The Short Story Exchange - Share, Read & Comment.

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The Short Story Exchange - Share, Read & Comment.
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Let's galvanise an energetic, experimental and enjoyable short story group.

I would love to read your work, give comments and get the ball rolling: so send them through!

The idea is for it to be open to anyone, writing in a general, literary style. But as long as you're proud of it and excited to share, genre is quite irrelevant. Get sharing, get sharing, get sharing!

Harvey

Hi Peeps.

I'm about to submit a short story to a popular women's mag. I'm fairly confident about the story itself, but less so about the pitch that I need to send beforehand. I'm wondering if there's anyone out there who has (preferably successful) experience of this, who might be able to feed back. 

Thanks in anticipation.

Peter

Hi Writers & Readers

Trying to gather courage here so going ahead and sharing a short story I've recently written. Almost 3200 words.

Would really appreciate some gentle feedback.

-Ayesha

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An Only Fly

"On the roof, on the roof.” I shriek pointing at the black intrusion that buzzes along the edges of the wall. It zigzags in the air and although its eyes have disappeared in a very black face, I know it’s watching me.   


“Roof? What’s on the roof?” Bubba looks up from the thick book in his hands and rubs his eyes as if adjusting them to sunlight. His head tilts to one side and his ear stands tall on the other, the way it used to when he was trying to catch approaching sounds, warning signals. He looks around the room before turning to me, “Did you say something Yamama?”  


I pull the duvet over my face and push myself deeper into the prickly mattress. “The fly.” I cry.   


Bubba draws a long breath, the kind that indicates danger has gone. “It’s only a fly.” He says, waiting for me to reappear from under the duvet. “Now where is your mother?” When he can’t fix something he always looks for Maman. But Maman isn’t there. She still isn’t back from the Old Lady’s place where she cleans and rubs until her hands and temper become sore.  


It’s not an only fly. It’s a buzzing machine that buzzes in my ears and threatens to come near me any time now. From under the thin duvet I can see the shadow of its black shapeless form making lines on the wall like a fighter plane leaving a trail. I push my fingers into my ears to stop the buzz.  

“Come out now, it’s harmless.” He says, not happy to be distracted from his book.  


“Can you get it out?” Almost before I ask, I know what the answer will be. Bubba could never get the sound of the drones out of my ears, no matter how he promised each time they flew over our heads. Or the sound of the bombs that shook the buildings as if they were no stronger than cardboard boxes.  


“It’ll go away, I promise. Just close your eyes and don’t think about it.” He used to say that about the bombs and the drones too. But they never went away. Bubba throws his head back into his book again, that thick volume that survived the trip from Aleppo to this strange country when almost nothing else did.   


“The only things that disappear with closed eyes is dreams.” says Maman. I think sometimes she’s an angel, arriving whenever I most need her. But today she doesn’t look like her angel self. Her frizzy brown-black hair is tied at her nape like the women who walk on the streets here, and she’s wearing black pants and a loose T-shirt that hang around her body like empty bags left for drying. Her head isn’t covered by the familiar head covering she used in front of strangers in Aleppo, or when we first arrived here. I always liked it better than her uncovered head.  


“Maman,” I cry and finally leave the mattress to fling myself at my mother. “There’s a fly on the roof.” I say, wrapping my arms around her waist so I’m not forced to look up at the strange woman she has become. I fail to find a soft spot to bury my head in. Nonetheless she smells of washing soap and detergent in a comforting motherly sort of a way.  


“Not the roof, Habibti. It’s called a ceiling.” Maman corrects me. “You must learn your English well. The school test is only two weeks from now. They won’t take you in the third grade if your English is so bad.”  


I don’t like that she gives Bubba an angry look for not correcting my English sooner. But I like it that she still calls me Habibti – my love. She hangs her bag on the edge of the wooden chair Bubba got from a kind family that wanted to help refugees. The rest of the chair is filled with small things of everyday use, a towel, a few books, a blanket when it’s not in use, Bubba’s medicines, Maman’s prayer scarf that she uses less often now. 

“There’s a fly on the silling.” I say, hoping they'll hear me now.  


Bubba greets Maman although she doesn’t answer back. “How was your day?”  


“Did they call you for the interview?” Maman asks, without answering him.  


