New Flash Fiction Challenge: 200 Words! Part 1

Below, please find my entry in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: writing the first 200 words of a story which other writers will finish.

House of Memory

by Courtney Cantrell, Renee Elizabeths, Simon B., and ?

“I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news.”

As Feral’s voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt’s stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn’t give in to the urge to scratch.

“One remembers every detail of that moment.” Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. “The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire.”

“SHE SHALL RISE,” replied all of House Ghantek.

Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.

Story continued by Renee Elizabeths:

“H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!” he stammered.

Annoyance flashed in Feral’s eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she’d said herself, they’d been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.

His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn’t taken this seriously.

It was just too hot. Couldn’t Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?

Of course, then it would probably be raining.

The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien’s ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.

“House Ghantek defen–” The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.

Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.

“SHE SHALL RISE!” shrieked his withered corpse.

Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.

Simon B. continued with:

The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who’d been interrupted – a blade-sworn whose name he couldn’t remember – had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.

Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.

The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.

A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek – more urgent, this time.

They’d armed themselves.

Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn’t be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.

Decorum be damned.

__________

Who’s next? : )

That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

Gone with the Wind

When I was a kid and teenager, I watched Gone with the Wind at least a couple of times a year. (I read the book for the first time at age 14 or 15.) And every time, I viewed it with an odd mixture of enjoyment, disgust, fascination, and horror.

This isn’t a post about slavery or bigotry or racism or women’s equality or war or politics, though Gone with the Wind contains plenty of fodder for each. (Not to mention a kaboodle of interesting stuff relating to the psychology of Scarlett O’Hara herself; man, did I ever get a doozy of a shock concerning her when I finally rewatched the movie as an adult! Also: Vivien Leigh? Brilliant.)

No, I’m not delving into any of that today. What I am going to talk about, though, is corsets.

scarlettmammycorset

As a kid and a teen, I watched the corset-lacing scenes with horror. How could any woman do that to herself? How could she breathe? No wonder she couldn’t eat. No wonder there was fainting all over the place. These women had to be crazy to think fashion and other people’s opinions were worth putting themselves through this kind of torture — putting themselves into this kind of torture device.

Corset. Torture device. Every bit as effective as the iron maiden, thumbscrews, and the rack, I had no doubt.

Oh, and then there was this:

Mammy (referring to Scarlett’s waist measurement): Twenty inches.

Scarlett: I’ve grown as big as Aunt Pitty! You’ve simply got to make it eighteen-and-a-half again!

Mammy: You done had a baby, Miss Scarlett, an’ you ain’ never goin’ to be no eighteen-an’-a-half inches again — never. An’ there ain’ nothin’ to do about it.

Eighteen-and-a-half inches. You know what that is? That’s the circumference of…of…well, of I don’t know what. Something very small. Like maybe the head of a small child. Or my cat. (The whole cat, not the head.) Definitely not the waist of an average-height, adult, human female.

Corsets, thought I, shaking my head in amazed disgust. Those are for crazy people. NO DOUBT.

Down with the Corset!

Now. By which I mean, give heed, dear inklings, to meanderings mine as well as in the context of this narrative, we find ourselves in present day. If you recall, I recently gave you a candid look, both in description and in photographic evidence, of my post-pregnancy body. If you recall, in that post I jokingly used the word “corset” to describe the bodysuit thingamajig my physical therapist wanted me to wear in order to help heal my separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti).

That bodysuit corset thingamajig is this:

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

I didn’t like it. It pulled on my shoulders, making them sore and straining my upper back. It slid down. It rode up. Sure, it slimmed down some of the fat pockets on my back and sides, but was a slightly (SLIGHTLY) streamlined silhouette really worth the discomfort? Nay, said the horse. Not to mention the part where I have to unhook it when I want to pee, which makes me feel like I’m wearing a superlarge version of my toddler’s onesies. Great, not only am I out of shape and in pain, I’m also reduced to wearing gigantic baby clothes. I CAN’T WIN.

I wouldn’t wear this thing if I didn’t have to. But if I ever want to heal my abs, get my back into shape again, and return to exercising with any semblance of gusto, wear this gigantic toddler onesie wedgie corset-thing I must.

I had no idea what was coming next.

gwtw-intermission

Physical therapy was still progressing, at least as far as my mobility was concerned. But the pain had plateaued, meaning that it wasn’t getting worse (most days), but it certainly wasn’t improving. My physical therapist suggested placing a sheet of plywood under my mattress. The husband installed it. I also started wearing my mouthguard at night so that I wouldn’t clench/grind my teeth. (Bruxism can contribute to back pain.)

