Flash fiction: The pump room steps

amy-reese

I lay at the bottom of the steps. It was dark and warm, and no one else ever had reason to come that way. I thought my nose might be broken, some teeth lost. I smelled blood and heard the sound of roots squeezing through stone, the tiny creaks and groans of something splitting, of new life forcing its way through. It was simple to keep still while the tendrils inched over me, wormed their way through my buttonholes, across my skin; easy to let the ants and the insects come.

I closed my eyes as the earth took me back.

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I really struggled with this story this week – started half a dozen and discarded them, and still not very happy with what I produced. A 100-word or so story for Friday Fictioneers. Picture by Amy Reese. Join in. Or read others.

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Writer and blogger Natasha Orme is hosting a competition to win one of two copies of my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. Enter here. (Only open to UK residents – sorry!)

55 thoughts on “Flash fiction: The pump room steps

  1. Oh, I like this – there are little chunks of intrigue, such as “no one *else* had reason to come this way”, which made me wonder why the narrator had deviated from that norm.

    I know what it’s like to post something you feel underwhelmed by, though. What aren’t you happy with in particular, or is it just a generalised feeling of ‘meh’?!

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  2. Claire! This is wonderfully creepy. Don’t sell yourself short. Not all the 100-word stories we come up with shine the way we’d like them to. I love the “ick” of this. (Does that make sense?)

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  3. I sympathise with feeling ‘meh’ about one’s own posts. that’s happened to me a lot recently. I liked this – there’s a lovely juxtaposition between the realistic and the fantastical elements that felt like you were telling us so much more than “I fell down the steps and died”.
    Personally, after that beautiful description, the last line felt a tiny bit cliched to me, and I wonder if you could leave it out altogether. Either way, very vivid description.

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  4. You’re one of my favourites on here, Claire. That said I’m not sure this works for me. Can see where you were going but I’m not sure in 100 words you had time to get there. Agree with Elmo about the last line…whether you like the story or not the last line doesn’t really add anything. Hmmm. This sounds harsh…but you’re a pro. You can take it 🙂

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  5. Yes.. sometimes it’s hard to find that story… I struggled with mine as well. To me this is almost prose poetry.. maybe less creepy… there is something gentle as well in the cycle of life. Of course the blood makes me wonder what has really happened…

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    • Hah. I hadn’t ever thought about that, but you’re right. There’s a song I listen to a lot which has a line about teeth in the grass, and I can’t possibly think of good things that they’re there.

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  6. Nothing wrong with this at all in my view, though I share some dissatisfaction (too strong a word) with the last line. Rather than leave it out, it might be an opportunity to add the back-story there. Not this, but something like “after all I’d done, would the earth take me back?” Just a thought, though I think you’re being hard on yourself here.

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  7. Dear Claire,

    Some stories are more difficult than others. Nothing to apologize for here. I will say that after reading this I’d like to take a nice hot shower. 😉 Well written as I’d expect.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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  8. I enjoyed you story Claire. Like all good flash fiction it left me putting in my own thoughts as to how he/she got into this mess and what exactly was taking over the body. I particularly loved the image conjured up by the phrase “… the tendrils inched over me, wormed their way through my buttonholes..”
    I personally liked the last line.
    One thing I might have done is broken this line up a bit -“I smelled blood and heard the sound of roots squeezing through stone, the tiny creaks and groans of something splitting, of new life forcing its way through” to something like this – ‘I smelled blood. Heard the tiny creaks and groans of something splitting the stone. A new life forcing its way through.’
    Thanks for a great read.

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  9. Oh, I’m very glad you shared. My mind jumps from these 100 words…makes connections….creates “complimentary” ideas that reflect what you’ve written. Symbolic of the homeless persons who lie where no one sees them….broken in body and spirit….and ultimately, reclaimed by the earth….nurture the soil and life comes from their deaths. In the end, we all nurture the earth….our bodies, our ashes, and the ants crawl over the rich and the poor.
    This is powerful in its openness….the wondering it creates.
    Excellent — I enjoyed this very much!

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  10. A lot of great imagery and the ‘sound of roots..” was particulary good. It does not tell the whole story but maybe only the ending part …but I am able to get the gist that she/he is left to die after having met a violent end.

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  11. I like the ambiguity of this and find the voice quite soothing, almost comic, rather than horrific. I imagine perhaps a ridiculous fall down the steps, leading to the outcome you describe so well. After all we’re as likely to die falling off a chair as meeting a violent murderous end!

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  12. I do agree that the last line could use some work. The “After all I’d done…” idea is satisfactorily eerie. What I liked about this piece is the question of whether there’s something supernatural going on with those steps, tendrils, and earth – or whether you’re describing death and decay through the mind of the conscious dead. Either possibility intrigues.

    No, it doesn’t feel like a full story, but either the beginning (if the speaker is being kidnapped by the living earth) or the end (if the speaker has died). That said, it was a satisfying portrait of a human resigned to fate.

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  13. I have no problem whatsoever with the last line although I also like Sandra’s suggestion, depending on the backstory. However, for me the backstory isn’t important. Someone fell down stairs and broke. The place is remote, hardly anyone comes there. The protagonist dies. We see her/his last moments. I admire the exercise in mixing reality with the bizarre/slightly supernatural which is written beautifully. This is a way of writing I admire, but cannot do myself. The story–or fragment–leaves the readers exploring their own ideas, and that is always a good thing.

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  14. It’s vivid description to be sure. Sometimes that’s where the story goes first. Maybe it could develop into something you would never consider. I like it a lot. Solid writing, Claire.

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  15. Somehow the vivid imagery here reminded me of Pan’s Labyrinth. While I understand and empathize with the story struggle, your words always seem to move me, Claire. This one did so in a chilling, but magical realism way.

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