1000words

where pictures make prose

The Algorithm

The AlgorithmI look back at her. Andy’s girl: hollow and satisfying both at once.

She’s in my bed and I’m sat in the metal chair, industrial looking thing, cheap and uncomfortable as hell. The seat is still cold so I find a way to warm up; it’s either her or this so I pack it up tightly, light it up and inhale with dull pleasure.

I exhale. “You should leave,” I tell her.

“It’s still early,” she says.

“Ready to get caught?”

“Not really,” she yawns.

“Telling you to go, does this mean I’m a shit?”

“Yeah, it means you’re a shit.”

“Honest?”

“Maybe.”

“You should go before time can mess this up.”

“You’re blaming time for your crap?”

“I blame time for it all.”

She can’t see it, how time can get inside my gut and churn away. Time can force me to analyse her, analyse us. I can hear it now, come on, this won’t hurt Denny, just let me tidy up your life, I’m doing it for you. Fuck off time.

“Let me stay here forever, Denny,” she laughs, one of those nasal laughs, satisfying but borderline neurotic.

“Stay for careless mornings and dirty evenings?” I ask.

“Be fun wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“Should I go?” she asks.

“Is it worth staying?”

She doesn’t say anything. She’s lost interest already.

Now the questions appear: what are you doing, Denny boy? Have you got a plan? What about Andy? You little shit.

I won’t let them tame me. I won’t allow myself to fall into that trap: the filthy claw of shame.

She’s too detached for Andy. He’s not chasing her enough, busy trading her for something he wants more: wealth and class, the usual suspects, shit she doesn’t care about.

That’s the lesson I’ve learned about Andy’s girl: If I want more of her, I need to want everything else less.

Andy has a game-plan. It’s all right when you have a game-plan but it’s not all right when you have nothing. It doesn’t consume me though, the nothingness, I don’t obsess over it.

Not like Andy, he needs to know it’s all secure: the future. That it’s waiting for him, and his girl, if he’s lucky. If I’m not.

I don’t let myself think about it. I have a sequence, an algorithm, for when shit spins out of control. When I lose myself. I don’t worry because the sequence will be there to put me back together. Help me understand my head. Keep it sane.

The trouble only comes when I’m with her, she’s messing with it. She’s got her own algorithm and it’s starting to run deeper, roam deeper, through my veins, between the stretches of muscle, over the meat of the organs.

And I’m not ready. Not ready for it all.

“Oy, Denny,” stop hogging the joint.

She’s interested again. I turn back, toward her, to remind myself of her face.

She’s pale, almost blends in with the white of the room. The look on her is endearing, shows me what I don’t want to know. She’s no longer just Andy’s girl.

I pass her the roll-up. “This your breakfast?”

“No shame in that.” She winks, takes a blow and holds out her bony hand to pass it back.

“Keep it.”

She shrugs. “If it’s my germs you’re afraid of, it’s too late.” She lays back on to the duvet, disappearing into herself.

“Yeah. Too late.”

(Author: Preeti Vadgama. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Varvara. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

#flashcomp winner: Above and Beyond

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9Hand over bloodied hand we scale the cliffs above the city. We are not alone in our search for clean air; the cliffs swarm with life like maggots on meat.

Scuffles break out when climbers cross paths. Those with higher ground stomp on fingers that threatened their footing. A woman, her baby strapped to her chest, loses her grip on loose shale and dislodges three more as she falls.

I crest the plateau and pull my body up on deadened arms. I look over the edge and see you below, catching your breath and shaking life into your limbs.

“Don’t look around,” my voice is muffled by the enclosing fog. “Eyes on me.”

The fog envelops the slower climbers. Eyes bulge, hands claw at throats, bodies fall to earth. Behind me a human cairn has formed as people clamber upwards for a few more precious feet. You hold your hand out for me to grasp and I begin to pull you up. Before your feet are on solid ground I release your hand and you fall back, an outline of your body lingers briefly in the fog. I am not brave enough to follow so I await my end alone.

(Author: David Borrowdale. Story: All Rights Reseved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

#flashcomp winner: Survival of the Sneakiest

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9‘The ground is frozen. I’ll burn more calories than I’ll bring home,’ he protests when I ask him to go digging for roots.

‘It’s that or starvation. Go right to the edge where the sun’s been warming the ground the longest. Should be softer there.’

I hand him the hammer and one of the nine-inch nails. They’re coming in useful, the nails. I insisted we take them when he said they’d be nothing but ballast.

He puts the tools into his pouch and slouches off. I stoke the fire and put another log on. I retrieve the blowgun. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’d better take care of the bait first. I wait for him to get settled by the edge. When I hear the pings of hammer hitting nail, I go after him. I pick up a rock. I never take my eyes off him, stay behind his back.

‘Sorry. I can’t keep feeding us both.’

