By Elizabeth Nettleton
These stories may contain mature themes.
Whenever I log onto Twitter, I see people within the writing community participating in vss365. vss365 stands for 'very short story 365,' and each day writers are given a one-word prompt to create a story that can fit within a tweet. I've wanted to participate for a while now, and yesterday I finally bit the bullet. Here's a taste of what I've come up with these past couple of days:
I bit back a sigh as another email arrived, its subject line all in caps.
"Please, Marie," I pleaded. "I'm running out of #time to get this work done."
"Mum, I need help." Her voice cracked.
I glanced at my daughter in the doorway, then switched the computer off.
(Word prompt: time)
Sweat seeped through her shirt, but she ignored it. Pain bit at her body, a lifelong foe, but she ignored that as well. The city slept below. They didn't know how many times she'd tried to reach this peak. The birds knew though and whistled a #song of praise just for her.
(Word prompt: song)
I'm hoping to continue, so if you'd like to see what I come up with, find me at: @ElizabethNett18 on Twitter.
Thanks for reading!
I'm so excited to let you know that my story, "Plane Sailing," was awarded with an honourable mention in The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break's Spring Writing Contest.
The theme this time was 'Life vs. A Fate Worse than Death,' and I came up with this short thriller about a couple left stranded on an island after crash-landing their plane.
I'd love for you to check it out! It will be on the front page of Short Fiction Break on June 8th, but until then, you can find it here:
Let me know in the comments what you think!
THE DREAM MAKER
I am thrilled to let you know that my latest story, "The Dream Maker", is now on Short Fiction Break!
"The Dream Maker" is set in the same universe as my previous story, "Inside Your Mind". However, this time, the the dream maker only wishes to create joy.
When Peter brings darkness into his dream for the first time, the dream maker must determine where loss can fit into light.
You can find "The Dream Maker" here:
This story is part of the Write Practice's fall writing contest. If you enjoy it, you may vote for it in the Reader's Choice category here:
Thank you for reading!
INSIDE YOUR MIND
If you are one of their Patreon members, you can read the story here: https://t.co/HgwG2bpEhv?amp=1
"Inside Your Mind" will also be included in one of their upcoming anthologies. I will keep you posted on the release details once they've been confirmed.
I hope you enjoy the story! The theme was 'nightmares', and I frightened myself a bit while writing it. Why are nursery rhymes from the 1800s so creepy??
NYC MIDNIGHT MICROFICTION CHALLENGE 2020
The NYC Midnight Microfiction challenge asked writers to create a 100 word story that included an assigned genre, action, and specific word. Over 7600 authors joined in the challenge, and I was fortunate enough to win a place in the first round and receive an honourable mention in the second. I would love to share my entries with you, and wish everyone who made it to the third (and final) round a huge congratulations. Good luck!
LEAVES OF WAR (FIRST ROUND)
Pink and yellow flowers bloom beside the trail, leading me to the mountain's summit.
I hope nobody's up there. This is the last thing I have to do to fulfill my promise, and I need to stay under the radar for it.
The clouds above watch me, silent and still. I take another step.
Gunfire rains on me from behind a tree, ripping through my body and spreading crimson blood upon the grass.
"Dude, come on!"
The screen tells me the game is over, and I sigh, annoyed.
Oh, well. It was nice to be in nature for a bit.
(The assigned genre, action, and word: comedy, climbing a mountain, and 'radar'.)
Highlights from the judges' feedback: "I liked the twist in this story - the visceral description of the shooting made me convinced it was really happening, and discovering it was a video and was really amusing, especially with the quippy last line."
INTO THE DARK (SECOND ROUND)
I rose, unsteady.
My gown lay pooled on my lap. I tried to lift it, but my fingers slid uselessly over the fabric. Frustrated, I left it.
"Can I go for a walk, Mum?"
She didn't answer. I tiptoed into the corridor anyway.
Nurses brushed past me, huddling around my bed. A familiar dog was behind them, watching me.
I ran my hand through his dark grey fur.
"You left us, buddy."
A wail burst from my room, grabbing at my limbs and threatening to pull me into its grief.
Ollie nudged me.
It was time to go.
(The assigned genre, action, and word: ghost story, patting a dog, and 'dark'.)
Highlights from the judges' feedback: "Wow. This was a very powerful, haunting story. You have a very strong voice. I loved your narrative style and the choice of laying out the story in individual lines. This created some wonderful pauses within the narrative. The ending was heart wrenching, as the mother's cry tried to pull her back into life. This was an amazing piece of writing. Very well done."
