This week: Horror In A FlashEdited by: W.D.40
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Horror In A Flash
Flash Fiction is, in and of itself, an art form. The trick is to cause an emotional response using very few words. To do this, you have to take advantage of the language, and what I mean by that is you have to use the exact words to trigger the emotions that will leave the reader feeling as if they have read a complete story.
It is by no means an easy task. It requires more thought than words. You paint a small picture and then stand back and look at it changing and editing sentences that will deliver the most punch. Here are a few examples, the first, a 200 word story, that seems like an average scene on the surface but then delivers a gut-punch at the end.
Stanley Vang sat alone in the back booth of the restaurant concentrating on his lunch.
He sucked hot soup from his spoon, then spooned up some more, never taking his eyes off the contents of the bowl.
He pretended to be unaware of his surroundings, even of the limping waitress that gave him another dirty look as she passed by.
Ignoring her, he kept eating his soup.
Stanley was small but sinewy, in his late forties, and wearing his hair closely cropped. His skin was the shade of antique parchment.
He allowed people to think that he was Chinese, but was actually a Vietnamese refugee who had fled to the States after the fall of Saigon. Rumor had it, he’d been an interrogation expert, using any tool or technique to get his prisoners to cooperate, which was probably true.
But that was then.
Now, he ran this restaurant and would never tolerate his employees to be late for work, ever.
Again the waitress hobbled by, angry, slowing only a little to examine her small toe floating in the bowl of Stanley's soup.
In this next piece, I used a common everyday thing like 'Snow' and brought it to life in 500 words. The opening line says it all and catches you and drags the reader in.
The snow moved.
Jon peeked through the dirty window of the cabin, watching it and considering its strange behavior with a tightening in his throat. He had seen it move before while gathering wood: large mounds of it, sliding a couple of feet at a time, and closing in like a pack of hungry wolves. It was slower then, almost indiscernible, but now that it knew he was trapped, it moved much quicker. Several large piles had already accumulated against the entrance of the cabin blocking any hope of escape. He pressed his ear against the door and heard the soft swish and rustle of it, probing and pushing at the entry, studying the cabin’s weaknesses. The sheer weight of it made the door creak and pop upon its hinges.
He was running out of time.
Desperately, he kept the fireplace roaring, throwing into it anything that would burn: splintered chairs, tables, cupboard doors, and floorboards. The cabin was like a furnace, but it slowed the advance of the menacing snow. When it piled high around the windows, he boiled pots of water and dumped it upon the snow like the lone defender of a castle pouring hot oil down upon its besiegers. The snow cracked and moaned under the onslaught.
Exhausted, Jon slept.
He awoke to freezing cold. The snow had overrun the entire cabin, dropped down through the chimney, and piled high in the fireplace. Lighting his oil lamp, he surveyed the damage.
He was in the belly of the beast, and he could feel the weight of it crushing down upon him like a mountain. There was only one thing left to do. Rearing back, he smashed the lantern upon the floor. The oil splashed all around him, and then caught fire.
The Wall was inspired by an old World War II movie I saw where Jews were pulled out of their homes and shot. Here again I tried to tell a story in 55 words, and the challenge was to bring all those types of emotions together in just a snapshot.
The gunshots faded.
The woman sagged against the man behind her, not unconscious, but simply used up.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine," she said, wiping her eyes. "It's not gonna hurt, is it?"
"Naw...piece of cake." The lie showed on his face.
"You're next," a soldier said.
She followed him to the bloodied wall.
I've always been interested in the phantom limbs mystery experienced by amputees. This little 500 word tale came to me in a dream, and delivers a spooky Twilight Zone ending. Here again, it's important that Flash Horror delivers a 'punch ending'.
Elliot lay sulking in his room.
It was equipped with a nightstand, a TV bolted to an adjustable arm, and a bed. He had no posters, no Ninetendo, no model airplanes hanging down like you’d see in the room of most sixteen-year-old's, no pets, no parents, and no legs.
