It's the end of the month, so here are the final four pieces for my flash fiction goal, written over the last four days!
Flash fictions 28-31:
Pareidolia - A supernatural story about seeing faces in things
Missed Connection - The tale of a man obsessed with timekeeping
Little Rituals - The story of a woman who counts
Finish Line - A tale of a woman who has to see things to their end
With the exception of Pareidolia, these are companion stories to Background Characters and Connections in the previous flash fiction post--about people with their little quirks and the habits they have to make life acceptable to themselves.
Hope you enjoy these ones!
Date: 28th March 2017
"It's a great image, good use of shadow, but you've got dust marks again," John handed the photo back to his disappointed student.
"I think it's in the film," said Emma, who had printed the same image six times with the same result.
"Let's see your film. Marks like this usually happen when the light catches dust particles in the atmosphere. Did you shoot with a flash?"
Emma shook her head and handed over the film. "I didn't need it"
John hummed as he studied the film through a magnifier at the light box. "It's definitely in the film..." He checked the other frames. "You've got dust in all of these."
"What can I do?"
"Clean your lens and reshoot. Pay more attention to dust in the air."
Emma nodded, knowing it wouldn't work. She'd already cleaned the lens and the mirror of her second-hand SLR camera, carefully loaded fresh film in a clean environment, yet still ended up with weird dust marks on all her photos. It didn't matter the location or the conditions she shot in, the annoying little circles continued to show up, like ethereal bubbles that had definitely not been there when she took the photo.
"Spooky. Maybe there's ghosts in them!" Amanda, Emma's classmate, peered at the image.
"It's dust," John said firmly. "As I said, clean your lens and reshoot. Amanda, if you're finished in the darkroom, get on with your portfolio." He walked off to hurry along more of his students, rolling his eyes at their comments. Teenagers were too gullible.
Amanda tugged on Emma's arm. "Let's print it up big and see if that orb has anything in it!"
"It's dust..." Emma wasn't as certain as their tutor. Her granny had always been full of weird stories, and though Emma never really believed them, they made her curious.
So she let Amanda drag her back into the darkroom, and they loaded the film back into the enlarger, zoomed into the orb as far as they could, and printed a picture.
Eagerly, they waited whilst the image went into the developer.
"There's a face!" Amanda bounced excitedly as the image appeared on the paper.
"Mm," Emma was too busy timing the development to pay attention to what was emerging on the paper. She only looked at it properly once it had been through the stop, fix, and wash, and had been through the dryer.
"It does look like a face. There's a word for it when things look like a face, isn't there?"
"No, like, a proper word."
"Pareidolia," supplied John, stopping to look at the image. "Class is over in five minutes."
They returned to the darkroom to pack up their things, but Amanda wouldn't stop pestering Emma.
"You should print the others big, too. See if they're they same," she said.
"It's a waste of paper," Emma shook her head.
Amanda shrugged. "Aren't you curious?"
"It's only dust."
Gathering her stuff, Emma left the darkroom and headed for her next class.
The truth was, Emma was curious about the other dust marks--or orbs, to use her granny's terms. Especially since they appeared on all of her photos, yet the camera and its mechanisms were clean as a whistle and working perfectly. She'd taken it to a specialist camera shop to be looked at, only to be told the same: there was nothing wrong with it.
She was pondering over the image when the news came on TV that evening. A story came up about a local man who had been in a coma for the past week, following an horrific motorway accident involving a truck, a school bus, and four cars. The man had died, having never come out of the coma.
Emma thought he'd probably died at the scene along with the other twelve fatalities, and was about to leave the room when his picture appeared on screen.
She gawped at it, then grabbed her photography folder and took out the enlarged orb from before.
It was the same face.
The next day, Emma was excited to tell Amanda.
But Amanda had seen the news too, and recognised the face.
"When did you take those photos?!" she asked excitedly.
"That was the day of the accident. Oh my god! You've got a haunted camera!" Amanda stared. "Let's print the others!"
In the darkroom, by the glow of the red light, they printed enlarged every frame on the film, focusing on the orbs.
Every orb contained a face. In thirty-six frames, there were as many faces.
Amanda looked up the news story on her phone, and found photos of the victims whilst Emma lay the prints out on the table.
"More pareidolia, hm?" John passed by, looking displeased. "Don't get distracted by from your coursework, girls."
"We won't," Emma shook her head, relaxing when their tutor went away again. His scepticism was grating on her nerves.
