Every once in a while, I’m intrigued by a Flash Fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog. So this week, you had to pick random elements by dice roll from his lists to make your story. I managed to pull:

  • Alternate History
  • Dying Earth
  • A locked door
  • A perilous journey

So all these together had me create “Uncle Henry’s Study” – enjoy!

Mother packed my suitcase before dawn. There was only room for a few things, so she wouldn’t let me choose. She selected blouses and stockings, skirts and even a pair of knickers I wore for gardening. She put in an extra pair of sensible shoes. “There will be no need for patent leather, I think,” she said thoughtfully, and set aside my Sunday best. She packed my best sweater too and brought down my thick woolen coat.

“It will be cold,” she explained, “where you’ll be going.”

I sat at the edge of my bed, still in my pajamas.

“Tell me again,” I whispered. The pre-dawn darkness made me unwilling to disturb the silence. “Tell me again what it’ll be like.”

Mother stopped packing and sat beside me. She was a refined woman before the war started, the daughter of an army colonel who grew up near Kensington Gardens in London. She had met my father at a military luncheon and chose to be a lieutenant’s wife, breaking my grandfather’s heart. Grandfather was cavalry once upon a time; my father, so thoroughly modern, was in the Royal Air Corp, far away now at war.

Mother smoothed down her skirt. “It will be cold,” she repeated, “and very dark. That is what we’ve been told. I cannot tell you more except that. It’s all a bit of a mystery.”

I didn’t want to think of the cold. England could be cold, of course, but the way she said it you’d think I was going to the Arctic Circle itself. Perhaps I was. Nobody would tell me.

I shook my head then. “I don’t see why you can’t come with me.”

My mother squeezed my hand. “We’ve been over this, dove. During the blitz, the order is to evacuate only children. Perhaps I’ll be able to follow after.” She stood up then and walked to the door. “There’s enough room for you to pick one special belonging and bring it with you. Just one. Change your clothes and bring your things downstairs.” Her voice thickened for a moment. “And don’t forget extra socks. There should be some in the cupboard.”

Once she was gone, I stared around my room. What did one bring when you were abandoning home during war? We were not as wealthy as grandfather but I didn’t lack for belongings, each with their own memory.

I dressed first as a way to drag the process out. I knew that I should pick something adult, something I could grow with and grow into. Who knew when I would return, or what would be left when I did? I remembered the bombed out buildings in town, the craters where someone’s life had once been. I thought about my china tea pot smashed as an explosion flattened our home, or my dance shoes burned in the raging fire afterwards. I wanted to save it all.

Instead, I chose the smallest of things. It was an old fountain pen, passed down from my grandmother to my mother and to me. It was ornately decorated with swirling leaves around an ivory body. It was easily the smallest but most precious thing I owned. It slipped easily into the pocket of my coat. This way, I could fit more socks.

I finished dressing and tiptoed, coat over my arm, downstairs. I could hear mother talking with Uncle Henry in the foyer. Uncle Henry worked for the Royal Applied Sciences Division, whatever that meant. It was Uncle Henry who brought home the gas masks when the Germans had dropped poison on London. It was Uncle Henry who brought home the radiation pills just before we had evacuated the city to the house here in Kent. We were some of the only people to have them when the Bomb flattened London, so many miles away. I remember the words he said after the screams on the radio died in a hail of static. Nuclear, they said.

“They are death,” he had intoned, “all of them. They have destroyed the world.”

Now he stood, his hands clasped behind him, at the bottom of the stairs.

“If the others knew we were sending her, instead of Norton’s children,” Uncle Henry was saying, “he’d have a screaming fit. But she’s the one, Helen. Your little girl will survive this.”

“Is there no chance for the rest of us?” Mother asked.

Uncle Henry’s face fell then. “It’s hard to say. But the Germans have deployed their Thul Society men with some kind of poison in the water. It’s only a matter of time. Their top madman wants nothing but to end it all. And it’s happening soon.”

I leaned forward, my breath caught. The end? The stair under my foot creaked and Uncle Henry looked up. His smile was gentle.

“Lucy,” he said quietly, “I suppose you heard.”

I didn’t answer, but threw myself into Mother’s arms.

“I won’t go,” I said fiercely.

Mother took my chin in her hands. “You will,” she pressed. She looked over her shoulder then, at the door just under the stairs. It had been locked as long as I’d been in the Kent House. It was Uncle Henry’s study and we’d been forbidden to try and get in. I had been horribly curious, but now my knees grew weak.

Upstairs, I heard feet thump on a hallway riser. All three of us froze.

“Bollocks,” Uncle Henry exclaimed, “Norton’s awake.” He took my hand then and tugged me down the hall. “We have to go, Lucy. Now!”

“Mother!” I exclaimed.

Uncle Henry pulled me from her arms so hard I nearly dropped my suitcase. He produced a brass key from his pocket and lead me to the locked door, thrusting the key into the lock. Upstairs I could hear angry voices and feet approaching on the stairs. My heart thudded in my chest and I heard in my ears again: she’s the one. Your little girl will survive this.

The key turned in the lock; I looked back one last time. My mother, ever the lady, stood poised at the foot of the stairs. “Remember your socks,” she called after me, “it will be cold!”

But as Uncle Henry opened the door, I heard her whisper, “I love you, dove.” And I was forever glad that those were her last words to me, and not some nonsense about the weather.

 

By: Shoshana Kessock – June 27, 2013

Here’s a little flash fiction update from me, inspired by my hero Chuck Wendig for a quick mid-week writing excursion. He’s my hero by the way because of an amazing post on his blog about quitting versus failing that I suggest for ANYONE to read. Like anyone, creative types or not. Anyway, the constraint of this week’s Flash Fiction challenge is that the work has to be 100 words or under. This one hit just 100 words. Enjoy!

