Cazart 1st Prize Winner: The Black Widow (Flash Fiction No.5)

Cazart Authors Anthology

I’m thrilled to say this story (below) won first prize in the June 2011 Cazart Flash Fiction awards and will be published in their anthology. You can buy the anthology here.

 

THE BLACK WIDOW

A silken web slips across my face as we emerge from the wood, dense with oak and scrub. I step out of the mass of mangled ivy curling round my ankles and stop, dead still, smoothing the back of my hand across my cheek. There’s nothing there. Jake gives me a look.

“Spider’s web,” I answer his unasked question, and a shiver shimmies up my spine.

“Hurry up!” he grumbles. “We’ll be late for tea,” and he charges on through the long grass to the velvet lawn.

I stand a moment, looking up at the Georgian house across the green expanse, watching the windows aligned in proud symmetry on its stone façade observe me with disdain. Inside, the chink of teaspoons on bone china would be punctuating the murmur of subdued chatter, and delicate pastries would be being served on three-tiered cake stands as a string trio sighs softly in a corner.

I can’t tell Jake about when I used to come here before – though Rory and I had been too nervous to cross the threshold of the hotel, too naïve even to ask if we might have tea. We were newly married and merely wandered in the wood and danced in dappled sunlight, while birdsong serenaded our lovemaking and the umber scent of trees and dark earth bound us tight together. We would laugh and dip our toes in the chill waters of the pond, hidden behind the banks of hawthorn and cow parsley, and roll in the long grass here on the edge of the wood. We were happy … for a while. But then the pain began. And then the poisonous tendrils of ivy twisted and turned and crept like a noose around his neck, stealing his breath, and his life. And it was over.

“Come on!” Jake yells impatiently from across the lawn. “I haven’t paid a fortune to stay in a first-rate hotel and get messed up by sodding weeds and mud!” He brushes his hands briskly over neatly pressed trousers. “You’re so weird! Why can’t you show some appreciation for God’s sake?”

I linger in the long grass a moment longer, casting a backward glance at the wood and the memories before stepping forward, promising I’d return. And bring Jake with me to weave a rope of woven ivy around his neck. Just like I did before.

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I’m Back!

As many of you will know I’ve had a short sabbatical from social media due to family circumstances. While I’ve been gone, I’ve been truly amazed at the friendship and support of so many lovely Twitter and Facebook friends, some of whom have continued sending caring messages from time to time, and I’d like to send them all my huge and sincere thanks. In this sad and distressing time these rays of light brightened my days.

Something else that gave me a lift was when I learned I’d won first prize in the Cazart flash fiction competition in June with my story ‘The Black Widow’ which you can read on the Cazart website, and above this post.

I only started writing flash fiction a few months ago as I’d previously thought; Flash fiction? What’s the point? There’s no time to get involved in the plot or characters. But, of course, that’s the art; pulling the reader in, holding them and leaving them with a sense of fulfilment, of having been taken away – and perhaps left with something to ponder – in just a few words. Not only do I love writing it, I love reading it. I’ve recently enjoyed dipping into Tania Hershman’s anthology; The White Road (Salt Publishing) on those myriad occasions when you want a complete reading experience in a short time.

So, I’m back, maybe less often than before due to ongoing commitments, but back. In a few weeks I hope to take my novel up again and begin the fourth (!) draft, but in the meantime I shall continue indulging in my new passion; flash fiction. And thank you, once again, to all those lovely people who sent such thoughtful messages.

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Versatile Blogger Award

Thanks to my good friend, Elizabeth Currie at Wayward Lady, I’ve been awarded the ‘Versatile Blogger Award’. It doesn’t come free though. First, I must nominate seven other bloggers to receive it. Hopefully, that’s the easy bit. The difficult bit is (cringe) I have to reveal seven previously unknown (interesting, embarrassing, intriguing etc) facts about myself. Well, I’ve always preferred to get difficult things out of the way as soon as possible (Does that count as one fact? No? OK), so here goes:

1. I was a 1960s Bee Gee Bopper and somewhere, I’ve even got the badge to prove it. Even more embarrassing is that I fancied Robin Gibb. I think I thought that since I didn’t stand a chance with either Barry or Maurice (and I did with Robin?) I’d go for the least good-looking one. Sorry, Robin. Still – he proved himself a lovely person and worthy of my devotion over the years!