Plywood and mouthguard helped a little; the pain dropped a notch. Then it plateaued again. My therapist was at a loss. My frustration level went up. The toddler kept doing this weird thing called getting bigger, which also meant getting heavier. Soon, every morning began with numb spots on the bottoms of my feet. I couldn’t turn my head.

My mother, wise woman that she is, suggested X-rays. My general practitioner, all-around awesome that she is, agreed. The X-rays showed something that shouldn’t have surprised me but was still fairly depressing:

Mild arthritis in my neck.

Mild scoliosis in my back.

Arthritis. At 36. I know it’s not unheard-of for someone my age or even younger to be diagnosed with this, but still. I figured out a long time ago that, powerful genes considered, I’d probably develop arthritis just the way my mother and grandmother did. But I thought that would be distant future, not imminent. I mean, seriously. Arthritis? Wasn’t I supposed to be at least 55 before this party started?

And scoliosis. Is this a new thing? Did this just develop during pregnancy? Can pregnancy cause it? Or have I always had it, and nobody ever realized? Isn’t this something that crops up in childhood? With all the bajillion doctors I’ve seen during the course of my too-short-for-arthritis life, if I’ve had scoliosis the whole time, how is it possible that nobody ever noticed?

It’s been a few days since the diagnoses, and I’m very definitely still *SIGH*ing over this. And feeling way older than any of this merits.

Done with the Corset; Or: That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

My doctor says that if I have better back support, the pain of both conditions should/will decrease and go away. In order to gain better back support, I need core strength and stability — of which I’m clearly not getting enough via my onesie-corset-bodysuit. Those separated abs are THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. To heal the abs and reestablish core strength, the doc wants me to wear a thing. It’s called a “Belly Bandit.”

bellybandit

The Belly Bandit is supposed to be THE BEST for getting one’s stretched, now oddly-proportioned, post-pregnancy belly back into shape. It flattens and compresses. It squeezes separated abs back together so they can heal. It produces whangdoodles and zippetybobs, and it will most definitely endow one with those ever-elusive vorpal unicorn morphing powers. I guess it’s called a “bandit” because it steals away one’s oversized post-pregnancy belly. I guess.

I buy one. I haul it home and pull it out of the package. It’s a ca. 3-foot-long, 1-foot-wide piece of cloth-covered elastic with front panels of what feels like industrial-strength Velcro. I suck in the belly, flex what’s left of the abs, and wrap my new belly-thieving friend around my waist. I secure the Velcro that would make the Acme Corporation proud. I relax and immediately notice two things:

1. I suddenly feel like my top half and bottom half are finally connected again.

2. Gasp and egad, I AM IN A CORSET.

PRETTY.

PRETTY.

I can’t breathe. Did I get it too tight? I can’t sit down. Oh dear, it’s bunching up in the small of my back. But the package insert says it’s supposed to do this. I can’t breathe. And later, I will pull a Scarlett and eat like a bird because my stomach is too smooshed for more than half a meal to fit into my abdomen.

I remind myself that this is a good thing. I use all the force of my fingers, hands, and arms to pull the Velcro apart and strap the thing back on a little looser. Breathing recommences. A little. I pick up the baby, and my back doesn’t scream at me. Okay, Ms. Bandit, maybe we can be friends after all.

After a lifetime of looking down my nose at those frivolous, 19th-century Southern belles, I now am not walking around in their shoes, but in their underwear. The Belly Bandit slims my waist. I ain’t never goin’ be no 18 inches (never was in the first place; nor 20, nor 25…ET CETERA), but at least the waistband of my jeans now rests comfortably on my hips instead of pinching my flesh. Sure, sitting isn’t comfortable, but the moment I strap on my torture device, I feel my posture improve and my whole body stabilize. For the first time in over a year, I don’t feel like my top half is gonna slide all janky to the right when my feet are leading my legs and hips to the left.

The best and weirdest part is that I can actually feel my abs touching under my skin. I mean, what a testament to how messed up my body is. You’re not supposed to be able to feel your abs touching. What manner of crazy is this? And yet, I do feel it, and in addition to bizarre, it also feels like hope.

Maybe I can feel normal again. Maybe I can live without pain again (because, yes, after a week of wearing the Belly Bandit, I definitely have less pain, and my next pt appointment isn’t until the end of the week). Maybe I can get my abs back.

Maybe, just maybe, I can get my body back.

Three-sentence horror story: SNACKTIME

Okay, so I promised that not all of my three-sentence stories would be horror. But this third one is, too. Sorry. Stay tuned for other genres!

