You have until 6 pm (PST) on Saturday to submit a 500-word story based on the prompt picture below. Post your story in the comments section; include your name, a title, the word count (not including title), and your Twitter handle if you’ve got one. Only stories submitted before the deadline will be eligible to win. We’re on San Francisco time; check the world clock if you have any questions. Good luck!!
In the remote countryside, there are places that still observe the old ways. It is only recently that we have begun to welcome visitors. But, that’s the way the world is, these days. Times change, like the weather.
In the summer, we have a holiday for hungry ghosts. It is not the Buddhist concept, though. Based on Shinto, this celebration is even older than Obon and Tanabata, but it’s also about love and death and meetings.
The streets are hung with strings of colored lights and lanterns. There is dancing and talking until the stars fade in the light before dawn. Houses are decorated. Favorite meals are prepared.
We await the stars–the summer triangle of Altair, Deneb and Vega, forming a gateway that opens. We beat great drums to chase away the dark clouds, and summon our loved ones back to this world.
The other world is different, they say. Time is slower, too. It takes a while to adjust. A year here is like a day there, a summer afternoon. For them, this reunion is like coming home from a day in the fields, as lights turn on in the evening.
And at last here they come, a parade at dusk, just in time for the first fireflies. Walking down the roadway, one by one, all the dead lovers, and husbands and wives. They have put on silk outfits, and bodies. They have dressed for the festival, just for us.
At first, they are so hungry for this world. Their eyes try to take it all in. They admire the lights and colors. They cannot eat and drink enough.
They miss the weight of their bodies, the feel of skin. These first reunions have such sweetness. There is much touching without words. What is there to say? Which one will speak first?
The night passes so quickly. No one has time for sleep. All too soon, the first birds sing as the light returns. Bodies entwined, untangle. Some are so reluctant to leave. You can imagine there are many tearful partings. Sometimes, even arguments.
But now it is time to go, before the sun rises. We accompany our loved ones to the edge of town. Same time, next year, we’ll be laughing together, we promise each other. There is much waving and backward glances. At last they turn and walk into the light of the new day. We watch them until they are out of sight before we go back to our lives.
But in time, our loves grow tired of this world, the constant coming and going. So much fuss! Too many new people to remember. Why get all dressed up? The bodies become too heavy, and the lights begin to hurt their eyes. The food is just too much. They grow lighter, more transparent, more distant. Our fingers go right through them, as they disappear at dawn.
About the Author:
In real life Voima Oy lives in Oak Park, IL on the western edge of Chicago, south of the expressway and the elevated train line.
She has written short forms for years–poetry, prose poems and very short stories. She loves the possibilities of twitter and flash fiction!
She also has a blog, Chicago Weather Watch, where she writes about life, nature and weather.
This week’s photo inspired a surprising range of entries, from Voima Oy’s lyrical description of a festival of the dead, to David Gentner’s legend of a dumpling-starved dragon, to Jade Moss’s reflection on a young woman’s physical and emotional displacement. Even those entrants who set their stories in an imagined Chinatown explored different details of the prompt, like the “No Parking” sign (Joshua Swainston), the evening light and the movement on the street (C. Connolly), and the rather prominent barricades (Karl Russell).
Several authors played with the “twist,” or surprise ending. Brett Milam’s was perhaps the most disturbing, even as his chiropractor’s psychopathy is evident upon a re-reading. David Gentner’s mustachioed, green-robed stranger at the door convinces the cocky young protagonist, Chen—and the reader—that there may be something to his grandfather’s slavish devotion to legend. C. Connolly draws her reader into a dream state—or was it real? And David Shakes pulls a switcheroo on his audience akin to that experienced by his mysteriously healed hero.
In a notable point of overlap, Karl Russell, Voima Oy, Jade Moss, and Joshua Swainston meditate on relationships, but even these range from the quotidian to the quirky. Swainston’s readers wonder who really wins the debate over civic order, the “authoritarian armadillo” who polices Portland drivers, or Paul the scofflaw, intent on getting his pregnant wife some Chinese takeout. We strain along with Karl Russell’s Michael to piece together details of his life from his estranged wife Allie, who remembers it all because she has not yet been infected by whatever lurks within the mysterious holes appearing in English cities.
What an entertaining bunch of stories! Even so, two of this week’s submissions hit me hard (in a good way). The runner-up is “We Come and Go” by Jade Moss. I’m a sucker for a good line, and in Moss’s story that line is, “I want to be crushed by the weight of something unfamiliar.” It conveys the protagonist’s desire to be somewhere else, with someone else, even as she is present enough in the here and now to know how to spell “Zushi” in Japanese and that Thomas loves her “in a reckless sort of way.” Moss probes the woman’s state of mind, and we understand how she’s gotten here: Thomas’s allegiance has shifted; the setting has changed; beach sand is no longer romantic when it’s stuck to the soles of your feet. And then the lovers step off the train, and they are not where they think they are. Is this the unfamiliar? Is this what the woman wants?
