – and one man looked at her, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of a young boy who eyed her curiously through sunny blue irises. Fellow strangers followed suit, and for the first time in weeks, she was seen in the eyes of someone else.

“Hello there,” the man stepped closer and held out his hand in greeting. “Didn’t think anyone else was still holed up around here.”

She saw something on his face that she hadn’t in a long while – a smile.

Melody fought back her tears. Her future wasn’t gone. All she had to do was seize it and start a new story.

She smiled, too.

Friend (Flash Fiction)

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

Source: This prompt came from a page in this workbook, which I highly recommended.

Prompt: Begin a story with the following sentences: “How did you know?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she


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“How did you know?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she honestly liked me as a friend. As a person. No, that couldn’t be – not if she’d known. Her interest in me had to be because of what I was. It had to be because of her job with the Agency. I was her enemy, not her friend.

She smiled weakly, “I hoped, before I knew. You seemed different than other people.”

“Different?” I frowned. I’d tried so hard to blend in, to pretend to be human. I’d failed, then.

“Not in a bad way. You didn’t seem to walk around with the same sets of assumptions and expectations we do. You were excited and horrified by different things.” She smirked, “you even laughed at my jokes.”

She paused, as if all of this was just another joke and I was supposed to keep on laughing. I didn’t. I didn’t think I’d ever laugh again.

Her face fell. “Still, I must admit to spying on you. I saw you in your original form. I’m sorry. I’ve been a terrible friend.”

I swallowed, trying to pretend the hurt wasn’t there. “Friend? Why would someone from the Agency still call me a friend?”

Her eyes widened. “Oh no, I’m not from the Agency! I was searching for someone like you because I was hoping you’d take me with you to the stars! I’m sick of Earth.”

She’d used me, then, but I still found myself smiling. I should’ve said no, but I knew that I wouldn’t. I also knew how much she’d love my home – the planet her people called Luyten b.


If you write your own story with this prompt, feel free to post it in the comments!

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.

[Read more…]

A King (Flash Fiction)

(Flash Friday: Every other Friday, I’ll share a flash fiction story and the prompt that spawned it.)

Source: This prompt came from a page in this workbook, which I highly recommended.

Prompt: Begin a story with the following sentences: “I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like”.


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I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like the wide wheat fields of Hyrule, the pixelated sea of Goldenrod City, Sylvarant’s cozy towns, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or my farm in Stardew Valley. As much of a homebody as I am, if a train pulled up and offered to take me to any of these places, I’m sure I’d step on board. Growing up as the weird, bookish loner, these places were as much home to me as anywhere else. I still visit them now and then, dusting off old disks and pages and letting my imagination take me there as best as it can. Even if my favorite destinations only come to life in my head, they change the color of the real world. They reawaken my wonder.

Still, once place stands out to me the most – the castle where I made myself a Prince. I excelled in all my classes there and learned so many delightful things. I was whatever I wanted to be. I was a storyteller who hypnotized my audience with every word, I was a singer who lit up the stage and a dancer who blazed through the ballroom, I was a chef and my guests came from miles away for a bite of my food. I knew the answer to every question I was asked. I met all kinds of friends who became part of me. I was loved, wise, unafraid.

So, why is this place the one I haven’t visited? Perhaps it’s because it has no disc, no pages, no pictures. Somehow, as I grew up, I convinced myself that I couldn’t go there anymore. That it was gone. But how can that be when the castle itself is me? Perhaps it’s time I go back and become a king.

I watch the birds a moment longer, then close my eyes.


If you write your own story with this prompt, feel free to post it in the comments!