MY MOTHER'S SHADOW
I recently entered the Write Practice's summer writing contest, where we were asked to write a 1500 word story on the theme 'isolation'.
While I didn't win, I enjoyed the experience immensely, and would love to share my entry with you.
You can find it here: https://shortfictionbreak.com/my-mothers-shadow/
I hope you enjoy it!
ON THE MORROW
On the morrow, you shall burn...
You can download the issue for free here:
Set in England, 1645, "On the Morrow" is a dark fiction story about a witch named Kiera, whose sister has been burnt at the stake. Desperate for revenge, Kiera sets out to destroy the man responsible for her sister's death.
Evil hides behind virtue here, and Kiera wants it to come out.
READY OR NOT
She picked up the knife. The blade was long and sharp, and the handle heavy in her hand. In quick, short strokes, she brought it down upon the chopping board.
Thwack, thwack, thwack.
Olivia didn't try to fight the tears that welled in her eyes. If Steven asked, she'd blame it on the onions. Perhaps she'd even accuse him of trying to make his mother cry. After all, what fifteen-year-old requests onion soup? Steven would find that funny.
The soup bubbled, threatening to boil over.
"Not yet, please. I'm not ready."
She ran a hand across her face and dumped more onion into the pot. Broth splashed onto the counter, and Olivia carefully wiped all the droplets away. Her gaze wandered to the dirty dishes in the sink.
I should wash those too, she thought. Yes, it's important to keep things clean and tidy. She turned the faucet on and let the water slip through her fingers. I'll wash my hands first, though, she decided. I'll wash my hands, do the dishes, and then I'll serve supper.
"Mom?" Steven's voice called from the bedroom.
"Are you nearly done? I'm a bit hungry."
Olivia reluctantly turned the faucet off and took a mouthful of soup. She swished it around in her mouth, savoring the flavors on her tongue.
"Oh, no," she said, sighing. "I think I put too much onion in it. I'm so sorry, sweetheart, I need to make another batch. This one's no good."
"Please, Mom. I'm sure it's fine."
"You can't eat this!"
"Mom, I'd really like to eat something now."
Olivia pushed the leftover vegetables aside and grabbed a mug from the cupboard. "This isn't fair," she said under her breath. "I haven't had enough time to prepare. I need more time! Is that too much to ask, for just a little bit more time?"
She ladled some soup into the cup. Steam nipped at her nose and cheeks, and she shook her head in frustration.
"See, it's too hot!" Olivia complained. "Can't we wait a few more minutes?"
She carried the mug to Steven's room and placed it in his trembling hands. He sipped the soup through bloodless lips, then rested back against the pillows. Beside him, a machine beeped.
"You're crying," he said. His dark eyes traced the deep lines across her forehead. Olivia raised her lips into a strained smile.
"It was the onions," she tried to reply. A lump rose in her throat and she turned away.
"It's going to be okay, Mom."
"I need more time, sweetheart. I'm not ready for you to leave me. I'm just not ready.""I know," he said. He took her hand and she watched as his breathing became more labored. "But I think I am."
Eerie River Publishing held a small drabble contest recently, and my story was one of the ones chosen to go on their blog! The theme was "isolation," and I had so much fun writing this short piece.
You can find it here: https://www.eerieriverpublishing.com/post/isolation-drabbles
I hope you enjoy it, and that you are doing well in this weird time!
Have you ever wished you could visit the past - even just for one day?
Thank you Short Fiction Break literary magazine for publishing my story "Timelock" (and thank you Eerie River Publishing for the theme that inspired the piece!)
You can check it out here:
I hope you enjoy it!
KNOCK ON WOOD
My drabble, "Knock on Wood," is up on Trembling with Fear! I'd love for you to check it out.
You can find it here:
Thanks for reading!
THE PRICE OF GOLD
I am honoured to be included once again in an issue of The Sirens Call eZine! This issue was centred around the theme, "Death Comes for Us All," and my story (beginning on p. 88) delves into a world where silence is rewarded with a piece of gold...
The prompt that inspired this story was provided by Reedsy.com
You can download your free issue of The Sirens Call eZine here:
I hope you enjoy it!
My latest story, The Range, has been published by Reedsy as part of their weekly competition. It is based on the following prompt:
Write about a person trying to learn a new skill or hobby they find intimidating but want (or need) to learn anyway.
I'd love for you to check it out! You can find my story at: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/15/submissions/3590/
I hope you enjoy it!
THE MONSTER ON CARRIAGEWAY DRIVE
A monster lives in my house...
I am thrilled to let you know that my story, The Monster on Carriageway Drive, has just been published in the latest issue of The Sirens Call eZine.
