Flamingo Dream

Time for another Flash Fiction!

 

Today’s submission was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Paint Color Title Scheme.  Of the ten possible colors listed, I chose “Flamingo Dream”!  I’m… not entirely sure what this is, but it was interesting to write after an emotionally draining day.  I am 99% sure I will be going back to this one and revising, as I think there’s a lot of good stuff here I might re-purpose after a night of good sleep.

 

In the meantime, please enjoy this rough, 20 minute (to write), 666 word story!

 

 

Flamingo Dream

Flamingos dream in black and white.  That was what the researchers said anyway, Ryan thought as he watched one of them nap in the sun.  But he couldn’t help but wonder how the researchers knew that was true.  Had they asked them?  Had they psychically wound their way into the flamingos’ dreams?  Had they experienced the richness of the world through a bird’s eye?

 

He doubted it.  Humans would probably never know, regardless of how many animals they studied in zoos.

 

Ryan enjoyed watching the zoo animals.  They always seemed so calm and content – all that they had to be was themselves, with no worries or fears.  Everything was provided for them: food, water, safety, interaction, family, friends…  It was probably a boring existence, but few of them seemed to mind.

 

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and sighed as he watched the graceful pink necks curve down and back up as the animals ate.  Sometimes he wished that his life could be that simple and easy.  But he couldn’t be what he wanted to be, or even what he was.  There was always something that someone else wanted of him: to be smarter, to work harder, to have more, to want more, to be… more.

 

Ryan wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to withstand it.

 

One of the flamingos ambled closer, drawn by the shrieking glee of a small girl in purple standing near him.  She was holding a mittened hand out towards the birds and yelling “pink, pink!”

 

The flamingo sniffed curiously at her hand.  Finding nothing exciting there, it pulled its head back and vocalized at her, which sent her into another shriek of excited glee.  Ryan smiled at her carefree enjoyment of the sunny day that he couldn’t seem to appreciate himself.  Animals and children: both were equally free to just be themselves.

 

And here he was, only in the later half of his twenties, wondering what the point of it all was.  Wondering who he was trying to impress with his long hours at work and his fancy new car.  Wondering when, exactly, he had stopped enjoying the simpler things in life like sunshine or the laugher of a child.

 

Ryan eyed one of the flamingos suspiciously as it shook water casually off its wings.  It sometimes seemed like he was far more caged than these birds.

 

###

 

The elder flamingo woke from her doze to find the tall human was still there.  That one came by a lot, she knew, and stayed longer than any others.  He was nice enough, as humans went: he didn’t throw things at them or honk back or make fun of their long legs and he always watched them so intently that it almost felt like admiration.  He could come and go as he pleased, but he always seemed to visit them late in the afternoon, just before bedtime.  With the young ones around and the constant visits from strange humans, it was pleasant to have some rhythm to the day.

 

One of the babies raced awkwardly towards her, nearly stumbling over his growing legs.  A commotion at the other end of the pond needed her attention.  She sighed and began her stately walk towards the fighting teens, proud even in the face of such a commonplace squabble.

 

Fights were for the young: the ones that still had down and spirit.  The ones who still naively believed that there was a place better than the pond they inhabited and the nice humans in the beige clothes that brought them food and let them inside for the winter.  They were still young and foolish, she knew, and would change their mind as soon as the cold struck.

 

When she looked back, the tall human was gone.  No matter: she knew that he would come back, as he always did.

 

If Ryan had been able to ask what she had dreamt during her nap, she could have told him that she dreamt of nothing.

Restful Thoughts

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Image from Dreamstime

 

Several months ago, I posted a little about how I had been writing every day.  A while after that, I posted that I had stopped writing every day.  And then, these last few weeks have been a little bit hit or miss.

 

Why the inconsistency, you ask?

 

The answer is simple: I needed a break.

 

I didn’t want a break, make no mistake.  I wanted to keep writing, to keep working, to keep developing new things and to finish a project (or five).  But my body had other ideas and essentially forced me to take a break.  Which amused the heck out of me, because things like that usually only happen when I am sick or stressed.  And I haven’t really been either lately.

 

Yes, part of it was recovery from Script Frenzy and A to Z blogging, but a larger part of it had to do with sheer creative exhaustion.  I would sit down for 15 minutes or half an hour, finish a scene or two, and that was it.  My fingers could keep typing but my brain had nothing left in it.

 

So I was forced to rest.  To watch TV, to nap, and to knit.  And, for the first two weeks of May, that was enough.  I’m nearly done another knitting project: one that uses a brand new-to-me technique that I dare say I have perfected.  I’ve got another little something on the needles, and I’m re-watching some of my favorite shows.  I haven’t really had any new creative ideas, but I think that the story that I’m working on right now has slowly been percolating away in the coffee pot I call a brain.