Elliot lived in Room 23 on the third floor of Mercy Hospital.
Tragically, in a devastating car crash, the lower half of his body was crushed like a cockroach beneath a hard sole shoe. The doctors explained that they had to remove his legs, or he would’ve died. Elliot didn’t believe them. He thought they had sold them to someone else. “You can’t trust doctors,“ his Dad had told him. “They don’t care about nothing but money.“
Elliot wanted to get out of bed, go to the window, and pull open the drapes. He had an undying urge to see the world outside. After so much death, he needed a glimpse of life; and although he couldn’t move, he imagined the city outside dazzling with lights, and he wanted to be part of it more than anything. He wept for all the things that might have been, and for what could never be again. He wanted his life back, his parents back, but most of all, he wanted his legs back.
After a few minutes, he got control of himself, dried his eyes and blew his nose. He couldn’t understand it. It felt like his legs were there. In fact, he could have sworn his left foot itched. Throwing back the covers, he stared at the empty half of bed where his legs should have been, but were now temporarily invisible.
He crumbled back into his pillow, blubbering again, weeping, wailing. He prayed for his legs to come back, begged for them to return, willed them with every fiber of his being. A tremendous sense of peace, of reassurance, came over him, and then he slept.
Elliot dreamed he was running down a long corridor. Looking down at his legs, he saw that they were bleeding, smashed, and broken, his pulverized feet leaving red smears upon the linoleum.
He awoke abruptly, out of breath, his flesh crawling, and a chill settling on the nape of his neck. Outside, in the dimly lit hallway, he heard the padding of bare feet. Squinting into the choking shadows, Elliot saw the grisly stumps of his legs.
He motioned for them to enter, and they stumbled forward and stood at his bedside. They were terribly bruised, broken, and gangrenous, the white glint of bone showing at the tops. Elliot pulled back the covers and ripped off his bandages, and then patted the mattress as if coaxing a dog. The legs jumped into the bed and painfully, magically, reattached themselves.
The nurses later said that Elliot’s screams were heard throughout the hospital. When help finally arrived, they found him dead in front of the window. It's still a mystery how he got there with no legs.
I saw a poster once at a fair describing Zombies in far away Africa. The picture on the poster stayed with me even to this day. It was published in the Journal of Micro-Literature and has a poetic style that puts you in a tortured woman's fantasy that she must endure in her everyday life.
When she took off her makeup her true features emerged jagged with deep slashes, her mouth like a scar—her eyes like open wounds. She gripped the mirror as if it were a portal where some madwoman stood peering out with a lunatic grin—like a person locked outside of her house but can still look in through the windows and pound on the door. “Where are you, Raheesha? Where have you gone?”
Something scuttled across her face and she casually reached for it with a claw of a hand and snatched the cockroach from her cheek as it attempted to crawl into her mouth. “Not yet, my dear…not yet.”
Crushing the bug between her fingers, she turned from the mirror, and slowly melted back into her chair like a wax candle shaped into a semblance of lumpish human form. The rotting stench of her body filled the small carnival wagon that now served as her home.
Three years ago the doctors had diagnosed her with necrotizing fasciitis—‘flesh-eating’ disease. By all rights, she should have died within the first few months, but for some inexplicable reason she survived; her black skin deteriorating, the insurmountable pain never-ending. Even after all the countless skin grafts had failed and the insurance money had run out, she continued on—a sideshow attraction—a carnival freak.
Pouring another brandy, she shrank back into herself with a deep sigh that was something akin to grief. She stared at all the brightly colored billboards and posters that lined the walls of her wagon like a fading movie star; each a different caricature of a grotesque woman walking through the jungle with arms outstretched, rats scurrying beneath her feet. She smiled as she read the caption, 'Raheesha: Zombie Girl from Darkest Africa'.
"Africa,” she scoffed, “I’ve never been to Africa in my life.”