2. I’ve always loved music (don’t say a word about the Bee Gees) and wanted to play an instrument. So far I’ve tried, and failed, with violin, guitar, piano and … yes, even the recorder. No matter what the instrument, by the time my brain had processed what chord I need and where on the frets, keys or apertures I need to place my fingers, the audience has left the room. And don’t suggest I try singing instead, everyone’s left before the end of my first note.

3. I’ve a secret ambition to garden. But I’ve just looked out of the window to describe my latest achievements and noticed the Box cutting I planted last summer is now a sickly shade of yellow.

4. I’d love to tell you I’m one of life’s popular party people. I’d love to tell you that, but like my Box plant, after 11pm I turn a sickly shade of yellow.

5. As my children will tell you, I’m a constant preener. Not of myself, of them. I can’t stop my fingers brushing their hair into place the second I set eyes on them.
My children are all in the twenties.

6. I once mistook Lewis Hamilton for a W.H. Smith salesman (Sue Moorcroft, novelist extraordinaire and Formula (number) One Fan will wince at this one). I went in to buy a letter rack and, getting thoroughly annoyed with the crowds of shoppers who seemed to have nothing better to do than take photos and stand around chatting, I pushed my way through, perused the letter racks (itching to slap the huge presence apparently stuck to my shoulder with W.H.Smith superglue), chose my rack and looked round for a till. Ah! A pleasant young man in a suit! I moved towards him and held the letter rack out. He smiled, a very nice smile, quite a cheeky grin in fact, but I noticed there was no till on the table by his side, so with a loud sigh, I pushed him aside (I’m getting really annoyed by now) and strode across an inexplicably empty space; the huge presence still stuck to my shoulder. I reached the next crowd, contained behind a rope barrier. I looked at the rope, somewhat puzzled, and the huge presence suddenly stepped forward, saying, ‘It’s the till you want is it?’ pulled the barrier aside and ushered me to a girl at a till, chin in hand with longing eyes lounging on the man in the suit by the table. The penny dropped. It was a book signing! ‘Who’s the author?’ I asked (being a writer I was a little embarrassed at not knowing). ‘Lewis Hamilton,’ she said. I cast her a blank look. ‘The racing driver?’ she said, ‘The one you just elbowed out of your way?’

7. Ok, so now you’ve all had a good laugh at some of my most secret things, I’ll reveal my last.
I’m a softie.
Last week my partner and I drove along the M4 past a sign for Wooton Bassett. I looked at the words ‘Wooton Bassett’, and I saw elderly men in uniform saluting. I saw teenagers in jeans standing reverently, I saw men and women, mothers and fathers with heads bowed, I saw pushchairs with babies in and ‘bikers’ in leathers standing respectfully. I saw soldiers making their last journey home in a sleek, black hearse. I heard silence.
And as our car rolled on down the motorway, I tried to hide the tears rolling down my cheeks.

And the nominees are (and this was more difficult than I’d imagined. I’m dreading offending great blogging friends and how do I chose just seven?):

• Effie Merryl at Ephemera Blog
• Mandy James at Mandy’s Musings
• Clare Kirkpatrick at On Writing
• Rebecca E Brown at My Little Notepad
• Alison Wells at Head Above Water
• Rebecca Bradley at Life in Clarity
• Rebecca Emin at Ramblings of a Rusty Writer

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A Glimmer of Hope (Flash Fiction No.4)

By Deborah Rickard

A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose. I pull my collar up, thrust my hands deep into my pockets and push on through the cold. I’ve a way to go and wonder if I should bother; my reception will be cool, my welcome curt. My pride says go back, my heart says go on.

I rap the iron knocker on the paint-flaked door – the bell is mute and she’s too … careful with money to replace the batteries. Everything about her is sinking into a mire of neglect and decay, her life withering while she cracks the whip on those who care.