 

I had a good few weeks rest, and even took some time off from work as part of it (I get paid hourly and there wasn’t much to do at work.  Not to mention that we’re in the middle of an office renovation that’s happening right outside my door).  But I’ve been feeling the creative urges stirring again, demanding that I return bum to chair and fingers to keyboard and do something productive.  Which is a good thing, because Camp NaNoWriMo starts in eleven days!

 

Do I have any new and wonderful ideas?  No.  And while that bothers me a little (shouldn’t a rest be a breeding ground for such things?), I am learning to live with the frustration.  I have a novel on the go and another one in the very beginning stages of being re-planned, and that’s enough for now.  Besides, there’s a creative group venture in the early stages of becoming that looks like it will keep me very busy for the next while.

 

I think that the break was good for me.  But now I’m anxious to get back to the writing: the fun and the work.

 

Do you ever take breaks, willingly or otherwise?  How do they help your productivity?

Why I’ve Stopped Writing Every Day

Originally posted February 19, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

STOP SignPhoto from Dreamstime

It was just four weeks ago that I was bragging in this space about how I’d done something writing-related every day.

 

How quickly things change!

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t still write every day.  For the most part, I do.  Some nights I even spend a full hour or two (in between my day job and life things, that’s pretty good for a week night) working at my craft.

But I’ve also come to realize the importance of breaks.

Last week, I was having a pretty rough time of it.  My day job was getting busy and hard to handle (not at all unusual for a February in the oil and gas industry) and I hadn’t been sleeping well.  I’d also gotten some negative reviews on something I’d been working on consistently for two months.  To put it simply, I was run down!

As I’m sure most of you do, I follow a few blogs.  One, in particular, has recently been advocating taking regular breaks from writing (one day a week, in that author’s case).  I don’t have the desire to break all that frequently… yet… but the idea certainly has some merit!  One of my biggest frustrations with the writing feedback that had upset me was that it was right… I was just too close to the problem!

Looking back on it now, none of these things were quite so bad (except possibly for the day job issues, but I don’t see that changing anytime in the near future).  But it got me thinking a little more about how hard I’ve been working and how I manage stress.  While writing every day is a fine habit to be in, this last week, I’ve needed to take a few breaks from my habit.  Thus far, this has meant two whole nights where I didn’t write (one of which was a thirteen hour work day and the other my scheduled time with friends).  I know… I suck at taking breaks.  It’s just my personality, I suppose!

I’ve recently found that the concept is true for work as well.  Two weeks ago, things got rather stressful at my place of employment (to the point where I was ready to start yelling at coworkers).  Fortunately, the ongoing tasks didn’t need my direct supervision at the time, so there was a chance for me to take a mental health break.  I ended up spending about an hour and a half on e-mail answering questions, but it felt good to knit, snuggle the kitties, and watch TV for a while, rather than worrying too much about work.  I’m definitely thankful for the flexibility that my job offers, which allows me to work from home or take mini-breaks like that when needed.

But that day off only proved that a longer break was in order.  Since I tend to hyper-focus on certain things (work, writing, TV shows from the late 1990s…) I find it very difficult to take breaks and fully separate myself from something.  Fortunately, I know this about myself and several months ago we made plans for a long break right around this time!  This week, I’m taking a break from work and all of my related responsibilities.  I think some people call it a ‘vacation’.  I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now, and I think that the rest will be good for me.

If nothing else, I can catch up on my sleep.

What do you do when you just need a break?

On Muses and Musing

Originally posted January 15, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

 

My muse seems to have abandoned me.

 

It’s hard for me to admit, and yet it’s true.  I haven’t had many “good” story ideas in quite some time, and now that I’m actively looking for new content to write (both for short stories/novels and for this blog) it seems to be even more difficult to come up with something that feels worthy of my time.

 

I’m trying not to let it worry me… not to force it… but the clock is ticking and the pressure is starting to mount.  I need to come up with something soon if I want to have it ready in time to meet some end of February submission deadlines.

 

*takes a deep breath*

 

This has happened to me before.  I think it happens to all writers at some point or another, probably more than once.  I just need to be patient, to stay alert, and to keep trying to work through what ideas I do find.

 

In the meantime, I received some valuable advice from Twitter (thank you my followers: you were very helpful!):

  • Look at pretty pictures
  • Listen to inspiring music
  • Freewriting
  • People watching
  • Local news stories
  • Working out
  • Read things like what I am trying to write
  • Mindless housework (dishes, laundry)

 

A few of these have already proven useful, and I’ll be trying a few more in the coming weeks (and hopefully reporting back in!).  What’s your favourite way to get inspired?