This is a dark fiction short story about a monster that haunts a house on the otherwise peaceful suburban delight that is Carriageway Drive.
You can download the issue for free here:
My story starts on p. 104
(Trigger warnings: abuse)
Thanks for reading!
This story was first published in its original form by Short Fiction Break.
This story was first published by Short Fiction Break at: https://shortfictionbreak.com/the-sentence/
Oliver gripped the doorknob and then released it, his sweaty palm imprinting itself upon the cold metal.
"Leaving this room means certain death," he said in a low whisper. Bea rolled her eyes.
"Death might be a tad dramatic, but Mom certainly won't be pleased."
Oliver grumbled a reply and then sat beside Bea on her bed. We should be outside, he thought. Instead, they had been betrayed.
His mother's exasperated voice echoed in his mind. "I've told you a thousand times, you two. Don't play with balls inside the house. Your father is sick of mending broken windows!"
They had denied the charges, of course. They hadn't even been playing with the ball this morning, let alone inside. If they had, would they really return to the scene of the crime with their judge and jury in tow?
No. The baseball that lay surrounded by shards of glass on the kitchen floor had surprised them just as much as it had their mother. Their protestations of innocence, however, had fallen on deaf ears. With one disappointed shake of her head, their mom had deemed them guilty and sentenced them to their room.
Bea wandered over to the desk and picked up an old coloring book, its pages dog-eared and torn from years of rainy mornings. She threw it back down with a disgruntled sigh and lifted her eyes to the window.
"Let's slip out the window. It would be easy! Mom wouldn't even know we were gone. And if she does find out, we'll run away. We could live with Granny, I'm sure she'd say yes," Bea said. Oliver shook his head. At eight, Bea was two years his junior and as wild as the curls that crowned her. It was a trait he appreciated, but oftentimes had to curtail.
"Granny would just give us cookies and then send us right back, Bea. You know how tired she gets when we visit," he said.
"At least we'd have cookies," Bea said.
Oliver leaned against the window and felt the summer breeze brush against his face. Invisible tendrils beckoned him out, and he yearned to feel the air being ripped from his lungs as he raced against Bea and his friends, Danny and Tom. He imagined the wind wrapping itself around them and pushing them further, as it had so many times before, until they collapsed beneath passing clouds. The afternoon would then stretch before them, inviting them to conquer new trees and sail on grass seas, sing made-up songs and joust with stick lances.
His eyes filled with hot tears. It just wasn't fair.
"If we're going to get out of here, we'll have to do it by the book. Or let them think that, anyway," he said.
"Mom said we could come out early if we both apologized," Bea said.
"I'm not apologizing for something I didn't do. It goes against everything I stand for."
Bea opened her mouth to reply when they heard a low whine and furious scratching from behind the door.
"Sally! Coming, girl!" Oliver said. He pressed his ear against the wooden door and groaned as he heard his mother muttering from the living room. He had kind of forgotten to pick up his train set this morning.
"Mom said we couldn't leave the room. She never said that Sally couldn't come in," Bea said with a smirk. She marched toward the window, placed a hand to her mouth and whistled. Four clumsy feet scrambled against laminate, and then a golden-furred head was bouncing up and down outside the window, tongue lolling from the side of her mouth.
"Get in, Sally, quickly!" Bea said, tapping as loudly as she dared on the inside wall. Sally placed her paws on the window sill and then jumped, stumbling slightly before pulling herself into the room. Oliver threw his face into Sally's long fur, and Bea furrowed her brow.
"What's the matter?" Oliver asked.
"We weren't playing outside this morning, we were playing with your trains."
"Yeah, I know. So?"
"We found the ball inside. How could we have broken the window if the ball landed on the kitchen floor?"
Oliver paused, ignoring Sally's enthusiastic licks to his cheek.
"The evidence that convicted us was faulty. We were framed!" He said. Bea nodded, and the pair sat together for a moment.
"So, who could have thrown the ball?" He asked. Cheerful whoops from outside punctuated the silence, and Bea's lips grew thin.
"I propose two suspects," she said. Oliver folded his arms across his chest.
"Not Danny. Not Tom. They're my best friends and we don't get each other into trouble."
"I suppose we'll just stay here until Dad gets home, then. He said it would be around noon, didn't he? That's only two more hours," Bea said. She strode across the room until she reached an old wooden box. With a tired creak, she opened the lid and pulled out a one-armed Superman action figure and a pack of cards.
"What do you want to play first? Superheroes or Old Maid? Oops, never mind," she said as she opened the pack. "It looks like we only have three cards left."