‘Hhmph,’ she growls as she opens the door, turns her back and retreats down the dark, narrow hallway of her existence. ‘Did you get everything?’

‘I think so,’ I say, trying to sound cheerful but she doesn’t answer. Her words are short and uttered only to hurt, her heart hard, her emotions calcified.

I put my shopping bag on the kitchen table. I could do with coffee but she doesn’t offer. ‘When I left yesterday,’ I say, ‘I thought maybe you needed cheering up, so I bought you these flowers,’ and I hand her the lilies, some bound tight in green coated buds and some wide open, revealing their silk-white purity, their honeyed vanilla scent already overpowering the mildewed the air.

‘Funeral flowers,’ she grumbles, staring slightly out of focus as if seeing them yet not seeing them. Straight as a rod she picks up the loaf of bread and tin of peas.

I fetch a vase from the cupboard, wash encrusted grime from its deep carved crevices and fill it with cold water; gushing from the tap and catching sunlight from the window till the cut-glass diamonds glisten with new life.

I carry the flowers through to the living room, shrouded in darkness and dust. It should be called the dying room. I stand the vase in the empty fireplace and draw back the curtains, letting daylight kiss the lilies and waken the room.

As I turn to leave I notice a photograph in a silver frame, strangely bright against the faded wallpaper. It must be the only thing in the room she’s kept polished. I stop and smile at the bride and groom from years ago, who smile only for each other. And I recognise the bride, with the glow of love in her eyes … and a bouquet of white lilies clutched tight against her silken dress. I look up and there she is again, standing in the doorway watching, creased with age now, and with the glint of a tear in her eye … and a glimmer of life in her smile.

Outside the front door I pull my collar up and push my hands deep into my pockets. A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose, but green shoots are peeping up through the dark, winter earth.

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I Told You So (Flash Fiction No.3)

By Deborah Rickard

“I told you, Mummy, I can’t do it. People will laugh!”

“No they won’t,” I say.

“The words will lump in my throat and won’t come out,” Joe stamps his small foot.

“It’s nothing to get emotional about. Pretend only Daddy and I are watching.”

Joe sulks; “All right. If you promise no-one will laugh.”

“I promise.”

I’m in the fourth row back. The curtains draw open, and emotion lumps in my throat. I swallow hard and hold it in.

Joseph, red-chequered teacloth on his head, stands centre-stage, bravely pushing words from his mouth … and a finger up his nose.

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The Rhythm of Life (Flash Fiction No.2)

By Deborah Rickard

Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. It began with the rhythm of a quickstep but soon crashed to a crescendo of jungle drums, beating a warning while I held fast, immobilised, confined. A corpse in a coffin.

I could move my eyes though, and if I looked in the small, square glass above my head I could see my toes, oddly still existing in the outside world. I could even wriggle them as if there was nothing wrong. But incarcerated as I was, I couldn’t even chew my thumb-nail. I had to keep still. Dead still.

“Breathe in,” a disembodied voice boomed from somewhere unseen. I pulled deep on disinfected air. “And hold … And breathe normally.”

Breathe normally? For how long? How long before I could breathe in the unconscious way you do when you’re unconcerned about how many breaths you might have left to take?

Thump, thump. Thumpety-clunk, clunkety-clunk. A ricochet of quick-fire rattles. And silence.

“Thank you. We’ve finished with you now.”

Finished with me?

The cold, hard platform on which I lay slid like a refrigerated morgue drawer from the MR scanner, while the scanner, quiet now, processed images. How much longer would I be able to process anything?

“How long?” I managed to ask the radiographer.

Neat and spruce in white and blue she cast me a glance from accustomed eyes and used to tending patient after patient, patiently uttered her practiced words; “The radiologist will report your scan shortly and let your consultant know the results.” My consultant said he’d phone as soon as he’d spoken with the radiologist. By the time I got home, he hoped.

Outside the hospital, rain pelted lead pellets on granite slabs. I dashed into the car, slammed the door and turned on the engine. Its steady hum wrapped around me, drowning the slappety-slap of rain on metal and the swish of wheels through water as I drove through the car infested city out onto country lanes and finally, into my village.

