Soooooo, howzabout all that awkwardness in there now, gang? Is it tense? You seem tense.
Because I am a horrible person and wanted to make it even worse, the prompt was to write a story about a character that could only achieve a goal by going through a family member.
These are two of my favorite stories all season, and you should read them.
Jacob watched the leaves drift down from the forest canopy, orange, yellow and purple. He turned to his left and saw the little girl, the one with the braided gold hair that looked so much like his sister’s. He held out his hand and started singing softly.
Go tell Aunt Rhodie,
Go tell Aunt Rhodie
The girl clasped his hand gently and the two continued walking, the twigs and brown grass crunching under their bare feet. Turning to his right, Jacob saw the young boy who he had found skipping rocks along the lake. Jacob had always liked to skip rocks while his sister bathed her feet in the water. He raised his right hand and lifted his head.
Go tell Aunt Rhodie,
The old gray goose is dead
The three of them swept forward together, weaving through the brush as their hair danced in the breeze. Jacob saw the water glimmering through the trees ahead, and soon they pushed through the last line of leaves and onto the sandy bank.
There was a child there, and Jacob held his breath. He saw the rose-red hair and knew that this was not his sister. But that dress! With the bluebonnet pattern and the lace trim. And, oh the baby’s breath she held in her hands, close to heart. His sister loved baby’s breath.
The one she’s been saving,
The one she’s been saving,
The red-headed girl turned and her eyes grew wide. She lowered her arms and the baby’s breath fell away, the pink-tinted pedals bobbing as they hit the surface of the water. She smiled and started singing the familiar lyrics.
The one she’s been saving
To make her feather bed
She reached out for the hand of the boy, the one who had once thrown rocks so well. Jacob’s heart swelled as he watched her sing. Together, the four of them waded out into the lake, their voices blending together.
She drowned in the mill pond
Standing on her head
The water was ice cold, but Jacob didn’t mind. The hands that held his were not his sister’s, but he didn’t mind that either. He knew that he would find her. As the water slipped over his head, he dreamed of that day when they would hold each other one last time and step out into the deep.
K: Here’s a piece that gives us a slice of disturbing with a hint of sweetness – two great tastes that apparently go well together! I always worry that a story will be nothing but gimmick when I notice a stylistic attack like this, but the song served the story and the passages were short enough that they assisted the mood, rather than impeding it. This is nowhere near what I had in mind when I came up with this challenge, and I love it.
MN – It seems like there should be some sort of German word for what this story is. Something that means eerie/happy. This reads like a scene from a spooky movie, completely unnerving. The format is awesome, and I maybe just watched an old home movie of myself featuring an elementary school class singing this very song, so that definitely builds on the eerie/happy motif, huh? The story itself probably calls for more back story, but we can kind of fudge that because this is all about atmosphere, and I like it.
Rose woke up, feeling less than well and less than oriented. Across from her, on the other bed on the basement floor, Lily was reading something. Her sister looked terrified when she glanced up at Rose.
“My god,” she said. “She’s poisoned us.”
Rose didn’t comprehend at first. All she knew was that her body hurt. Her bones ached, her muscles stiffened, and her back was on fire. Groggy, she glanced down at her hands. Her wrists bore perfect black and blue cuff-shaped bruises. She held them up to her twin. “Mom uncuffed me,” she said.
“Didn’t you hear me? She poisoned us,” Lily hissed. She stood up, only to immediately fall to her knees with a crack. Her eyes burned with rage, and it was clear she was too livid to notice. Rose reached out to her sister, took the note from her hand.
Take a look at your upper right thigh.
Rose couldn’t help it. She looked. Her skin looked pale in the basement light, which only made the bruise all the more obvious — and the lump with a perfect hole in its center. She blinked and looked back at the note.
That’s where I gave you a shot. My own mixture of saline and Warfarin. It’s enough to kill you, eventually. Especially if you try to get out.
Rose dropped the letter. “We need to get out,” she said.
Lily sat on the ground where she’d fallen, knees pulled up to her chest. Bruises spread over her kneecaps like droplets of blue ink on water. Lily saw her sister staring, and she covered her knees with her arms.
“We need to get out,” Rose said again, more to strengthen her own resolve. She tried to walk, and each step took so much energy. She took them, though, one by one, to the stairs. She held on to the railing with both hands, climbing until she was at the door. She turned the knob.
Locked, of course. She hadn’t expected anything less.
But she’d hoped.
She tried the other door.
No phones. No one upstairs, if the silence was any indicator — and the fact that nobody responded to her screams and pounds. She pounded on the door for ten minutes before realizing her arms were bruised from fingertips to elbows.