"Do that whistle again," he said finally.
Danny and Tom's heads whipped towards them at Bea's call, and Oliver waved them over.
"What are you doing inside? Come on, Billy said we could swim in his pool," Danny said after he pulled himself into the room. Tom jumped down behind him and began scratching Sally behind the ear. He was quickly rewarded with the resounding thump of Sally's tail against the floor.
"We've been banished to our room until Dad gets home. Mom thinks we broke the window," Bea said.
"Well, did you?" Danny said, laughing.
"We most certainly did not! Not this time, anyway," Bea said. "The question is, who did?"
"I dunno. Could be anyone," Danny said with a shrug. Tom rose from stroking Sally on the belly, and she pushed her nose against his hand in protest.
"Yeah, and even if it was," he said as his eyes flitted to the floor, "it's just one day, right? I mean, my dad would lock me in my bedroom for the whole summer. At least your parents aren't strict like mine."
Bea narrowed her eyes.
"Just one day? Easy for you to say. You can leave anytime you want," she said. Tom bowed his head and returned to the floor. Oliver watched his friend thoughtfully and then turned to Bea.
"I suppose we can leave anytime we want as well, Bea. You said it before. All we have to do is apologize."
"What?! You were the one that said we shouldn't apologize," Bea's said. Her eyes flashed.
"I know. I just can't stay in this room any longer, Bea. I just can't. And you know that you can't, either."
"I won't do it."
"Bea, it's time." Oliver tried to place one hand on Bea's shoulder, but she shrugged it off. He took a resigned step backwards.
"Mom?" He called through the door. "I'm ready to apologize."
Their mother's familiar footsteps made their way down the hall. Tom and Danny exchanged panicked glances before bounding toward the window.
"Give us a heads-up next time!" Danny said. His laugh tumbled into the room as he sprinted to his yard. Bea glared out the window.
"Ollie?" Their mom said as she entered the bedroom. Oliver stood and raised his chin to meet his mother's eyes. He took a deep breath.
"I broke the window, Mom. I'm really sorry."
Their mom raised her eyebrows and shifted her gaze to Bea.
Bea's fierce expression softened.
"Well. Thank you for your honesty. I hope you apologized to your sister for getting her in trouble, too."
Oliver felt his mother searching his face. She could feel the lie that lingered between them but couldn't place it or its motivation. For once, his stubbornness was working for him.
"Are we allowed to go?" He asked hesitantly. Their mother paused.
"You can go," she said.
Oliver and Bea sprang to their feet, ignoring their mother's cries to remember their shoes.They had the rest of their lives to wear shoes; now it was time to play. But first, they were going to ride Tom's new bike. It was only fair.
This story was first published by Short Fiction Break at: https://shortfictionbreak.com/recovering-hope/
The rhythmic ticking of the oversized clock above the nurses' station reminded Sam that he had now been waiting for two hours. He watched a dozen doctors and nurses race each other from room to room, invisible markers as their starting lines, and wondered briefly if there were ever any winners.
Hospitals were always the same: an ever-present smell of antiseptic, barren walls promising sterility, and long corridors that led to either hope or devastation. Sam took a deep breath and tried to remind himself that Isabelle was in capable hands. Everything was going to be fine. Still, he stepped toward the welcome desk and drummed his fingers on the counter.
"Can I help you, sir?" A tight-smiled nurse asked, eyeing his dancing fingers.
"I wondered if you had any news about my daughter, Isabelle Manning?" he asked.
The nurse's eyes flicked momentarily toward the corridor on her left.
"I'm afraid I'm not able to give you any new information at this time. Perhaps you could call your daughter or her husband," she said, her tone softening.
Sam nodded his thanks and returned to his groaning metal chair. He pulled out his phone and passed it between his hands, his fingers occasionally freezing above its black screen. Sending you lots of love, from Dad. The cursor blinked expectantly at him and he hurried to press send. He had neither the time nor energy to analyze his every word today.
Familiar footsteps rang through the hall, and he looked up to find Clara peering into the room.
"Hello, Sam," she murmured, her gaze passing over him. He noticed a large stuffed bear in her hand, the kind that trilled well-wishes when you pushed its paw, and felt a sharp pang of panic. He hadn't even bought Isabelle a card.
"Would you like a seat? I can move my things."
Clara paused and then nodded.
"Have you heard from Isabelle or Mark? I've been here a while but haven't learned anything new," he said. Clara ran one hand through her dark curls, so like their daughter's, and nodded again.
"Mark was texting me while I was trying to leave work. She's doing OK, but is in a lot of pain," she said. Her eyes never quite met his and he looked away in embarrassment.
