Two-faced

Quarry“You bloody idiot!”

I plucked at my sodden jeans and glared at the red BMW as it disappeared into the distance. Muddy water trickled into my wellington boot. Buster tipped his head to one side, gave me a doggy grin, and then shook himself.

“Get away!” I ordered. I frowned and looked up at the sky, where the sun had just emerged from bruised clouds. I rubbed at my thigh. The old wound ached when it was cold.

Buster gave me an expectant look. “Oh, all right,” I said. “I’ll dry. Come on, boy!”

We veered to the left, away from the road and into a narrow strip of trees. The smell of leaf mould filled my nostrils. I picked up a large, fallen branch and let the damp, coarse bark slap against my palm. The weight was comforting.

I didn’t throw it for Buster. It was too big, and anyway, you shouldn’t give dogs sticks.

The trees opened out to the edge of the quarry, the stepped rock of the opposite wall making me think of an amphitheatre. I imagined a violent battle in the bottom of the basin, where now a pool of calm, green-blue water sat. I could almost hear the cheers and smell the sweat and dust. I could almost taste coppery blood in the air. I held the branch high and let out a roar.

Buster gave me a puzzled look, then ran down the rocky path and cocked his leg against a sapling.

I followed him, scuffing my feet, kicking up dust and gravel.

Something caught my eye. I squatted, dug my fingers into the coarse dirt and yanked. I pushed the grime away from the surface of the small object with my thumbnail. A coin, made of dark metal, stamped with a horned figure on one side, a winged one on the reverse. Strange.

My thigh complained again at the squatting position. Self-defence, they said. I never actually touched her; she put a kitchen knife in my thigh. How is that fair?

I straightened up, leaning on the branch for support, and dropped the coin into my jacket pocket

#

            “Buster! Heel!” I hissed, looking through the trees towards the road. He trotted obediently to my side.

A woman in black, high-heeled shoes was talking loudly into a mobile phone while she stared at the front driver’s wheel of her car. A red BMW.

“It’s the car from earlier,” I murmured, grinning. “She must’ve got a flat on her way back.” My hand slipped into my pocket and found the coin I’d picked up.

I flipped it in my fingers. The surface felt oddly warm. My eyes drifted to the heavy branch in my other hand. I’d been leaning on it, like a staff.

Buster let out a soft wuff.

The woman stabbed at the screen of her phone and thrust it into her handbag, shaking her head.

I made a decision.

“Flat tyre?” I said, stepping into view. “Would you like some help?”


Author’s notes:

The challenge with this story was to stick to 500 words, and it is EXACTLY 500. So on that basis alone, I’m quite proud of it! I rather enjoyed the slightly sinister, thriller-like atmosphere, although it does feel more like a prologue than a full story (but come on, 500 words!) Hints of the supernatural crept in, too. I might pick this one up again some day…


© Kat Day 2016

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17 thoughts on “Two-faced

  1. I saw you FB prompt for readers so I thought I’d come and have a look. It’s clear from this short that you can write creative fiction well. You’ve avoided most, if not all, of the oft-encountered shortcomings and that makes a very welcome change. The pace is brisk (it has to be for a 500-word challenge; they are never easy!) and the voice is confident. You’ve opted for first person POV and this engages the reader especially with some of the odd clues rendered through the back-story device and I think opening with speech is really a very good idea. I thought one of the best parts of the story was the foreshadowing of potential violence by the narrator picking up the heavy branch, and the simile of the Roman amphitheatre – really good – is she going to bash the driver over the head? There is evidence of previous violent experience so it’s possible.

    There are some things that you might consider. I agree that it reads as a prologue. This isn’t a problem in and of itself but in terms of a satisfying short, dropping in details and then leaving them unresolved (the coin, the knife wound, the possibility that there was some sort of inquest/trial, and the women with the BMW) is always going to affect readers’ investment. There’s absolutely no problem with not having resolution at the end of a short story and leaving the reader pondering BUT it must seem ‘finished’ and I think that you already know that this doesn’t seem finished by thinking that you might return to it later to add to it (I hope you do) to bring better conclusions.