***

And here I sit, waiting for the intense metallic rant to stop.

At last I splash up my garden path bordered with rain-washed roses and honeysuckle. The key slips into the lock and the door swings in a seamless sweep of welcome. I close it softly behind me, lean back against it and sigh.

Suddenly the pulse of the phone pulls my nerves and I hurry to the kitchen holding my breath; my heart pounding a quick base rhythm as I pick up the receiver.

“Hello?” I say.

Rain on the tarred felt roof beats a tattoo – telling me I’m home and dry.

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged | 14 Comments

Flash Fiction

I’ve decided to try writing Flash Fiction and have joined the ‘Friday Flash’ gang. You can find my first ever (200 word!) piece ‘A Black Night’ beneath this post or if you click on the Flash Fiction category in column on the right.

You can find out more about #fridayflash at http://madutopia.com/blog/fridayflash. I don’t suppose I’ll be posting a story every week but certainly as often as I can. So here goes. Deep breath … jump in with both feet, Debs … Go on , you can do it … Gulp!

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A Black Night (Flash Fiction No.1)

By Deborah Rickard

The hairs on my arm lift with the breeze; a haunting breath from the open window carrying night-scented stock from the black-shrouded garden. I smile, a self-indulgent smile, and submerge myself in the memory of his touch, his soft caress and his silken words whispered in my ear; “I love you.” I hear his murmured promise; “I’ll never leave.” And beneath the cool cotton of the duvet, I wallow in the cashmere wrap of love.

I allow myself another indulgence and pull my arm back beneath the downy lightness and let my fingers meander across the mattress, slide over the sheet and negotiate the rucks and runnels made by our loving. My hand reaches the cold outer edges of my world.

He’s not here.

My eyes snap open. But it doesn’t help. The night is black, and besides, I know. I lie and listen, motionless. I strain my ears.
Nothing.

I sit up and turn on the light. It doesn’t help.

And then, the flick of a switch. Or was it the snitch of a latch? A cool breeze runs along the narrow hallway, lifting the hairs on my arms.

He’s gone.

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged | 23 Comments

I’m An Ether Author!

I’m thrilled to bits and even my lovely new Ether colleague, Suzanne Rosenwasser at … Write Here … is ‘tap-dancing from across the pond’ for me today! I’ve just heard that four of my short stories have been accepted for publication by Ether Books. The first story; ‘The Time to Sow’ will be available to download for free from today, from the Apple App store, and the following three will be available over the next ten days or so – and they’re only 59p!

Short stories are perfect for mobile phones and will no doubt provide a fantastic revival of the short story genre. If you have an iPhone, iTouch, iPad or Mac (Blackberry and Android devices will be included during 2011), Ether has a wonderful variety to offer from well-known and new authors, including Hilary Mantel, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, Alexander McCall Smith, Lioneal Shriver, Maggie O’Farrell and many more. Take a look at their website at http://etherbooks.com and you could soon be reading one of Sir Paul Mc Cartney’s essays! I feel so privileged to be part of this wonderful community.

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Here It Is!

 

'Pay Attention: A River of Stones'

I’ve just received my copy of ‘Pay Attention: A River of Stones’ featuring yours truly, and it’s gorgeous – from cover to cover and everything in between!

Fiona and Kaspalita have taken over 300 of the small stones written by the ‘River of Stones’ community during January 2011 and put them together in this lovely book. The result is a treasure-trove of moments in time, acutely and sensitively observed and described in a few well chosen words. If you’d like a copy, you can get the gorgeous paperback, the ultra-stunning hardback or the marvellous download from Lulu now or in the near future, from Amazon. You can also find out more about writing small stones at ‘Writing Our Way Home’; http://writingourwayhome.ning.com/ and on #aros at Twitter.

You can see all the small stones I contributed throughout January on my ‘A River of Stones’ page on this site. And if you’re inspired to write small stones yourself, it’s all happening again in July!

‘Pay Attention: A River of Stones’, edited by Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita.  ISBN: 978-1-4467-9622-1

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