Bubba runs a hand through his uncombed hair. “Not yet. But I’m hopeful they will after they see my CV.” His eyes wander to the bag of medals he carried with him from Aleppo. They are a clunky lot of cups and medallions that made the guards at all the airports we have been through, very suspicious. Maman said she hated them because they almost made us miss our flight to this country.  


“You’re still hoping they'll accept a degree from a university that was blown by a bomb?” Maman’s voice is not a fighting voice. It’s a tired voice. “Go on wait. Wait for the perfect job while I clean people’s houses so we don’t starve.”  


Bubba winces but he doesn’t scowl the way he used to. Instead he picks up his big book and hugs it to his chest. I think the closeness of the book, the familiarity of its pages gives him the comfort Maman or I cannot. He tries not to look her in the eyes when he answers. “I don’t want you to clean people’s houses. Just the way I don’t want you to stop wearing your headscarf. We came to this country to be free.”  


Maman makes a sound like the one the pink animal in the Peppa cartoon makes. The one Bubba doesn’t want me to watch. “Do you think anyone will give me a job if they see my headscarf? Someone has to make a sacrifice. And it won’t be you. We know that. And it certainly won’t be my child. No, never again.” Maman looks down into my eyes and pulls me closer. Yet she is very far away. Although she’s hugging me but there’s a stiffness in her bony fingers as they press into my arms.  


“There’s a fly on the silling.” I remind my parents of my presence.  


Maman notices me then. The arms that were pressing into me push me away. “You had to let the window open, Yamama?” Maman’s voice is unforgiving. But I forgive her anyways.  


“It’s hot in here Farah. The girl needs some air.” Bubba says carefully. He doesn't argue too much with Maman anymore, at least not the way he used to when we were in Aleppo, when the war just broke out, when she begged him to leave but he wouldn’t listen. And then it was too late.  

“Alright then, get the damn fly out,” Maman snaps at Bubba, watching me from the corner of her eyes. “if you can.” Maman adds under her breath before turning her back on Bubba as if she’s done listening to him.   


Bubba watches her thin, receding back, the broad set of shoulders that appear out of place above a thinning waistline, and wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his sleeve. I retreat to a corner of the room and close my eyes to stop the tears from spilling on my face. They’re going to leave me here with the damn fly, I know it. No matter how hard I try to shut it out, its noise buzzes in my ears and multiplies the way Bubba sometimes talks about a machine called the amplefier. I hold my arms, and perhaps my breath too, around my shoulders to stop the shivering. The door of the quarter thuds as heavy steps leave in a rush. Someone kicks Bubba’s bag of medals and then follows the footsteps out of the quarter. There’s an eerie silence interrupted only by the buzzing fly, like the drones coming and going, going and coming. I jump when I hear a sudden swish cutting the dry summer air.   


“Damn this fly.” It’s Maman, just when I thought she had abandoned me. She’s cutting the air with her new dusting stick that grows from the size of my arm to almost as tall as me. She bought it for two neat brown papers from the Something for Everybody store. It was a treat, she had told me earlier when I saw it for the first time. A treat for three months of hard work at the Old Lady’s place. Two brown papers that felt heavier than they weighed. It was as expensive as the book she bought me last time, when she thought it would be too much of a waste to use the money on this duster. 

 

"At least now I won’t be breaking my back when I get up on stools to dust off all the hidden corners that the Old Lady finds in her house.” she had said with something close to a smile.  


I watch her pull the stick out to its full length. She swats it against the walls where the fly sits and sends the black mite into a crazy frenzy. The creature throws itself against all corners of the room like a blind dog but never finds its way to the window. I almost laugh watching Maman chase the fly because she looks so full of life, her limbs dancing with energy that makes her face bright. She looks at me each time an attempt fails and I whimper my encouragement for her to continue. How she fights with it until she gets more tired than she already is. She throws the stick at the silling like a crazy woman until the top snaps and the funny bobs that do the dusting fall apart and all that remains in her hands is the long stretch of a headless stick.   

She looks at the broken stick like she had looked at the limp body of Benghazi in her arms that day in Aleppo. That day when Bubba finally agreed to leaving Syria. And then she slips into the only empty corner of the room and buries her head in her knees. I hear her raspy cries and they hurt me more than the buzzing of the drones and the falling bombs and the hissing of the fly. They tear at a something within my chest until I pick the broken duster and run out of the room, out of the quarter and out into the street. I run, if that is even possible, on one good leg and one plastic leg. I carry the duster as if it’s my own broken leg I carry in my arms. I’m panting as I reach the grocery store some streets away.   


