Sunday, January 8, 2012

Flash Fic January

First flash fic contest of 2012!

60 hours to write a story of no more than 2000 words using the photo to the left and the words "Drag," "Corporate" and "Invert."

I looked at this beautiful photo and immediately, after deciding that Harry Potter fanfic was unlikely with this group, thought that there would definitely be time travel stories, and maybe some steampunk. Well, no steampunk so far, and there are fewer stories involving time travel than I'd guessed, but someone did make a Harry Potter reference :)

I'll let you decide the genre of my story. I think it's a hybrid of two, personally.

 House of Regret

It looks like a temporary mausoleum, I thought as I reached out to touch the dark weathered stones that were not interrupted by even a single window. I'd never been there before, but I knew it wasn't a temporary anything: this building had stood on the outskirts of our village for hundreds of years. No one remembered who had built it, but we all knew why.

Glancing back over my shoulder, I could just barely see the coffin I'd begged be dragged up here. It couldn't, wouldn't, work if the dead wasn't near. The dead. My brain tried to skitter away from the thought of Jesse being dead, but I knew he was there in that box, waiting for me to rescue him.
No one could understand why I was willing to enter the House of Regret... they didn't know my crushing guilt. If he hadn't snuck out after dark to see me, he wouldn't be dead.

There hadn't been a clear cause of death. Instead his body had been found inverted in the crotch of a tree, alabaster pale, and limp like the discarded dolls still littering the back of my closet. Of course, there were suspicions about what had killed him, and that's why I was standing in front of an iron ring, trying to will my fingers to grasp it and open the door.

The villagers wanted to burn his body as a precaution against the evils their overheated minds conjured up, but he'd told me twice over the past few years that he would rather be wormfood than given a cradle of ash. I couldn't let that happen, so I told people I'd come here and bring him back. Everyone said "Elizabeth don't" but how could I listen to them when Jesse had been so fearful of flames?

People visited the House of Regret only once or twice a generation, and my mother swore that no one had since her grandparents were children. This was meant to be a seed of doubt, a worry that the magic wouldn't work any more, but I owed him. She couldn't understand that, none of them could, but I owed him.

Enough delay. I pulled the door open and it moved with a hideous groan. There were no lights of course. Never had been. None were needed. Once I stepped over the threshold, I pulled the door closed behind me and mourned the passing of daylight as it shrank down to a thin line, then disappeared.

I stood there waiting, shivering in the damp. It would have been pointless to worry about what sort of things might have been in there with me, those that skittered or crawled, because what I'd see when I could see again would be far far worse. Be brave, I counseled myself. Once I get through and reach the clock, I can turn it all back.

That was the point: face your fear and you gain the power to turn back time; not all the way, just a little, just enough. Or so the theory went. Everyone claimed to know someone who had tried it, and more someones who had failed. But they could never back their claims and give them a face, an actual body to ask questions of. It hardly seemed possible given that so many people knew I'd come here, but maybe Mom's insistence was true and no one had been there for ages.

"What do you regret the most?"

I whipped my head around, looking for the source, but that was ridiculous. There was nothing to see. And I knew, knew, that the voice hadn't come out of a throat.

Did I say it aloud, or did I just think it? I wondered, wishing that I'd asked someone that before walking up here. Maybe I didn't even have to think about it I decided as the room began to lose some of its dampness.

Several yards away a pinprick of light began to grow, and I wrapped my arms around myself. When the confusion of lights and images before me began to corporate into a familiar scene, I had to fight a keening that desperately wanted to be voiced. Somehow, when I thought about regrets in the days since Jesse had been found, this wasn't what had come to mind. But it should have.

Our schoolyard. The school had held only the fifteen of us because the hard years during our earliest childhoods had stolen many of our siblings from their cribs, if families had dared to have babies at all. Once there had been two teachers, teaching in separate classrooms, but now there was one and the other room was boarded to reduce heating costs.

While I watched, little Betsy came into view, trailing Jesse and Aaron. I'd been eight, Jesse ten, and Aaron was a great big boy of fifteen. Aaron had once been the oldest of four but was now an only child, which is why he tolerated the little kids' hero-worship. Older than him now, I realized that he missed his siblings, but hadn't then. Not that awful then.

We'd had pails in our hands, and had been charged with picking berries for snack time. The teacher trusted Aaron to keep an eye on us, and he took this duty fairly seriously. But then he had to pee.

"I've uh, gotta go," he'd told us, cheeks warm. "Stay here, okay? I'll be right back."


For a moment we'd watched in interest as he searched for a tree to duck behind, but we soon lost interest. Instead Jesse pointed at a tree. "Look at that."

"What about it?"  I'd asked, distracted by the thought that life would be easier if I could pee outside too.