"Look, they're all here..." Amanda carefully pulled out thirteen of the photos.
"That still leaves twenty-three. Who are they?"
"Hang on." Amanda did some more searching, and over the course of the class, identified twenty-two of the others. "All died on or before last Tuesday."
"What about this last one?" Emma took a closer look. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Manda, this looks like...!"
Amanda gasped. "John...!"
They looked at their tutor.
"Ah." John smiled, a little sadly. "I knew I'd forgotten something."
Then he faded into nothing.
Amanda never figured out how she managed to miss John's photo in the article about the accident.
Emma took her camera back to the shop, and traded it in for a new one.
It cost a little more, and didn't come with as many lenses, but the images were pin-sharp, with not an orb to be seen.
Date: 29th March 2017
The train might be late. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. Therefore he must arrive at the station early.
Elliot paced faster up the hill. He'd stopped driving since that big accident on the motorway. He'd rarely used the motorway, but thought it was better to be safe than sorry.
He took the train everywhere. Today he had a meeting on the other side of the city, which meant taking two separate trains.
Elliot always planned his itinerary as meticulously as possible.
After all, the train might be late. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. Therefore he must arrive at the station early.
Stopping at the end of the road, Elliot waited, unable to keep still whilst a lorry turned around in the entrance to the station car park.
He could have slipped along the side of the lorry, as there were bollards between the road and the pavement, but he didn't want to risk it. There bollards were only plastic, and if the lorry driver made a mistake, he could mow the bollards down, and Elliot with them.
So he waited, jittery. His train left in forty minutes. He had time to re-plan if something went amiss with his travel itinerary.
Because the train might be late. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. Therefore he must arrive at the station early.
The lorry took ages to finish its manoeuvre, and though Elliot's watch told him it had only been just over a minute, he was convinced it was longer. His watch must be in need of winding. He'd attend to that once he saw the station clock. Elliot didn't use battery-powered watches anymore. The batteries on sale might be faulty, and the last thing he wanted was for the batteries to overheat and burst.
Elliot crossed the road and hurried up the slope (never the steps: he might trip) into the station. He'd collected his pre-booked tickets last week, to be certain he had them, and he checked again before reaching the barriers.
Elliot checked the departures board to find out which platform he had to leave from. It was always the same one, but he checked anyway. There was plenty of time before the train, but the train might be late. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. Therefore he must arrive at the station early.
He passed through the barriers, crossed to the other platform via the overpass (he walked a little faster in case it collapsed. It never had, but it might).
Then he sat down on a seat on the platform, and checked the time on the platform clock.
It read the same as his watch did, so Elliot hoped it was correct. Sometimes clocks could go wrong.
His train was on time, but Elliot kept his eyes fixed on the digital display, just in case it was delayed. The train might be late. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. That's why he'd arrived early.
The minutes ticked on, and Elliot had begun to pace. He wouldn't relax until he reached his meeting. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection. If his connection was late, he'd have to hope he could get to the meeting in time. He was scheduled to arrive an hour before the meeting, but with public transport as it was, there was no guarantee he'd arrive in a timely manner.
At least he'd reached the station early. He had twenty minutes before his train was due. The one before it would arrive soon. If the arrival time for Elliot's train changed, making it late, he'd have to get the earlier train. If the train was late, he'd miss his connection...
The train came and went. Elliot's train was scheduled next. The digital display informed him it was 'On Time'.
Elliot sat down, then stood up again. When the train arrived, he wanted to get on it as soon as possible. He couldn't risk missing his train through inattention. The train might arrive on time, but he didn't want to miss his connection. He'd reached the station early.
Elliot's train arrived. It was forty seconds late--Elliot had counted via the station clock. He pushed past the alighting passengers to get on, and found a seat. Then he waited, fingers drumming on his knees, for the train to pull out of the station.
The train was late. He might miss his connection. He'd reached the station early, yet his train was late. He might miss his connection. If he missed his connection, he'd have to catch the train after it, and then he'd have less time to reach his meeting.
Elliot sat hunched in his seat for the entire journey, becoming increasingly agitated each time the train stopped at another station. The train was late. Later with each stop. He might miss his connection....
Elliot was the first off the train at his destination, and the first on his next train.
He sat down with a sigh. His fifty-minute window for catching his connection had been enough. He'd caught his connection.
He hoped the train wasn't delayed en route, so he'd reach his meeting on time.
