Flash fiction: Counting

sandra

Elsie sits in her window and counts the walkers: the old man with the exuberant puppy, the couple – each with a baby strapped to their backs, the lone hiker with his map in a plastic sleeve. She counts them up the cliff, and she counts them back down.

Only once has someone gone up and not returned. She’d watched and waited until it grew dark, and considered phoning the police. Eventually, she went up by herself, but the bench at the top was empty. Then, with a shaking torch she scoured the undercliff.

They buried him the following week.

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This 100 word (or so) flash fiction is a Friday Fictioneers story (an online group of writers, who write stories each week posted and hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields). Click here to join in, or here to read other stories. The picture this week is provided by Sandra Crook.

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There are currently two give-aways running for my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, but I’m afraid they are both only for UK readers. One is for 10 copies of the UK paperback proof on Goodreads, and the other for one copy of the UK hardback edition and is hosted by a UK blogger.

54 thoughts on “Flash fiction: Counting

  1. Reminds me of the old granny who used to sit knitting by the guillotine as heads were dropping in revolutionary France. C – The last line is a little bit, dunno, err, blunt for me. Feels almost dropped in like you had another ending in mind and changed it.

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    • Hmm, probably because I did, and ran out of words. He survived, then he was her son, then her husband, then someone anonymous. I know, I know I could (should) cut elsewhere, but I don’t really mind blunt in flash fiction, but really appreciate your thoughts.

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  2. A great take on the picture. She must get so much pleasure from her vigil at her vantage point happily watching the world go by.
    Love that punchy last line – the finality of it, the bigger story it carries.
    C- I think the switch from present simple to past simple works really well here. It can be difficult at times.

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  3. That last line felt wrong to me too. I think I’d have had a more oblique ending that meant the same. Something like “I heard later he was father of three girls” or something like that. It reminded me of the stentorious “I was that soldier” at the end of that Deck of Cards record from way back. I liked the thought that someone was watching out, though I got the impression from the name Elsie that she was a much older person, who might not be able to climb a cliff. Good one though – particularly the descriptions of the people on the beach.

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    • You’re possibly right, but too many words! I could cut, I know. I should cut. (But I’m not going to) I think Elsie is old, but just about capable of climbing the cliff path in the dark. Thanks for your comments, Sandra – appreciated, as always.

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  4. This is a great piece of writing, the point of view of a suicide observer makes it even stronger. You managed to capture all the persons walking up so well. The reminder of that climb to find the bench empty I’m not sure about he ending as the others said, but I still like the story a lot.

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  5. Dear Claire,

    Elsie’s more than a people watcher, isn’t she? I loved the descriptions of the people in the first paragraph.
    C-The ending did seem abrupt, although not as much the second time as the first. I hope that makes sense. A good story in any event.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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    • Thank you. It was partly inspired by a walk I went on recently to Beachy Head – a cliff in the south of England which is notorious for suicides. As I was walking back down, in heavy rain, I saw a man walking up the hill in canvas trainers and no coat. I’m still worried about him. Should I have stopped and questioned him? Apart from what he was wearing he seemed completely normal.

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  6. I like Elsie’s strength of character. If only the man had had enough strength to come back down the hill. Well done, although I do agree with another comment that the last line seems a bit blunt. But! It’s hard to know where the right place to edit is in these very short flash fiction pieces.

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  7. This is a well-crafted story. I got a sense of foreboding with the mention of the one who didn’t come back down, so I didn’t find the ending to be abrupt or blunt.

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  8. Great characterisation of Elsie. I wonder how many times she has climbed to the top of the cliffs, and whether she now can’t so takes her pleasure from others doing so.
    Minor C – I didn’t think you needed the final line, the ending was inferred from the fact he had gone missing. But that’s just me.

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  9. Seems this photo sent us in the same direction, Claire. I’m happy to be in such good company. 😉 I love the rhythm of Elsie’s observations. Wonderfully told.

    Love the new header photo, but sad to see the beautiful golden field disappear.

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