"We should climb it."

"Aaron said to stay here," I reminded Jesse.

"And we wouldn't be going anywhere," he insisted. "The tree is right here."

This seemed logical enough, so I began to follow him as he climbed the low branches. "Not so fast," I complained, my dress slowing me down. Life would also be easier in trousers, I decided fiercely. Boys had all the luck.

Jesse ignored me, and I struggled to keep up. I was so focused on not being left behind that I was hardly aware that we'd climbed so high. But when a branch snagged my dress and unbalanced me, I was made aware of it.

The ground met me with a rattling thump and I screamed. Jesse was so startled that he almost fell out right after me, but managed not to somehow.

Aaron must have heard my yell because he came running, his trousers still halfway unbuttoned. He blamed Jesse, not me, but I protested saying that he hadn't forced me to climb the tree.

When they tried to get me to stand, I couldn't. So Aaron picked me up and carried me back, yelling at Jesse the whole way.

I expected there to be trouble when we reached the schoolyard, but not the way it happened. Our teacher looked at Aaron carrying me, and at his flapping trousers, and whispered to one of the big girls who took of running. I didn't know then, but she'd sent the girl for the sheriff.

When the sheriff came, he took Aaron aside and spoke sharply to him. From where I'd been set to wait for the doctor, all I could see was the sheriff's angry face, and Aaron shaking his head. Jesse had gotten close enough to hear and I grabbed his hand when he walked by me. "What's going on?"

Jesse's face turned red. Whispering, he said, "Teacher and him think that Aaron did... something... to you."

"Did something?" I repeated, uncertain.

"You know," Jesse mumbled.

I didn't, so I shrugged. "Tell him Aaron didn't."



"Aaron's in trouble, not us. We tell the sheriff what happened, we'll get into trouble too. This is better."

"No it's not," I insisted.

Jesse pinched me. "Yes, it is."

As much as I liked Aaron, I liked Jesse more, so I held my tongue and that might be why we'd grown up as thick as thieves and had become more once we were grown. Neither of us said anything. Even when the sheriff led Aaron away just after Doc Addams arrived to set my broken leg. Even when Aaron and his parents were driven from the village. Even when villagers set their empty house to fire so they daren't move back.

The last image before me was one of people bathed in firelight, shouting as they threw burning brands through that house's windows.

I moaned as the scene faded into nothing, leaving me in the chilled damp again. "Now what?" I asked the dark.


Amends? I didn't even know where to start. It had been nearly a decade since I'd last seen any member of Aaron's family. "I will," I promised aloud, though inside I doubted I would succeed. How could I?

My promise must have been sincere enough because once again the darkness was incomplete. Bracing myself, I looked, worried to see another memory given form, but that's not what I saw at all.

The new light was a cool green in an improbable clearing, and there was a single sapling planted there. From one of its spindly branches hung the prize: a small clock suspended from a chain. While beautiful in its own way, it hardly seemed any more special than any of the clocks bartered in neighboring villages.

I ran towards it, scared that the light would fade before I reached it, but it didn't. My fingers trembled as I reached for the clock, and I half expected for my hand to close upon nothing, but it was a chilly solid weight in my palm.

"Ring the bell once for each day," I whispered to myself, studying the small bell attached to it.

Four thin peals later, I let the clock go, watching it swing for a moment.

And then I felt a force at my back, pushing me out. I tried to dig in my heels, hoping I'd see a sign that it had worked before I was expelled, but resistance was futile. I was nearly flung out of the building, and found myself stumbling outside, trying hard not to fall.

To my amazement, it was night. Inside I'd lost all sense of time. Hours must have passed.

When I heard branches snap, I froze. The logical conclusion was that it was someone from the village had come to see what had become of me, but that didn't necessarily mean I'd see a friendly face. Over the years many people have muttered about how we should tear this place down because it was unnatural, and somehow I was sure that they visited it more often than people who held it in reverence.

Moonlight filtered out most colors, but the person I saw was familiar enough. The night bleached him pale, but his dark curls and dancing eyes were the same.

"Jesse?" I squeaked.

"Have you seen Aaron?" he asked.

"Aaron?" Maybe this place had brought Aaron so I could apologize. We both could, now.

"He came to see me a few days ago," Jesse continued. "We talked about the past. He wants to see you too."

"Oh. I need to speak to him, and I will," I promised. "Jesse, I thought you were dead!" Such a stupid comment. It had worked. I'd brought him back.

"Oh, Elizabeth," he murmured, gathering me in his cool arms just before twin dots of fire burned my neck. "I am."
 The End

"You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness, like resignation to the end, always the end" - Gotye, Someone That I Used to Know

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