Clara opened her bag and pulled out a glossy magazine, its cover screaming about the transgressions of a vaguely familiar actress, and Sam wished that he had brought something for himself to read. A gold ring that no longer matched his own glistened as she turned each page, and his throat burned, crying out for a drink that would temporarily relieve him from his regret.
His fingers curled around flimsy armrests. He may not have earned the title of husband or father, but he had earned his sobriety.
"There's a café downstairs," Clara said, her eyes fixed on but not seeing the article before her. She always could read him. Sam smiled weakly in her direction, then rose from his chair.
A bored cashier wrote Sam's name on an empty coffee cup and then immediately focused her attention on the customer behind him. He caught his reflection on the glass casing in front of him and winced. Years of turning to brown bottles had taken their toll.
He pulled out a chair and rubbed his temples, the sharp hissing of the espresso machine reverberating inside his skull. In front of him, a young girl was tugging on her father's sleeve and pointing at one of the cupcakes hiding behind the counter. She offered him the first bite before swiping it away at the last moment and squealing in delight. The father felt Sam watching them and extended an exaggerated shrug.
"Kids!" He said in mock exasperation.
Sam pulled his hands tighter around his cup, interlacing his fingers haphazardly against its smooth cardboard ridges. He had left when Isabelle was so young that his memories of her as a child had become like dreams; a figure standing in his periphery, quickly disappearing whenever he turned to find her. For so long, his only clear memory had been her frightened brown eyes looking down at him, begging him to get up in her broken toddler vernacular. It had been the moment he knew he had to leave, and the image still haunted him.
It was years before he even considered contacting her again, and longer still before they were ready to meet. That unquenchable thirst clawed at him, threatening to tear through the flimsy trust he had built through months of preparatory phone calls. Then the day had arrived and Isabelle was there, clutching her purse to her chest as she scanned the coffee house. Her face had lost its childhood roundness and her eyes were sharper than he remembered, but he recognized her easily. She watched him carefully as he made his apologies and accepted his remorse with gentle guardedness, a remnant of the hurt she had carried for so long. Over the next six years, they had built a tentative relationship with each other, and while it was not one of father and daughter, Sam treasured it nonetheless. There was no relief, though. He had left to shield Isabelle from the demon he fought and had instead left an army for her to face alone.
Sam drained his cup quickly. It was time to get back.
Isabelle's mother-in-law, Deborah, trotted frantically into the waiting room, her face shining with perspiration.
"I'm sorry, I got here from work as quickly as I could. Mark just called me, but nothing much has changed," she said amid pants, dabbing her face with a tissue.
"I suppose we just need to keep waiting," Clara said. Deborah squeezed her hand.
The three sat in silence, occasionally glancing at the clock, until Mark burst into the waiting room and motioned for them to follow him.
Deborah and Clara exchanged excited smiles and hurried out of the room. Sam paused, those familiar and agonizing whispers echoing in his mind, reminding him that he didn't deserve to be there. It was irrelevant how long he and Isabelle had spent together since they reconciled, or how they continued to inch toward each other; what mattered, the voices spat, were his mistakes.
He gritted his teeth, his only defense against their relentless assault, and forced himself forward.
Isabelle lay serenely on the hospital bed, her eyes half-closed from exhaustion. She greeted each person with a soft smile and then turned back to the bundle that lay in her arms.
"Her name is Daisy," Mark said, a proud smile widening across his face.
Clara and Deborah dashed to Isabelle's side, each loudly claiming a different feature that decorated Daisy's face while Isabelle and Mark playfully rolled their eyes at each other.
Sam held back at the door, feeling as if he were intruding on a private moment. The besotted grandmothers sat at the edge of the bed and stroked the soft fuzz that would one day grow into dark curls, cooing that no baby had ever been so sweet.
"Would you like a hold, Sam?"
He lifted his head and found Isabelle smiling at him. With an almost inaudible acceptance, he walked to her.
"Daisy, meet your Grandpa," Isabelle said with the slightest catch in her voice. Sam stared at her, uncertainty clouding his face.
"Or do you prefer something else?" She teased.
"Oh, Grandpa is perfect. Just perfect," Sam managed. He cradled Daisy to his chest and was surprised at how swiftly his hands remembered holding his daughter this way nearly thirty years earlier.
"She looks happy there," Isabelle said, her shining eyes mirroring his own. She placed her hand on his arm and a warmth overcame him.
He was going to be a grandfather. And he had become Isabelle's family again.
Sam bent over and kissed Daisy on the head."I won't let either of you down."