 

When Bad Novels Turn Good

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Photo from Dreamstime 

 

My apologies for the horrific grammar of the title.  This post is a follow-up to “When Good Novels Go Bad“, where I wrote about a novel I was none to pleased with.  The writing schedule was going well, but the more that I worked, the less I liked the story: the plot was thin and the driving actions weren’t believable enough.  The beginning dragged on and on (and on…) and nothing seemed to be coming together after 30,000 words.  I didn’t like how the story was going, my critique group didn’t really care for it, and if I don’t like the story, I can’t very well expect my readers to like it!

 

So I put the writing on hold and spent my efforts overhauling the plot.  It took longer than I would have liked (only about 25 hours of actual work over two months) but Script Frenzy got in my way.  Besides, the hardest part was thinking up what to do next, which for me is the opposite of staring at the screen trying to write.

 

About three weeks ago, I started writing again.  I’m only two chapters (6,800 words) in, but it’s already feeling much more exciting and engaging to me.  My critique group even seemed to think so too!  Now, of course, there are still problems with the opening scene(s) to fix, but those will be relatively easy now that the basic plot is a little more workable (I hope!)

 

I guess only time will tell, won’t it?

 

What project has returned to life in your writing lately?

Solitary

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“.  This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.

 

Here’s my humble submission:

 

“Red five to black six.”  The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.

 

The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her.  Of course.  There it was.  She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.

 

“Thanks.”  She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear.  Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand.  “I’m Emma.”

 

“Paulette.”  Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook.  “Are you traveling alone?”

 

With hardly a pause, Emma nodded.  “Just for a few hours.  I’m heading back home for Easter.”  The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips.  There was no home for her anymore.  Not really.

 

“I kind of figured that.  The cards, after all.”

 

Emma looked down at her game and smiled.  “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers.  Everyone has an opinion.”

 

“So they do.”

 

Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again.  “How about you?”  Emma asked.  “Are you traveling with anyone?”

 

“No, I’m traveling on business.”

 

“What do you do?”  Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.

 

“Sales.”

 

“That sounds exciting.”

 

“It’s not really.  Honestly, it’s boring.  I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”

 

“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”

 

Paulette smiled.  “I hope so.”

 

###

 

When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.

 

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”  Paulette said softly, holding out one hand.  Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.

 

“Good luck with the job.  I hope things pick up.”

 

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”

 

Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her.  Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.

 

A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station.  As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself.  She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.

 

What if she’d given herself away?

 

Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew.  Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans.  Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.

 

At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well.  Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying.  She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.

 

###

 

When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched.  There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.

 

She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her.  Of course, that was ridiculous.  She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment.  She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.

 

But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.

Emma gasped.  “You…?”

 

Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma.  “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”

Unbeatable

Originally posted on January 12, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Song Shuffle Stories”.

 

Unbeatable

The prices were supposed to be unbeatable; that’s how Ken ended up with the sofa.

 

Hung over and dragged to the sale in protest, Ken had picked the first one that didn’t make him wince when he sat on it.  The price was definitely unbeatable – $100 for a brand new leather unit was a steal.  A damaged unit, they told him, perfectly good except for a few small flaws in the leather.  He didn’t care about a couple of scratches on the back, even if they did look disturbingly like fingernails, and it made his mother happy to watch him and his friends finally haul the dinged floral piece upstairs and out the door.

 

Ken should, perhaps, have wondered why the price had been so low.  Especially when it began to smell after a few days.  Certain that her slovenly son was the cause of the household stench, his mother watched imperiously as he scrubbed the entire basement, down to steam-cleaning the carpet.  The smell lingered, despite his best efforts and he eventually collapsed in an exhausted heap onto the offending furniture and began to doze in front of the television set.

 

As the darkness of sleep closed around him, Ken felt strangely warm and comfortable, as though he was surrounded in a soft, thick fabric.  He didn’t think much of it when the fabric covered his face, but when it began to squeeze him tightly he could do little except struggle in vain as it pulled him towards the ground.

 

###

 

When Ken woke with a start, everything was dark and quiet.  Almost too quiet – he could only barely hear the pre-season hockey game he had been watching.  He moved questing hands forward, but they bumped into a cloth wall, yielding yet strangely solid.  Ken wondered idly if he was still dreaming: the room seemed to have shrunk to a size that felt frighteningly like a coffin.

 

He called out, quietly at first, and then louder when he realized that there were people nearby, muffled voices that sounded like they were underwater.  He pushed at the walls around him, trying to claw his way through, kicking and screaming in frustration when no one responded, feeling only the unending encircling of the walls and the irregular scratches on them.

 

###

 

“Excuse me, sir, can you tell me more about this lot?”

 

“Yes ma’am.  This sofa, along with the television and the table, were taken from a repossessed house just outside of downtown.  The owner stopped making payments on it after her son disappeared.  They’re in excellent condition, as you can see, but the sofa has quite a few scratches on the back.”