The winning submission is “Same Time, Next Year” by Voima Oy, a story about how the living and the dead adjust and adapt themselves to loss. In Oy’s imaginary, the dead move on, but the rest of us do not, and somehow this idea seems so sad and just about right. I’m impressed by the elegance and economy of Oy’s prose. Take this part, for example: “And at last here they come, a parade at dusk, just in time for the first fireflies. Walking down the roadway, one by one, all the dead lovers, and husbands and wives. They have put on silk outfits, and bodies.” Oy’s writing is poetic, really. Images unfold in the imaginations of her readers, and her fireflies become our fireflies, and her dead become our own. It’s a beautiful story, one I will remember.
I have enjoyed being a guest judge in this week’s flash fiction competition, and I thank Beth and Emily of Luminous Creatures Press for inviting me to play along. Keep writing, everyone!
Many thanks to our judge, Tiffany Aldrich MacBain!
You have until 6 pm (PST) on Saturday to submit a 500-word story based on the prompt picture below. Post your story in the comments section; include your name, a title, the word count (not including title), and your Twitter handle if applicable. Only stories submitted before the deadline will be eligible to win. Our server has been having some problems, so if you cannot get onto the website to post your story, send it to email@example.com by 6 pm Saturday. This week we’ll also be posting the prompt and instructions to our Facebook page. LCP is on San Francisco time; check the world clock if you have any questions. Good luck!!
We walked through the Doubling Woods, my Ghost Girl and I, marching in time to an inner beat, a rhythm known only to us. Matching breath for breath.
One of us raised a hand in greeting, and one of us returned it, but neither could know which was which.
We walked in companionable silence, beneath twinned boughs and mirrored blossom, to the sound of dopplered birdsong, and it seemed an endless, pleasing pathway.
Until we came to the clearing and the splitting point and the paths divergent. We stood a while, my Ghost Girl and I, and we thought on the choices ahead.
To go on, along the paths, into deeper, darker, solitary woods, where our breaths would no longer match?
Or to stay, side by side, in the clearing? No shade, no shelter, no chance of destination’s rest, yet still, together; Matching breath for breath.
She made to speak, to break the silence and to argue for or against, but all I heard was the echo of my own voice, ringing in my ears. I moved to sit, to rest and think, but found her sitting also, occupying my space.
We collided, my Ghost Girl and I, repelling each other with equal charge and we leapt apart, crying out in unified pain.
The idea took us both together and we turned like clockwork figures, hoping for the safety of retreat, but we found only greenery, lush and thick and impenetrable. There was no way back to where we had been before.
We faced each other again, my Ghost Girl and I, my tears rolling down her cheeks, hers down mine, unable to hear each other’s sorrow over the roar of our own. Matching breath for breath.
And so at last we turned again to the paths divergent, Unable to stay and to settle, barred from the unity of the past, we turned away from each other, there in that clearing beneath the sky, and we each took our first, hesitant steps apart.
I took the left and she the right, footsteps falling in perfect unison, watching each other through gaps in the foliage, longing for the paths to converge once more, to reunite us at some unknown point in the future.
But the way curved ever wider, the brush deeper, the cushioning fall of old growth deadening all sound.
And when I realised that I could hear but one voice, one footfall, one breath, I fell to my knees and I wept. And I know that she did too.
But it passed, and I rose and returned to my path, and I know that she did that too. And though I can no longer see her or hear her, I know that we are on similar journeys, my Ghost Girl and I. I know we shall not meet again, nor walk again in step to our shared rhythm, but I know that as I move on, she does too.
One step at a time.
Breath matching breath matching breath.
Karl A. Russell comes from the North West of England, where he lives with his wife and five year old daughter (his toughest critics). He’s been writing on and off for his whole life, but only started to actually finish and submit things a couple of years ago, when the spectre of turning 40 started looming in the not too distant future. He can be found most weekends posting at Flash! Friday and The Angry Hourglass.
Karl is currently working on a novel, which he might get to the end of this time, if he doesn’t waste all his spare moments on Twitter. If you want to read more of his work, his pay-what-you-want charity collection is available here.
Our prompt photo this week depicted a dreamy forest scene, and so I was not surprised to read hypnogogic stories full of forest creatures, the shades of bittersweet memories, and changelings.
I loved the clash of “urban smells and adult sensibilities” with the fairytale heaven for lost children in Casey Rose Frank’s story, “Him.” This story balanced its two sides, the weight of loss and image of the idyllic forest, with graceful aplomb.
Voima Oy’s fae wedding of forest creatures conjured vivid images—a parade of hares and squirrels, bouquet-toting raccoons, and of course the green-eyed cat bride with her veil of spiderwebs. The cast of characters gave this story life and motion.
The winning story this week is Karl A Russell’s well-crafted “The Paths Divergent.” The rhythmic, poetic cadence enhanced the bittersweet subtext, and I truly felt the heaviness of our narrator’s steps down the divergent path as he left his “ghost girl.”
Congratulations to Karl and thank you to everyone who participated this week.