Outside, a storm approached, and she heard the trees and shrubs shiver as the rain whispered through the foliage. She stood stiffly, parts of her rotting skin still clinging to the chair, and ambled toward the door. Throwing it open, she took in a deep breath of freshly washed air. The rain rattled upon the roof of the wagon and clicked against the windows. As the wind blew, the trees shook like the manes of lions, and in her mind, she could almost hear them roaring, and see them gathering for the hunt.
As she watched, they crept forward, skulking beneath the undergrowth and moving toward her. She stepped back inside, her heart knocking as hard as a fist on a door. “I must be losing my mind,” she said, and sat down in front of the mirror.
The door hung open, and she thought she could hear the sound of tribal drums somewhere in the distance, and then the scratching of claws against the small wooden steps that led into her wagon. Through the mirror, she saw the yellow eyes of the first lion as it entered.
I hope this helps some of you in your quest to attack Horror in Flash Fiction. As I said, it is an art form much like writing poetry: use the precise words to paint an emotional mental picture for the reader, and then discard the rest. I have always looked at Flash Fiction as a challenge. Are you up to it?
Until next time,
Editors Note: There are so many excellent Flash Fiction stories here at WDC. If I didn't feature yours please shoot me an email and I will use it in my next newsletter.
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There were no write-ins this month, so I decided to give another example of Flash Fiction. It is poetic, the words sensual, and yet it packs a powerful punch. There's a whole lot of eeriness in this little piece because it is a quasi-manifestation of 'fear' that narrates the tale, describes the imagery, including the woman, and how it insinuates itself inside her psyche - driving her to painfully relive the greatest fear-filled moment of her life. It is a softly written horror of an insidious nature which includes the line, "Without the driving force of self-pity, compassion is meaningless. " Think on that, as there seems to be an inherent truth to it.
Looking into a window is not the same as looking through it. Windows are like doors opening into other worlds--worlds left better undisturbed. Even now, a fresh spring garden lies before me. I can see the sunlight falling upon the trees and sweet grass, smell the scent of mushrooms growing in the moist shadows, hear the gentle gurgle of the stream and the hum-buzz of insects.
A beautiful lady strolls through the garden, her steps taking her nowhere. She catches a glimpse of her reflection in the smudged and moss-stained window of the old shed. Between the time she sees her reflection and the time in which we now stand, I am with her.
I come without invitation--my laughter breaking her silent mood--and make myself at home in her mind. To the people that live on the edge of light, facing the storm, I float through their eyes like a reptile’s smile, like tears that never dry, like an unwanted love with an absolute stranger.
I am fear.
Even as she continues to look about the garden, I am there with her.
Slowly I fill her thoughts with the sensation of red, biting ants that burrow into her flesh, chewing their way deeper and deeper toward the essential fibers of her soul. She feels torn from herself strand by strand, her confidence slowly ripped to agony. She can not believe that she can endure such pain and remain conscious of it. Instead of dying, she is caught in an eternity of incineration as though she has been struck by a bolt of lightning that will never end. Her legs collapse, and she rolls upon the garden floor with no control over her pain, pressing her fingers through the grass and tearing at the dirt. The gnawing insects peel the skin from her bones, consume the chunks of loneliness, and reveal her true heart.
Yet still she endures.
You could say it’s an incomprehensible fact for the moment, but the moment will change.
She is in another place now. It has no features and no dimensions. It is simply gelid white, multiplied to infinity, faceless as snow, demeaning as ice. It crawls over her like an angry lover bitter with pain.
I reveal her worst fear.
She recalls her mother, who locked her in the attic so that she would be forced to watch her kill herself. It is her dirty little secret. It is what haunts the rooms of her mind. It defines her, makes her what she is, strangles her hope and steals her choice.
She is completely mine to do with as I wish, but I am incapable of feeling compassion for her because I cannot feel sorry for myself. Without the driving force of self-pity, compassion is meaningless.
And I am there. The underlying current that flows beneath the incomparable beauty of the garden. That which is just as real but never let out until faintly glimpsed as a reflection in a window.
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