“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
– Ray Bradbury
“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”
– Edgar Allan Poe
“The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side.”
– Emma Donoghue
See more lovely quotes about short stories at Aerogramme Writers’ Studio!
This week’s flash fiction is a result of this song – White Doves, by Cider Sky:
and this prompt:
It takes a monster to kill a monster.
But no matter how many monsters she fought, there was one she could never slay. The one that grew stronger inside her the more kills she racked up. Monsters came in various forms, but there was none quite as scary as the one that looked back at her in the mirror.
You mustn’t grow a conscience, was what they said when she decided to join the Creed. It’s bad for business.
But she couldn’t stop the third party – unwelcome or not – from settling in her gut. It was an occupant that would turn the house inside out and leave muddy footprints all over the floor, but even this beat the emptiness that lived there before.
As she slipped through the desolate night into the target’s house, she wondered if she was right in taking on this assignment.
Stop thinking like that, she chided herself. She had been a shivering, bloody mess reaching, grasping for support when they first found her. And it was the killing – the single-minded focus of ridding the world of evil, evil that she had had to encounter – that nursed her back to health; it was the killing that made her stronger than she had ever been before.
Why then was she shuffling her feet around this mark? Was it the file of sketches she found in his study, the one that called to mind the quiet melody of a piano filling a room, the low, gentle voice next to her ear, a warm, dry hand that smoothed the hair off her face? Whatever it was that raked up these fragmented sensations, it made her inch towards the room at the end of the hallway with an uncertainty that was as bewildering – disorientating – as it was atypical.
Even monsters had memories. What did it say about her that she recalled nothing of her life before she joined the Creed?
She shook her head hard, shoving the thoughts back into the store cupboard of her mind. Memories are dangerous things, they said. They get in the way of the job.
The doorknob was loose. It jiggled in her hand. She froze, not because of her less than perfect entry, but because of the sudden draught. All the windows were closed.
She had seen things, many things, terrible things, as a result of this job. The violence she witnessed was what conditioned her hand, froze her heart, and drew her further and further away from herself. But here in this sparsely furnished room, where moonlight collected into a concentrated pool on a mounted canvas in the corner, what greeted her wasn’t a sight that made her killing a gratuitous act.
There was no mark. No ugliness, no violence, nobody. Only the barren shell of a home abandoned by its occupants, and the pure blank canvas on which the moon made its art.
She stood in the middle of the room like a soldier stranded without an order. Memories surged in to fill the void, seizing her by waves, driving her to her knees. And there she remained, splayed out. Played out.
When she saw him, a luminous spectre in the moonlight, she got to her feet and whipped out the knife from her shoe in a practised move. But the sight of him turned her to sand. Her knees barely supported her; even her voice came out as a rasp, raw and scraped dry.
“You were dead.” She couldn’t remember his name. She wouldn’t.
Even though everything was starting to come back to her. All the times she had spent in his room, dreaming and laughing and loving, loving, loving him. Until one day, there was no one left to love anymore. Her dreams died along with him that day, and she had never dared to say goodbye or think of him.
But here he stood now, right before her as though he had never left. As though he weren’t just a faint shadow of himself.
His eyes fell on the knife in her white-knuckled hand, then rose to meet hers. “What happened to you, Aderyl?’ His gaze was an unbearable thing, heavier than the ravaged world.
The Creed had warned them of a test not too long ago, a test that many before her had failed because they had let their guard down.
This is not real, she told herself over and over. She squeezed her eyes shut and told herself that over and over again. This is just a test.
She had given life to the monster in her, and this was where it meant to devour her, in a house bursting full of tears and memories, a house from another life.
“That’s not my name.” Her voice cracked like a whip, renting the tight air in a brazen move. Revenge was her name now. She had liked that, how she was labelled and known by her purpose only.
“That’s who you’ll always be to me,” he said. “Aderyl.”
It wasn’t a goodbye, this unexpected encounter, but she felt it as keenly as the cold air brushing against her skin when he reached for her hand. She gripped her knife tighter, afraid to let go of her weapon, of herself.
It was only after the night claimed him that she allowed her knife to clatter to the ground. Her mind, once wired for the kill, now tripped over itself, and her limbs were clumsy, awkward things, unsuited for wielding weaponry of any kind.
The Creed was right. Memories were dangerous; they were monsters. Memories awakened every nerve and pulse, and left her vulnerable. They became her.
They were her.
The Creed should never have set this test.