“There’s something on your back,” Lily said when Rose finally stopped pounding. Her voice was barely a whisper, but in the silence, it sounded so loud.
Rose reached over her shoulder, felt her back.
“Not there,” Lily said. She stood up, not as shaky now. She touched a hand to the tip of Rose’s tank top, pulled the tank top back, gasped. “She sewed you up. There’s something under your skin. It looks like–” she pressed on the wound, and Rose shouted. It felt like burning gravel pummeled into her flesh. She turned on Lily, horrified.
Lily said, “It looks like a key.”
“Shut up. It’s not.”
“It…it is.” She turned her back to Rose. “Do you see anything? My back’s been killing me, and I–” She screamed.
Rose had barely stroked the top of the key-shaped, stitched mound on Lily’s back.
“She’s evil,” Rose said.
“We’ve known that for a long time.”
“She put it there, knowing we’d find them, and knowing we couldn’t get it out.”
“I bet she made it so we can get them out.”
Lily’s eyes had darkened. They no longer held rage or fear. They held only that cold resolve that came with acceptance, with knowing hope wasn’t worth the effort anymore. She turned away from Rose, and she went to work. She pulled blankets off the bed, pillowcases off pillows, the mattress off the floor to look underneath. She searched in holes in the wall, in nooks and crannies in the woodwork that the girls knew by heart. Rose stood and watched, thoughts rolling through her head at a much slower pace than felt normal or helpful. They were pumped full of blood thinner. Probably after putting those keys in. How long had they been out? How long had mom been planning this? Was she hoping they’d acknowledge how intelligent and devious she was? As they lay there, bleeding out just feet from the basement door with keys lodged in their skin, did she think they would be amazed at their mother’s ability to torture them to death without killing them herself?
Lily grew more and more irritated, a low whistle emanating from her body until it grew louder and louder into a scream. Rose walked over to her bed, sat down, felt a lump in her mattress. She glanced at it, pulled at the strings tying it shut, opened a hole wider…until she found the knife.
She glanced at Lily, who now sat on the floor, rocking back and forth and crying to herself. She glanced at the door.
Rose made her decision. Lily was out of her mind. She’d be no help on the country roads outside this house. She’d never be able to flag down help, direct them back to the house. Rose could do this. She’d save her sister before she bled out. She walked up to Lily. “Sit still,” she whispered.
Lily screamed as Rose touched her shoulder. The girl’s arms wheeled out from her body, and then she was slashing at Rose. Screaming and slashing. Rose fell to the ground, only just realizing the blood seeping onto the ground was spilling out of her leg.
Lily was on top of her, and Rose shouted at her, grabbed and clawed at her to make her stop. “Lily, we can make it out of this!” she screamed. “Don’t cut at me! I’ll bleed to–”
Lily hit her across the face. Rose’s arms automatically went up to protect herself, and then Lily was flipping her over. A knife sank into Rose’s back, and somehow, the pain wasn’t any worse than she’d already been experiencing. Fingers pried at her, and Rose shouted. She thought they were words, but Lily didn’t seem to understand.
Blood everywhere, and when Rose’s mind cleared enough for reason to come back, she realized Lily was up the stairs, unlocking the door. The girl was running across the kitchen upstairs, footsteps loud on the wood. Rose closed her eyes and listened to it. The thumping got lower, slower, until it became a rhythm.
Thump, thump. Thump, thump.
K: Holy Hell, Mom is a terrifying horror villain here. I wanted more subtext in the dialogue and would have loved more of a window into both girls as individuals; horror of exploitation works a lot better when we feel for the characters being exploited. This is mostly plot over character, but that said, this plot is strong and the key twist was sickening and unnerving. I have no desire to tell either writer that they have to leave after this story.
MN – There is a lot of action here, and both characters working against each other give it quite a bit of depth. Still, I feel like I Saw (eh? eh?) this movie somewhere before. I think seeing the mother, even once, would have been effective, since it might have helped us get at her motivation. Since that’s so central to the set up here, I think we needed more of it.
Wait, really? I would have bet my entire existence that the first story was Melissa’s. Apparently, these two can write in the other’s style.
In the end, we both picked the first story. For me, this choice was agonizing. This was a pretty good game for Melissa, and she will have the chance to explain a lot of it on the podcast, which should be a nice reveal for some of you. But for now:
Seventeenth Elimination from Spookymilk Survivor XVIII: Melissa Diamond
The new challenge is ready now, and will be due Sunday night at 10pm Central.
TIME LIMIT: 45 Minutes
WORD LIMIT: None
Cheers, Survivors. And enough with the ties.