He doesn’t have time to turn around before I bring down the rock. He slumps, tumbles over the edge and lands on the plateau beneath.

I fetch blowgun and nails and wait for the birds.

(Author: Sonya Oldwin. Story: All Rights Reseved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

#flashcomp winner: Faith

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9I am woken by the deliberate, heavy nudges of his trekking boots as he climbs the steep crags of my western face.

So long have I been waiting that flowers have grown in the cracks on my skin. But now, I feel something stir, deep within me.

He stands on my widest ledge, and gazes out confidently at the valley below.

Please, I say silently. This time. Please be the one.

He stoops, and I swear that I tremble a little as he touches my igneous flesh with his fingertips. And then he pushes his palm firmly against me, and a stone leaps from the heights of my summit and rushes down my side like a petrified tear …

But then I see it. The flicker of a doubt in his eyes.

He stands, shaking his head and sighing; chuckling, almost.

He doesn’t believe he can do it. And so, of course, he cannot.

He turns, and begins his descent. I watch him go, trapped in my towering, helpless magnificence while the sun sets behind me on yet another day.

But tomorrow, someone will come who truly believes. Yes, tomorrow, I will move. I know it.

I will not lose faith.

(Author: Jacki Donnellan. Story: All Rights Reseved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

#flashcomp winner: Collateral Damage

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9White clouds of breath puff out into the early morning air. It’s been hours. “Jones!” the voice barks. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes sir.” Jones shifts from foot to foot. The sun is bright, casting the city into stark relief.

The facts are thus: A terrorist cell lies in the city below and they plan to blow it up, blow up the other cities, the capital.

Jones stands. Fog is rolling in. He flexes his fingers, feeling ache in the joints. Twisting his wedding band is a nervous habit, but it comforts him.

“Give me your location,” the voice says. His commander. Jones can imagine the furious knit of his eyebrows.

His job is to catch the terrorists, all of them. They’ll be interrogated and the plans will shatter. His men are already searching. He waits.

They can hear what he hears, but they can’t see what he sees.

They’ve, none of them, seen what he’s seen.

He came here in a plane, the way they did that night. He knows why these people resist.

“Your. Location.”

Jones reaches into his pocket.

He can’t help all of them. He never could.

He presses the button. The city burns.

(Author: Charlotte Donnelly. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

#flashcomp winner: Solstice

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9He stares into the black night. The hairs on his arm prickle. It’s coming.

A darkness deeper than the night slithers up the hilltop. Waves of cold emanate from its body, a cold that will devour the sleeping town below, if he doesn’t stop it.

He grapples the thing’s great body. It pays no mind at first. His boots dig into the frozen earth as he pushes against the relentless onslaught. He senses its growing annoyance at a rock that pushes back. It tries to shift around him. His muscles ache as he strains against the thing.

Cold pulses against him. The cold burns through his clothes into his flesh. His skin pales, then blackens in frostbite. He doesn’t let go. He can’t.

Moments, hours, days, seconds. Time doesn’t matter, only the battle. He groans in pain. The sweat freezes against his brow. He is losing, but he doesn’t have to win.

The sun peaks above the horizon at last. With a scream like cracking ice, the thing dissipates into a white fog. He crouches, panting, on the hilltop. His muscles feel like water. He and the sun may not triumph next year. But this morning, the town is safe …

(Author: Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. Story: All Rights Reseved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

#flashcomp November 2014: RESULTS

Good evening, and welcome to the announcement of the results of our November 2014 #flashcomp!

We know you’re just going to scroll past this bit, so, with no further ado, we’ll tell you the winners and runners-up.

The five winners, in no particular order, are:

And the five runners-up, in no particular order, are:

  • The Journey by Stella Turner
  • Let There Be Light by Karl A Russell
  • Matched: Two Three Zero Five by James Coates
  • Bones like Honeycomb by Helen McClory
  • MirrorrorriM by Adam Trodd

We had 37 entries in total, and all of them were a delight to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with them. It’s really no exaggeration to say we found it incredibly hard to narrow down our list to ten and then to pick a final five. We’ll be publishing those final five winning stories, one a day, from Monday to Friday this week, and we’ll be contacting their authors tomorrow to ask for postal details and to present them with their winner’s badges.

Finally, thank you to everyone who helped spread word of the contest via twitter and facebook.

Until next time … Happy Flashing!

Natalie and Heather x

 

The Straw Castle

The Straw CastleThe best way is through the field, Dennis announces, and we climb through the fence even though the field is actually out of our way. My skirt snags on a barb, but he helps me free it, like a gentleman, he says, and I brush his hands away from my legs.

Hay is baled neatly in the field, and he goes round putting his hand on all of them and pronouncing them sturdy, like he thinks they were only just waiting for him to come along and say nice things.

Dennis says we should build a castle out of straw and live there. He wants us to be royalty; he wants us to sit on straw thrones.