    There are occasions where you do a bit too much telling, eg ‘The old wound ached when it was cold’. ‘Wehn it was cold’ is not needed, it’s redundant and telling. We know that she (funny how I think I’m listening to a female voice when the narrator’s sex is unreported) has just been splashed by a passing car so the water can only be cold.

    It’s never a bad idea to engage the reader by involving the senses and Small is used to good effect, however, this ‘The smell of leaf mould filled my nostrils” really jarred (at least for me) ‘filled my senses’ is cliche. Delete it and just report the smell – the only way you can smell the leaf mold is through your nostrils – we get it.

    There is always room for improving writing (I should know) but this is of good quality, the voice is confident and convincing, and I would happily have continued reading.

    Well done,

    Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this! I’ve been working on avoiding telling, but bits do seem to creep in despite my good intentions! I’m interested that you thought it was a female voice, because I was imagining a man…

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  2. Ha! Funny how we make assumptions on male and female voices.

    Don’t stress about the ‘telling’ aspects you’d spot them on an edit anyway because you know what ‘telling’ is. The amount of stuff I read where it is obvious the writer isn’t even aware of it as a problem to be avoided in the first place is tragic.

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just a thought, which you probably already know anyway, concerning cliche in fiction.

    Cliche, when offered through narration is to be avoided at all costs because it depletes the currency of the writing. However, cliche is perfectly acceptable if it is offered through dialogue because, after all, that is how we often speak in reality.

    That said, I avoid it (almost totally) even in characters’ dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See, this is what happens to me! I do think writers worry about this much more than readers – I don’t think most readers even notice, so long as you don’t go completely mad (oops, there’s another one…)

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  4. I too heard a female voice. I enjoyed the atmosphere and mystery but agree with scratch781, it feels as if it needed rounding off in some way. I know it’s hard, I’ve written 500 workers too! On the other hand, I’m definitely intrigued….

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I hope people won’t mind if I pitch in as this is a very interesting conversation going on. On a general note, I’m not so sure about the whole ‘not telling’ issue. A couple of extremely successful first novels published recently are the apotheosis of ‘telling’, and yet… they are extremely successful. I personally don’t care for either of them, but there you go… And the ‘telling’ isn’t the issue for me anyway. The mandatory thing for me in a story is that I must care for the characters, really care, not just about the plot or what happens to them, but how they feel. And this is so hard to achieve. Once you’ve read thousands of books, finding ‘someone to love’ is not easy.
    Sticking to this strictly-500-word piece, I’ll disagree about ‘The old wound ached when it was cold’ description being unnecessary and redundant. As a sufferer from a joint disease made extremely worse by cold, I linked with the character during that line, I felt the discomfort. Pain aggravated by cold has its own unique quality and I sensed it, because I know it and it is stressed in the story that this is what the character is experiencing. I immediately sympathised and I don’t think the same effect would have been achieved if I had had to remember that the leg had been soaked and the water was probably cold.
    The character was, in fact, the most interesting part of the story for me, because in a very short piece of writing we learn a lot about him… or her: has a dog, was stabbed, doesn’t mind going for a walk alone (plus dog) in the woods, has imagination and perhaps appetite for adventure.
    The plot, I felt, could twist and turn to become almost anything, and I’ll agree that there might be, in fact, too many elements thrown into it already in such a short piece. The wound felt important, but then when the coin was found it seemed the coin might steal the scene and, in the end, the red BMW looked like the one that was going to drive the story forward (pun intended), just a little bit too much for me.
    Intriguing little piece anyway and it got people talking, and giving you some diametrically opposite comments! Isn’t this the beauty of it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this! Yes, it’s often the way isn’t it – something that bothers one person can be another’s favourite bit! I agree about characters though, so important. It’s possible to forgive almost anything if you have characters readers really enjoy. They don’t necessarily have to be likeable, but they do have to be interesting…

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  6. Hi Kat. I liked it, Especially as there is a whole world created and yet unexplored. We the readers, can add our own back story and endings. I can’t write for toffee, but I read a lot, and know a good story isn’t about being told everything to see or think, but to allow the reader imagine the details.

    Liked by 1 person

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