He'd been worried that the train might be late. That he'd miss his connection. That he'd be late to the meeting. Therefore he'd reached the station early.
Elliot knew he was fixated with time-keeping. Knew it was a missed connection in his brain that made him that way.
But if he didn't plan meticulously, that old panic would rise in his chest, his pulse would race, his palms would become sweaty, and the voice in his head would keep screaming: The train might be late. You'll miss your connection. You'll be late and then something bad will happen. Therefore you must reach the station early.
Date: 30th March 2017
Miranda fastened the middle three buttons on her trench coat (it had to be those three, for good luck) and stepped out of the house.
Five paving slabs to the front gate, leather boots hitting the centre of each one soundly: one, two, three, four - reach forward and open the gate - five, and step onto the pavement whilst shutting the gate.
Five slabs, five steps, and the day was shaping up to be a good one.
Miranda walked out of the street, counting her steps and taking care to only tread on the central manhole cover of the trio at the corner. It meant she had to make two little jumps to do it, but treading on the first or third was out of the question.
It would be bad luck.
It took thirty-seven steps to reach the corner, four from there to the other side of the manhole cover, then another ninety-four to follow the curving road as far as the side street where the train station was.
Miranda always tried to reach the station in sixty steps, sixty-three at the most. Sometimes she did it, sometimes she didn't. It depended on whether old Drapes Man was outside or not. He'd become rather chatty, and would call out about the weather, or the news, to people like herself, who passed by every day.
When he called out, Miranda had to slow down to reply, which meant she took smaller steps, or even stopped. She didn't mind stopping, but she had a habit of shifting her weight from one foot to the other when she stood still, she wasn't sure whether that counted as steps. She thought it probably did.
Thankfully the day was overcast, so Drapes Man was back behind his drapes. He smiled and waved to her, and she smiled and waved back, glad to avoid slowing or losing count.
She reached the station in sixty steps, having to take some rather large paces to reach station ground. Then it was seven little steps up into the station, and eight to get from the top of the steps to the barriers. It took fifty steps to take the overpass to the right platform (she had to tread on every step up and down) and then she took exactly twelve steps along the platform itself, by which time she had reached the row of seats. She then sat down to prevent any mindless, uncounted pacing whilst she waited for the train to arrive.
A glance at the platform display told her the train was a few minutes late, though a glance at Elliot told her just as much. The bespectacled man always got agitated when the train ran late. Miranda didn't understand it. Nobody could control delays on public transport, but everybody understood them as an unfortunate fact of life. It wasn't worth worrying about. The train would still come eventually.
Besides, she'd gone all the way from her bed this morning, to where she was sitting now, in a series of absolute perfect counts: strokes of the hairbrush (twenty-five), buttons fastened (twelve), hands washed (four times) steps from a to b, songs heard on the radio during breakfast (seven), and more.
All that counting just so everything would be fine. Today the world would be safe, because she'd carried out everything the right number of times.
When Elliot happened to look in her direction, Miranda smiled reassuringly. He had nothing to worry about.
Everything would be fine, because she'd counted.
Aaron passed by, smiled and nodded and greeted her, 'Good morning'.
Miranda returned the sentiment. A single good morning from a fellow commuter was a sign of good luck for the day (any more were a bonus). Aaron - who had stopped further down the platform and set down his backpack - was the one who often stopped to talk to Drapes Man. Miranda didn't know how he could be so blasé about stopping like that. What if he took too many steps?
Lucky that she counted hers on everyone's behalf, wasn't it!
The train was delayed by thirteen minutes, now. Elliot looked frantic. Miranda winced: thirteen wasn't a good number.
But if she counted the remaining seconds until the next minute in sets of three, it would be okay.
One two THREE for five SIX seven eight NINE...
The numbers on the display flickered as the time ticked on to the next minute, and the arrival time for the train inched forward another minute.
Whilst Elliot groaned, Miranda let out a sigh of relief. Fourteen minutes late, that was fine. Fourteen was twice seven, and seven was a lucky number.
Fortunately the train wasn't delayed any further (Miranda knew it was because she'd counted). She stood back and let Elliot jump on the train first, feeling a little sorry for the man. He was so jittery, it was like he was obsessive-compulsive or something.
Miranda got onto the train herself once she'd counted the passengers alighting (six, not bad, twice three, again a good number).