Come on, he says, and goes up on one of the hay bales. He makes it look easy, but I can’t manage, so he takes me by the arms and pulls me up after him, scratching my bare legs on the straw.

He stands on top of the hay bale like it really is a castle, arms strutted out proudly, while I crouch beside him and wipe at my bleeding legs with my palms.

Dennis wants to kiss me on top of the hay bale. He says when we’re living in our straw castle, we can kiss all the time if we want, but I hide my face behind my hands, so he settles for kissing my fingers, one by one.

When I uncover my face, he kisses me anyway. He says I’m the prettiest girl he’s ever seen, and plucks a piece of straw for me to wear in my hair and pretend it’s a flower. It’s nothing like a flower, though. He grabs another piece of straw and puts it in his mouth like he’s chewing a cigarette.

He places his hand on my belly, straw jutting out of his mouth.

He says: Have my baby. I’d be such a good father, and I laugh and laugh.

(Author: Cathy S. Ulrich. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The #1000words #FlashFiction #Flashcomp: November 2014

This #flashcomp is now closed. We’ll post the results at 9pm GMT on Sunday 30th November.

Greetings, flash-fictioneers! It’s been ages since we held a #flashcomp, so we thought it was high time we rectified the situation, and as Jack Frost has once again started knocking on our doors, we’ve picked a wintry picture to inspire you.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Write a flash-fiction of 200 words or fewer (not including the title) inspired by the image below.
  2. Post your entry as a comment to this post.
  3. Include your WORD COUNT, the TITLE of your story, YOUR NAME and your TWITTER HANDLE if you have one.

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9

The deadline is 10pm (GMT) on Saturday 29th November 2014. On Sunday 30th November, we will select our five favourite entries, announce the winners (at about 9pm GMT) and then post them here at 1000words, one a day, from Monday 1st December to Friday 5th December.

photoAs well as being published, winners will also receive a limited edition ‘Published on 1000words’ virtual badge, and, if they’re willing to send us their postal addresses, we’ll send them one of our *Writer’s Survival Kits, which will include a notebook and pencil, two fresh coffee sachets, a bunch of tea bags and a 100g bar of Green & Blacks Organic, Fairtrade Milk Chocolate.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Get Flashing!

*We are happy to mail the Writers Survival Kit internationally, but we will use the cheapest shipping method available, so it may take a while to arrive. We are unable to provide substitute prizes for winners who choose not to provide us with their postal addresses or who don’t want to receive a Writers Survival Kit. Also, this #flashcomp is not sponsored or endorsed by any of the companies whose products are part of the prize.

(Image by alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Discrimen

SeaIt’s March, our favourite month. My husband and I should be digging parsnip drills, not a grave.

“It feels like you’re my only buddy left,” says Conall.

I nod. He’s had a raw deal. The land here loses as many men to the sea as it does to drink.

“We’ll hide her in the briars she loved,” I say. “She can hunt rabbits to her heart’s content there.”

Burying a dog called Macy may not seem like an ordeal, but when society is bug-eyed over unpaid credit, the weakening euro and whether water should be free, home-based trifles magnify. An honest glass held up to the world.

The pick and spade feel extra heavy as I shoulder them. We duck under electrified fences, skirt by munching cows and climb the bank to the vegetable field.

“Can you manage?” asks Conall.

I eye the hessian sack containing Macy’s corpse, Conall’s triceps bulging as he struggles to keep her weight balanced.

“Yes. I can manage,” I say, resisting the temptation to ask, can you?

In the burgeoning meadow, the air smells of sweet cicely and seawater. Up here, we can see Westerland, Long Island, where Conall proposed with a treasure map and a trowel; I’d had to dig up the whole strand to find my ring. Macy was the first he’d told, face-to-face.

Conall crosses his torso with his rosary before chopping at briars with the spade. He raises the pick, smashes it into the ground and shovels out the earth. We stroke Macy at the same time, lower her in and cover her with cloth, then soil. Conall folds an old pound note, tucks it into the earth.

“We all have to pay our dues at some point,” he says.

I eye the burial mound, wonder what balance we’ll pay as the years add up. We dislodge stones from the ditch. Cover her grave so foxes won’t dig her up. Light a red candle. I imagine her nosing in the briars.

“Her expression just before the vet gave her the injection; it was so trusting. I can’t get it out of my head,” says Conall.

There’s no point explaining it was the kindest thing to do. He knows that already. But the right thing doesn’t always soothe. I tug at Conall’s shirt, face him towards Westerland as though it might help. Two fingers of sun poke through a dip in the land, streaking the ocean. Conall shades his eyes and pulls me close, glancing from sea to grave to meadow. The wind snatches at my breath. I hold the air tightly, like my husband’s fingers.

But nothing changes. Just the same crash of waves. The same blank sky.

(Author: Elizabeth Rose Murray. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: A Guy Taking Pictures. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)