Elderberry Wine by Shoshana Kessock

Elderberry wine tastes like piss. It made the cheese taste like moth-eaten socks.

“You’ll marry me,” Adam said. He handed me a piece of meat, which I nibbled; more socks now. Meaty socks.

I stood up. The trees overhead swayed, the wind brisk and cold. I fought down the urge to scratch my leg where an ant had crawled.

“You got the wrong meat, the wrong cheese to go with it, and the most god awful wine,” I accused. I dusted off my skirt. “The next time you want to ask a girl to marry you? Try asking correctly.”

It’s that time again. Flash Fiction challenge is up on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. This week it’s Antagonist/Protagonist as a theme, and the idea is to write half the story from the perspective of the antagonist and the other half from the protagonist. So here’s my contribution to that, which I like to call “Juggling Is Hard, And Also Murder.”

 

Juggling Is Hard, And Also Murder by Shoshana Kessock

There’s a technique to juggling, they say, and Robert Fagan knew he didn’t have it. He stared hard into his reflection in the mirror and tried a basic hand-off without looking. The ball in the mirror went from his right hand to his left with careful fluidity. His doppleganger made it seem a lot easier than it felt. Robert frowned, then tried the pass again. His fingers fumbled on the ball and found purchase; no drop. Still, it wasn’t clean, wasn’t smooth. He tried it again and his thumb fumbled, wouldn’t close over the sphere, wouldn’t complete the movement. A phantom pain juked through his knuckles and he fought the urge to wince. He’d been practicing for too long.

“I’ve got four days to learn to juggle,” he said over his shoulder. “Four days. God had more time to invent the world.”

Behind him, the only response was the uncomfortable shuffle of feet. Robert grinned into the mirror, sheepish. “Sure, I guess that’s a bitter analysis. God had a lot more to put together than a simple three-ball toss. Still, God at least had the tools when He started out. He had the design knowledge, one would expect, for life and the totally-phenomenal cosmic power workbench from which to launch Universe 1.0. All I’ve got are three balls and a fourth on the side that’s never going to get used.”

The word never hung in the air thicker than Robert liked and he turned from the mirror. Behind him, Carina stared at him with her impossibly wide eyes. She shuffled her feet but otherwise sat silent, still.

“Do you think that’s stupid?” Robert asked. He held up the ball in one hand. “I can’t help but imagine that I’m overstating the importance of this, but you do understand, don’t you? They’ll hire someone else if I don’t get this. Then where will I be? Jacky Hardooley is just waiting for me to fail because he wants to get off the midway. He wants into the tent and if it means manipulating the Boss Man into unrealistic expectations-“

Robert stopped, then ran a hand through his hair. “What am I saying? What am I doing here?” He threw the ball up in the air and caught it with a satisfying thwack. “Last year I was at Fordham, now I’m here. Last year I was debating where I’d go for my PhD for Chrissake and now-“

He tossed the ball up in the air with more force. It came down, a loud smack on flesh. Carina winced.

“I’m sorry,” he said and found, strangely, he meant it. He set the ball down on the worn dresser that rounded out his battered, road-worn furniture. As he did, Carina tensed and Robert saw her eyes track to the ball and then back to him. “I’m talking too much about this, aren’t I? I’m just under so much pressure. I shouldn’t talk so much about myself.”

He knelt beside Carina’s chair and his knee kicked up a cloud of dust. Robert hesitated, then put a hand on her slender, perfect foot. The charge of skin on skin contact made him shudder and he heard her whimper. It sent a jolt through his blood and he looked up at her with barely masked adoration.

“You’re just so easy to talk to,” he confessed, then set about checking the rope around her ankles.

 

Talking, Carina thought. The key was just to keep him talking. That’s what they said in all the shows, but how did one do that without being able to talk back? How did you make small talk, build empathy, with a dirty pair of Jockey’s shoved in your mouth?

The eyes. Windows to the soul, weren’t they? Carina’s heart rate rode high in her ears, her blood pounding, and her mind fragmented into a million cliches: windows to the soul, home is the place your heart is, grass is always greener, and all that jazz. She felt crazy, the taste of cotton and sweat in her mouth driving home the inevitability that said she was seeing, for the first time, the real face of this rodeo clown Devil’s Rejects escapee.

He talked. He talked for hours. When he wasn’t speaking, he tossed that ball. She watched the ball because as long as it was in his hand, he didn’t have a weapon. Only his words. Only his hands.

Carina wasn’t sure how long she had been in that chair. She knew it was long enough for her to have to piss so badly that she’d nearly cried. He’d brought her a bedpan and humiliated her by smiling kindly into her face while she used it. Had he been a nurse? She saw the scars on his knuckles and thought better of it. Boxer? MMA fighter? The thought made her cringe. He had barely used his hands on her when he’d carried her from the midway at the close of the day. Could he do more? Was he trained? Was he capable?

He kept talking and Carina watched the ball in his hands, reading his words and not his body language. He was calm and she wanted it to stay that way. Gain an inch, she might get a mile in return.

She shuffled her feet; there were the cliche’s again.

Her eyes widened as he turned to her with those too-wide eyes. He earnestly asked her a question and knelt beside her chair. It took everything she had not to scream when he touched her foot and she felt the eager tremor in his moist grip. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and steadied herself.

If she was going to embrace cliche, she’d stick with something about darkest being before the dawn. She prayed, hope against hope, that he wouldn’t figure out the ropes were loose.