I recently decided to enter a short story competition in an attempt to circumvent the lazy gene inherent in every scribbler of words. I told anyone who cared – so that was basically, my wife – I was entering so there was no way I could back out. So with Wifey’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears I was shooed into the laundry cupboard, or as I like to call it ‘The Writer’s Room’, where I set at the task.
The theme was ‘Rock Bottom – the moment for your protagonist when things can’t possibly get any worse‘. Obviously the comedic possibilities were endless! Well, so I thought, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. It started going nowhere fast. I just needed a direction, a spark of an idea. Then it took one bad, miserable day and I had an outline for a much darker story then originally intended. From there, all I needed was a frantic Saturday morning and I was more or less finished. The limit was 1000 words, so hardly War and Peace, but I must say I struggled to keep it that short.
It’s far from perfect but I am proud of it. I am learning as I go, so please keep that in mind. I mean we were all winner’s for entering, each and every one of us who paid for the privilege. OK that’s not exactly true, the real winner walked away with $400 and top billing but, I feel like I am their second cousin twice removed.
Anyway, if you are taking the time to read this story, please accept my heartfelt gratitude. It’s fun to try to write a story I would like to read myself, but more than a little scary to let others read it – even if it is just a tiny short story. I hope you enjoy.
The Endless Flight
His father never spoke his mind. He kept his own counsel, preferring actions over the hollow words of flippant men. A man was what he did, not what he said. As a child that perplexed Will and he never grasped his father’s subtleties.
A distant growl startled him, and he dove to the ground, short staccato breaths escaping despite himself. Even in the swirling grey mist, any sudden movement stood out, especially to them.
He didn’t know how many there were. They seemed everywhere at once yet no more tangible than the ethereal smoke surrounding them. Silent wraiths that hungered for the spirit as much as the flesh.
He cursed his stupidity in allowing himself to be frozen by fear. He strained to hear them, but his own heartbeat betrayed him as it thundered in his ears.
They say the measure of a man is how he is remembered by those he leaves behind. Will had heard his father eulogized and wished he had known the man they remembered. They spoke of generosity, loyalty and morality. Oh the irony that his life was reduced to common words.
The sight of his father’s empty shell spoke to Will of indifference and disappointment.
Ahead of him the tree line threatened and beguiled in equal measure. He couldn’t see far into the wood, but the unknown held less fear than what shadowed him. Edging forward, he smothered a cry as the mists around him shifted, hunters in unison with their prey. Any plan for calm evaporated as he broke into a run, the embrace of the dark wood so close.
He could see their silhouettes sliding through the trees. Bulging shoulders bunched forward, covered in flat dark fur. Misshapen heads framed flat eyes, reflecting what streaks of light broke through the forest roof. They were the hounds of hell unshackled.
His chest heaved more from the panic than the sprint. His actions would have shamed his father. Cowering among the trees, afraid to face the terror head on. As a boy the dark had held him hostage every night, its menace ever-changing. It fueled his love of reading, praying sleep would come unawares.
He scrambled up a muddy rise, only to face a hound at the peak. The creature’s lips curled back exposing razor-sharp fangs, its great body tensed for the kill. Will screamed, recoiling in terror. Stumbling backwards, he crashed down on to a fallen tree stump. His back bore the brunt, the wind knocked out of him. He rolled on to his front only to see the animal had not moved.
It enraged him, ‘Come on then! Take me! Please’. The last a feeble plea. Still it showed no intent to attack.
Will had been sent home from school only once. He remembered his father seated in his study, ramrod straight in his favourite reading chair, face devoid of emotion.
‘Using such language, in school?’
‘I wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore.’
‘You have embarrassed your Mother and I.’
‘I stood up for myself!’
‘No, all you did was mouth empty words. That’s why you’re the one nursing a black eye.’
Will stumbled through the forest, sobbing like a child. His father had known he was weak, his indifference to his son spoke volumes. Being worthless in your own eyes is one thing; in your father’s is another altogether.
He fell to his knees, this time by choice. He looked around him at his pursuers and felt their disdain. The words of a prayer fell from his lips, drawn from a memory long ago. The words trickled then stumbled, until he recognized them no more. He wanted it to end, the words pleading with the very creatures who craved it more than he.
The hounds sat like stone gargoyles, the watchers of the wretch before them. He mistook their inaction for pity, before the realisation of their intent hit home. Will knew he must find the bravery, not for what he faced but for what he must do to end it. Shame seized him as he recoiled from giving them their wish.
His father’s old study window overlooked the swings. Will looked up a hundred times a day, hoping to see his father smiling down at him. He could still hear the laughter of the other children as they played.
Will froze. Laughter. He could hear laughter. Carefree and infectious, it drifted down from the trees in front of him. Washing over him like a cool breeze, loosening despairs grip before its final spell was cast. He ran. The beasts around him broke ranks, guttural barks and growls followed him as he sprinted through the trees.
Amongst the chorus of noise, was a deeper howl, something far more primal and frightening. Will had never heard it before, and it was closing. He screeched to a halt at a narrow ravine, its sheer sides falling away to a dry river bed far below.
The jump was too much, he would never make it. The laughter floated through the trees on the far side, calling to him, daring him onward. He knew if he looked back he would be lost.
Will leapt in his seat at his daughter’s touch, wrenched from his disquiet.
‘What did you say little Boo?’
‘Is today a bad day Daddy?’ her tiny curls framed a frowning face.
He was thrown by her question. ‘Why would you ask that?’
‘Mommy said Daddy has bad days, but I was not to worry. I think I am old enough to worry if I want to.’
‘No, today is a good day’. He forced a smile, but he could see it convinced her not a jot.
She took his hand and led him to the swings. She paused, glancing back before he pushed her, higher and higher. He heard that laugh again, that beautiful lyrical song, and he smiled.
Will dared not look behind him, but in this moment he didn’t have to.
Update 26 September 2016:
One of the entry options offered, for an increased entrance fee, was a critique of your story from one of the editors at wordhaus. Due to the high volume of uptakes this was delayed almost two months beyond the original promised date of the end of July. I wanted to share the feedback I received as I found it to be accurate and constructive. I am proud of what I wrote, but I know the story has plenty of issues. Hearing honest feedback will hopefully help both me and the story improve.
wordhaus Editor comments:
The Endless Flight
In this story, a man wrestles with his broken relationship with his father after he passes away, and remembers some defining moments of it, until his daughter interrupts his thoughts.
This story has some very vivid characters and scenes in it, and that makes this story feel very alive. However, there is a lot going on here, and I’m not sure I catch it all because of how it is ordered.
The story flashes in and out of a few key moments for the protagonist, and it is a lot to take in within the confines of a short story, particularly without transitions or context. How can you connect and/or rearrange these pieces so that they are easier for the reader to follow?