Miranda didn't tell anybody about her counting. Not even her husband, though she suspected he might have guessed. If she told people, they'd think she was mad.
But she wasn't mad, she just knew what she had to do to get through the day, to ensure everything would be alright.
It was a normal thing to want the day to go well. Everyone on the entire planet did all they could to ensure their days were as pleasant as possible, whether that was counting their steps to the bathroom in the morning or buying a latte on the way to the office.
Everybody had their little rituals.
Miranda's just happened to be counting.
Sitting back in her seat, Miranda watched Ashingheath slide past the window.
The train was late, but it was going to be a good day.
She knew, because she'd counted.
Date: 31st March 2017
Angela lived her life as though she was holding her breath.
That's what it always felt like, anyway.
Jobs, meetings, family events, trips to the supermarket--she raced through everything with her full focus on the finish line.
The finish line was where she could stop, exhale, then take a deep breath before she hurdled into whatever was coming next.
Angela couldn't stop or slow down in the middle of anything. That was utterly unthinkable. She had to keep going, and keep going at the fastest pace possible, because otherwise she might trip and fall.
She even raced through her marriage, raced to keep things going when his eye wandered, when he couldn't cope with her breathless way of living.
Divorce had been a welcome end. Angela had stopped and taken a breath once the proceedings were finalised, then jumped headlong into dating again.
Now she had a boyfriend, Mark, she lived as though every day together might be their last.
He thought she was being romantic.
In her opinion, she was just being realistic.
Everything ended, even the good things, and she had to be prepared.
But that end wasn't clear at present, was out of sight.
So she focused on other ends instead: the end of the current project at work, the end of spring, the end of the trip she and Mark had booked to San Francisco.
Reaching the finish line gave Angela a moment of relief, anything from a few seconds to a few days where she felt that she could breathe again, when she could think clearly.
Even tiny ends gave her relief: finishing a book, reaching the end of a tube of toothpaste, using the final drop of milk, getting the last free paper from the stand at the train station. She felt satisfied, then, and the air seemed to fill her lungs more completely, more wholesomely, allowing her to relax.
Then it was back to the race, breathless and often struggling and desperate to get to the end.
Angela found such relief in finish lines that she'd moved from her hometown Ashingheath, to Chalmston, which was seven miles away and the terminus station for the city-to-coast train line. It meant that her daily commute was end-to-end, the full length of the line. Angela had chosen a job located near the city terminus, to give her that little moment to breathe at the train station before she leapt into her work for the day (mind always focused on the workday's end, of course).
Every day was filled with deep breaths and held breaths, brief moments when she finished something and felt relief, long moments when her stress levels went through the roof as she sprinted through the next race, desperately seeking out the finish line.
It was not a fun existence, despite being an existence filled with fun.
Angela spent her leisure time looking to the end of it, and sometimes barely noticed whether she was really having fun or not, so intent was she on getting it all over with, so she could breathe, so she could relax.
The finish line Angela looked forward to the most was the end of the day.
That was when she could go to bed and fall asleep: end her consciousness for a while, breathe easily whilst her subconscious took over and sent her into a slumber where she could relax, a slumber that she never fought, because she knew it would always end, bang on six a.m., with the ringing of the alarm.
Then the day with it's races and finish lines would begin all over again.
Not only was today's prompt 'End' and a story about looking towards the end of something, but it's the end of this goal!
026. Write 1 flash fiction per day for 1 month
Yay! That's another I can cross off the list!
I procrastinated over this goal for ages, thinking it would be pretty arduous to write something that was 100-1000 words every day.
As it turned out, I went over my word limit a few times and had to edit to cut the stories down!
Some of these prompts were really easy to think of ideas for, some not so much.
I suppose some simply inspired me more than others.
There were times when I'd sit down to write, and have to force myself to start typing something so I'd at least begun. Yet other days, I'd see the prompt and immediately know what I wanted to write about.
These stories have ended up really varying in theme, too, from tales of misfortune at the beginning, to these final few which were more about people and the way their minds work.
...or perhaps all of these stories do, in some way, explore the way people think, the way people work...
Either way, I'm glad to get this goal crossed off the list, and I think I picked the right month to do it in! March ended up rather uneventful due to a series of unforseen circumstances, so I've had plenty of time to sit and write! Hurrah!
Eventually I'll write up a post that summarises all 31 stories, with links.
Until then, you can catch up on flash fictions from previous days on my goal 26 tag, or click on the links below: