At our June meeting (a picnic in Frogner Park), six of us participated in a microfiction exercise where we each began a story, passed it on, wrote the middle to the new piece, then passed around again and wrote the ending to the third story. Participants were: Bree, Sari, Odd Petter, Zoë, Srividya and Alice. Here are the results, in no particular order (beginning, middle, end):
She knew there wasn’t anything sinister about them, really. They were just sparrows, rustling in the grass, searching for wayward crumbs. But the faint swishing through the grass grew stronger the closer they crept, and their black eyes shone with intent. It was disquieting, and each time she glanced up their numbers seemed to multiply.
The watermelon was the first to go; red flesh, seeds, and peel. Vanished, she could no longer see it beneath the sea of brown and grey frenzy. A gull swooped in overhead, and they lifted, scattering briefly only to return seconds later. What kind of…what’s wrong with my melon? she thought to herself, they’re just…
And that was when she felt the first nip. Her ear stung, and a warm trickle oozed down her neck.
“Ouch!” she said and clutched her ear. Her fingers came away red and sticky as more birds flocked onto her head, tearing out strands of her hair before pecking and scratching at her scalp.
“Help!” she screamed, and clambered to her feet, ducking and weaving through the flurry of brown feathers. It was just a simple backyard picnic. What was wrong with these birds?
She made for the back for the back door as beaks and claws pierced her skin from nape to ankle. She wrenched open the door, and a flash of black and white barged between her legs. It was Mittens. And he was hungry.
The casing always followed her, a lucky charm, or maybe not. She wasn’t sure. At least the bullet had stopped the bear in its tracks.
It wasn’t dead, but it was wounded enough that it couldn’t follow. It looked at her with pitiful brown eyes, as if it hadn’t tried to eat her moments before. She cocked the rifle and prepared to shoot again. It was only right to put the poor creature out of its misery now. But, as always, her father’s voice sounded in her ears: “Weak. Pathetic. Coward.”
Was it cowardly to shoot a wounded animal? Was she weak for having run in the first place? This whole trip was weakness. She turned the gun around.
She wanted to pull the trigger. It should be easy. Her father’s voice was all the encouragement she needed. But she wanted him to be wrong. He had always been right all her life. One chance to prove him wrong was certainly worth a bullet. She stepped closer to the beast.
“You are pathetic,” she yelled at it. It whined and writhed in pain. “You had a chance to kill me, but got shot instead. Now I’ll do what I did to my father when he attacked me.”
She aimed the rifle at its head. The bullet went right through its left eye. The blood oozed out and she sat down and waited. She would watch him die like she watched the light go out in her father’s eyes.
“Fuck!” It came out more high-pitched than Dora had heard her voice in a while. And she couldn’t remember the last time she’d said that word. She looked at the knife in her hand, bought at Ikea three weeks before, maybe not as sharp as they came, but sharper than she was used to.
Dora’s first thought was to look for what she’d chopped off. How much was gone? But her thumb—and it was more or less a whole thumb still—needed her attention first. She pressed her right thumb into the top of the left one to stop the blood.
Trying not to panic, she reached for the gauze and bandages she kept readily at hand, in the cupboard above the sink. She clamped the gauze to her thumb, squeezing down hard, then fixed it in place with the bandages. A temporary measure, but necessary nonetheless.
Taking a deep breath, she reached for her phone, and called 911. “Hello? I need medical assistance. I nicked myself with a kitchen knife, and I’m a haemophiliac.”
“Okay, keep calm please,” replied the operator. “Have you managed to bandage it?”
“Good, good. It will take some time to connect you.”
“Connect me? I thought this was 911?”
“Sorry, Ma’am, I’m just a phone operator. We’re doing maintenance on the lines today. Please hold.”
Now she was panicking for real. Dropping the phone, she went wildly scurrying through the cupboard for anything to stop the bleeding permanently. It seemed to increase with each heartbeat. When the ambulance arrived, she was passed out on the floor, barely breathing.
Dani chewed her banana slowly. No sense in rushing the only thing she was going to eat all day. There was nowhere to throw the skin, so she tucked it into her pocket with a devastating squish. It was not the worst thing she’d ever had in her pocket by a long shot. Now all she could do was wait. He’d be here any minute.
They would talk and she would convince him. She had to. There was nothing else to do. If he talked, if he told people what he knew… she didn’t want to go there. Her hand was still sticky from the banana peel. Stuck. That’s how she felt. That’s all she had known all her life. And he could change all that. If he agreed to keep her secret. If he didn’t, she would lose her job, her life, all over again. It seemed like the longest minute of her life. She looked at her watch. He was late. What if he didn’t show up? She had not prepared herself for that at all.
No, there he was. He heart leapt. But wait, there was someone with him. He was holding a little girl by the hand. A child. He had a child. And a wife? How could she not have known? He hadn’t seen her, she could see him searching, his eyes blinded by the sunshine against the dark shadow she stood in. She decided she couldn’t handle it and slipped away.
“I’m going to show you a new friend. I hope you like her because we want her to be with us forever, sweetheart. Let’s see…where can she be?” The little girl held onto her father’s hand as they searched the park.
Ricky came running across the field, dry grass crackling under his feet. His dirty little fist wiped away tears so that she wouldn’t see them when he got to her house, although they left dark smudges that he couldn’t see. He loved being with her because she never called him a liar the way the other kids did. The way his mother did, who had smacked him so hard his back was still smarting. She always hit him where it didn’t show.
When he got to her front door, he stopped. He stood there catching his breath, trying to breathe normally, hoping she wouldn’t be able to tell. She opened the door almost as soon as he knocked, and he wondered if she had known he was coming.
“Ricky?” she said. She looked behind her. “What happened?” She came outside and shut the door behind her.
“Nothing. Why?” Ricky asked. He knew he couldn’t fool her; still, he had his pride. “Want to play?”
“Okay, but not for too long. It’s almost dinner. What do you want to play?”
“I don’t know…you pick.” His shoes scuffed the ground, and he squinted up at her expectantly.
“Hide-and-go-seek? I’ll count and you hide.”
“Okay!” He took off before she even had a chance to close her eyes. Martha counted out loud slowly.
“One. Two. Three…Ready or not, here I come!”
She circled outwards, slowly, checking the usual places. Behind the oak tree, in the wheelbarrow, under the front porch. The tall grasses rustled slightly to the right of the garden gnome, Billy, eternally smiling. Quietly she crept, cat-like, to the site of the disturbance.
He started up, like a rabbit, and took off running.
“You can’t catch me!” he screamed, his fast legs flying, his small body heaving like a trapped animal suddenly set free.
The only thing that stopped her from cutting her wrist was the thought that if she survived, her landlord—the pain that he was—would have an excuse to keep the deposit money “to clean the mess she made on the kitchen floor.” She decided to have chocolate cake for breakfast instead. An entire cake.
She made a pot of coffee, and when the smell of the fresh brew spread through the kitchen, she poured a cup and started attacking the cake. Of course she didn’t finish the entire cake; the tears started pouring. She kept telling herself that he wasn’t worth the tears, not worth the pain. There was an evil in him that scared her, that should convince her to forget about him or anything he said to her. His cold eyes, his evil leer, the way he stroked her skin and licked his lips and made her somehow feel both turned on and disgusted.
How was this possible? What was happening to her? She was better than this, way better. She realized she had a choice in this. She would not let this demon of a man be her ruin. And she would start with the cake. That was the easy part.
“Start simple,” she told herself as she slid what remained of the cake into the trash.
“Personal power?” She tried the words out in a whisper. It was something that had once been second nature to her. She couldn’t remember when, but she knew it was true.
“I need help,” she told herself. “I need someone who knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
She picked up the phone. It rang three times before a familiar voice said, “Hello?”