SNACKTIME

by Courtney Cantrell

When she stepped out of the bedroom at 3:00 a.m. to grab a snack, she felt compelled to turn and look down the hall.

At the head of the stairs slouched a thing, its claws tick-ticking against the hardwood floor.

It grinned at her, displaying a maw of sharp teeth, before it skittered into the baby’s room.

THE END

_________________

For more three-sentence fiction, click here.

Writing Resource: First Lines #NaNoWriMo

Hile, my lovelies!

Today, with the pleasure of a thousand sheikhs bathed in chocolate, I bring you a creative writing exercise resource THING. As you might have noticed, of late I’ve become a regular reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog terribleminds. One of my favorites of his columns is his weekly, Fridayly (Fridaily?) flash fiction challenge. He posts a new one every week, and each one is a frolicking romp of a creative writing challenge, and it’s all muy inspiring and so forth and whatnot.

1stThe current challenge is to write an opening line (15 words max), which other writers will then use to craft a tale for next week’s challenge. Me, I’ve officially hied myself to the comments section of said current challenge and posted the following as my opening line:

“I can see why you don’t have any friends,” said the poltergeist.

After I posted this to Wendig’s blog, I thought that I should probably post it to mine own.

And after I thought I should post it to mine own, I thought that I should also post a few other opening lines just for fun.

And after I thought that I should post other opening lines for fun, I thought I should invite you all to use these lines as you see fit: either as inspiration for other opening lines, or as inspiration for stories, or as inspiration for poetry, or as inspiration for a collection of fictional tweets from the bathroom. It’s up to you.

At any rate, please to be finding below a list of first lines (some longer than 15 words). You have my permission to use them as thou wilt. If you get rich and famous off the resulting stories, though, do be kind enough to drop my name to the press, won’t you? Thanks.

Creative Writing Resource: Opening Lines (Free!)

The humans slept.

The book fell open to a well-read page, and what she saw there made her heart race.

After dinner, he took the guests’ tongues one by one.

He always knew some small thing would bring his destruction, but he’d never suspected a bobby pin.

“Ow, my elbow joint! Hand me that oil can, willya?”

The whispers wouldn’t stop.

Maybe nobody would think to look for her under the bubbles.

In the nineteenth year of Goriakin Warhound’s reign, the owl people came down out of the mountains.

“Try again.”

She stared out over the rim of her glass, still tasting the poison on her lips, and wondered which of her brothers had tried to kill her.

Look. I was just doing what I had to. Everybody knows the only good crilli is a dead crilli.

It wasn’t until he was ten that he realized he was the only one who could see the blood.

“Don’t you effing dare hang up on me! I have exactly three more points on my li–”

In a certain light, the back of the door looked pink.

The storm refused to break until the fever did.

The house was an adorable combo of Victorian frill and oversized 1980s slouch, and he was sure that it was trying to kill him.

I like music that tells a story. What was happening onstage was more like a tech manual for vacuum cleaner assembly.

“My goodness, get in here. What have you done to yourself? Your hair looks like a mullet.”

Years later, they would reassure each other that she deserved it.

When the priest levitated over the altar and up past the crucifix, Mrs. Denby finally bolted from the front row and ran shrieking down the nave.

He glanced at it just in time to see it move.

___________________

Annnnnnd that’s a wrap. Share your thoughts, inspirations, stories, world domination schemes, and whatnots in the comments!

Three-sentence horror story: HONEYMOON

Hile, inklings!

If you recall, I recently wrote a three-sentence horror story for a flash fiction contest.

Sadly, I didn’t win. But that’s the breaks, right? Loss of hypothetical glory notwithstanding, the three-sentence fiction concept has continued percolating in my brain these several weeks and brought forth the richness of IDEA: Ima start posting three-sentence short stories here on a semi-regular basis, and y’all can let me know what you think of ’em. It should be great story-telling practice for me (and Grabthar knows I need it), and I hope it’ll be fun for you. Yay! Everybody wins!

Except for the cheetahs. They never prosper.

Of course, I might do this just the one time and then forget that I thought of it. (This might be what “semi-regular basis” really means.) Guess you’ll just have to hide and watch.

So, without further ado or adon’t, here’s my newest three-sentence horror story. Enjoy. (They won’t all be horror, by the way. The first two just happen to be.)

____________

HONEYMOON

by Courtney Cantrell

When he came to, it was pitch black.

His shaking fingers soon discovered that she’d gouged out his eyes.

But worse, no matter how he screamed, the floor beneath him would not stop writhing.

THE END