 

“Is that why the starting point is so low?”

 

“Yes ma’am, although I don’t expect that it will stay that way.  This is an unbeatable deal.”

Quilted Memories

Originally posted January 23, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Random Photo Story“.  The challenge was to generate six random Flickr images, pick three, and write a story.

Like a rebel, I used all six, and 704 words.

 

Quilted Memories

handmade quilt sits alone on a neatly made bed.  She’s left it there, unwilling to even fold it, lest it disturb the silence of the room.

 

The quilt reminds her of happier times.  Of better times.  Once upon a time, that quilt was hung across branches to make a fort.  It wrapped a red-haired dolly tenderly while a “mama” carried her around in her arms.  It was laid across the sand on a beach, supposedly to protect soft toes that were too busy trekking back and forth to the water with a little pink bucket to care.

 

That quilt hadn’t moved in nearly a year.

 

It had all started with a rash.  Probably from the sand at the beach, the doctor had said.  When it didn’t get better, another doctor diagnosed a food sensitivity, a third suggested changing laundry detergent.  When nothing helped, more tests were run and eventually came the dreadful day when they learned the truth.

 

Leukemia.  A word that they had heard of only in relation to other people was suddenly an intimate part of their daughter’s life.

 

It had all started then.  Doctor visits, trips to specialists, journeys to and from the hospital, each accompanied by a small, stuffed goat in overalls that was held and squeezed during every procedure, cuddled for comfort, and whispered secrets to late in the night.  She had been brave, their darling child, much braver than either of her parents had been.  Most days it was her who reassured them that everything would be alright.

 

Of course, it hadn’t been, but at four years old, you don’t really know that.

 

Still, it had been Audrey who had known first that she was going to be a big sister.  How she had known, neither of them could tell, but it seemed to give her some new strength and new hope.  They had encouraged that positive thinking, and it had broken their hearts, two months later, when they had to tell her that the baby was gone.

 

Audrey took a visible turn for the worse after that news, although the doctors were confident that it was only a coincidence that it had come so soon after the miscarriage.  Still, within only five months of losing the baby, they had been forced to say goodbye to their daughter.

 

Had it only been a year?  It had felt like much longer than that, although the medications  had messed up her perception of time.  She had tried at least four antidepressants and none of them worked, although she’d lied to her doctor to avoid having to experience the side effects of a fifth.

 

Her husband had know the truth, though.  He’d grown tired of it and left her two months ago.  Now she had nothing but the objects in this room to keep her company.  Just a blanket and a doll and a few bibs that she’d pulled out one glorious sunny afternoon when Audrey had been home from the hospital.

 

They had all been so excited then, back when the idea of a new baby was new and fresh.  Looking through Audrey’s old baby things had provided a brief moment of comfort and normalcy, before the shadow of the cancer had taken over their lives again.

 

That was the last sunny day she could remember.  The world had grown darker without Audrey in it.  And now she was all alone, with only a few stuffed animals for comfort.

 

She picked up the goat and clutched it tightly to her chest.  It still smelled faintly of chemicals and vomit, but mostly of Audrey.  She inhaled deeply, trying to remember the good times, the happy times, and not the dark sadness that she’d anticipated ever since the day of the diagnosis.

 

It was no use.  Her sweet angel was gone forever.

###

They found her body two weeks later, lying on the floor of the dusty children’s room, surrounded by dingy stuffed animals, a very dirty plastic bucket, and a few worn bibs.  Her body was wrapped in a small quilt that was drenched in the blood that had quite clearly seeped from the gash on her left arm.

 

She was smiling, for the first time in a year.

Bear 16

Originally posted January 14, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for a Friday Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig: “Three Sentences for Bear 71″

 

I first learned of people three years ago when I discovered grain near the road that ran through my woods and back then they used to stop to watch me. Then, they called me a pest and brought me here, where I watch them through glass and wander an area from which there is no escape. They tell me I’m one of the lucky ones, but my cage tells me otherwise.

Friday Flash Fiction – 2011/09/16

Originally posted on January 5, 2012, before the disaster.

 

This is a short story written for a flash fiction challenge before I had a blog.  The challenge required the use of three words from a short list.  I chose: bishop, lollipop, and ivy.

 

 

The bishop slid forward. “Check.”

 

She sucked on the lollipop thoughtfully. The board was nearly empty; she was trapped in one corner.

 

He grinned and rested his elbows on the ivy-covered stone. “Well?”

 

It always ended this way: peril with no obvious escape.

“Just give up, Amy.” He advised gleefully. “You know you’ve been beaten.”

 

Clarity. Finally. There was only one move left.

 

“Checkmate.” She slid her queen forward.

 

He stared at the board in shock. She slipped the ring off her left hand and hung it over the neck of her queen.

 

“It’s over, Mike.”