“Oh dear, is everything alright?” The grocer asks.  


I must be looking something because he never asks whenever I come here with Maman. Not even when he sees me limping behind her, he always looks away as if he’s too afraid to ask why I don’t walk like the other children. I put the broken duster reverently on the counter, touching each piece like they are the limbs of a little girl torn by a bomb.  


“Can you... ?” I bite my lips so my words don’t tremble. I gulp back my tears.   


“Now what do we have here? A duster?” I wince as he touches the parts with his rough, square fingers. His eyes narrow as he looks at my face. He looks around to make sure no one is there before he bends closer and whispers, “Did she beat you with it?”  


I step back and shake my head forcefully. "No.” I heard Mr. Bahman mention the other day that one of the refugee families had their children taken away because they suspected the parents beat them.   


The grocer scrunches his nose. “Then what?”  


“It broke. Can I get a new one?”  


“Oh dear, I’m afraid the ones I have are fairly expensive. This one looks from the Something for Everybody store and that’s pretty far away in the city.” He says.  


“Does that mean your duster costs more than two brown papers?”  


He doesn’t look like he understands. I bite my lip, but this time the tears won’t stop. “There was a fly on the roo - silling.” I say quickly. “Maman tried to save me.”  


The grocer laughs in a kind sort of way.  “She tried to save you from a fly?”  


I shake my head. “She tried to save me from the drones and the bombs.”  


His face falls. When he doesn’t answer I gather the broken pieces and start to walk back to our quarters.  


“Wait a minute, young miss. Come here, now.” He asks for the broken duster. “Let’s have a look. It’s not done too bad.” He runs a hand along the rod that now stands as tall as me. “Ever tried fixing broken things?” He asks, pulling out a tube from a drawer.  


I shake my head. Never. Broken things were always thrown away. Like that leg.  


“Well it’s always good to know how to fix broken things. In this country everything is expensive. Sometimes it’s better to fix the old than to buy new ones.” He rubs the tube along the edges where the head had fallen off. Then he puts the head back and holds it against the length of the duster for a while. In a minute he releases his hand and watches for the head to fall off. When it doesn’t he shakes the stick sideways. “Well, I guess this is better than not having a duster at all?” He hands me the duster.  


I wave it slowly in the air, not believing my eyes. Is it possible to fix something so broken? I thank him the way Maman has taught me and speed back to the quarter. I am happy Maman will be able to use the duster but I am sad too. Sad that no one thought of fixing my leg when the bombs tore it.   


When I enter the room Bubba is already there. He’s crouching on the floor beside Maman and they’re both crying into each other. Her head is on his chest and his head is on her shoulders like two people joined in pain. Did she tell him about the broken duster? That the two brown papers they could have used for food or books for me had gone to waste.  


It is then that I see the bag of medals lying at Maman’s feet like a deflated balloon. Next to it is a box of sweets. The duster drops from my hands as my eyes glue on the golden karabij rolls.   


“Maman.”  I lick my lips. 


They look up at me as if they never knew I left the room.  I, too, have forgotten why I left the room. From where I stand I can imagine how these cylinders of semolina and walnuts will taste. Maman follows my gaze and nods her approval. I plop a roll into my mouth allowing the pastry to melt inside.   


“From tomorrow I shall go to work Yamama.” Bubba says, offering me more rolls from the box. I gulp the sweet. Will they leave me alone in this room? “Mr. Bahman was so kind to introduce me to his employer.” He carries his big book reverently to the shelf where Maman keeps the Quran. “He said you can come with me until your school starts.”  


I bounce off Maman’s lap and stand beside my father.  “Are you going to be a teacher?”  


“I am a teacher Habibti. And you shall always be my student.” He smiles patting my head. “That will never change.” He walks over to the window and draws the curtains over the fading sun. “Come, it’s late. We must get up early tomorrow. We’ll have our Maths lesson before we leave for work.”  


When I slip under the duvet that night the fly is still sitting in a corner of the room. I close my eyes tightly and push my fingers into my ears. It’s an only fly, I tell myself. When I wake up the next morning I’m surprised that I even slept at all. Bubba has combed his hair and is ready to teach me my Maths lesson. Maman brings us the breakfast she cooked in the kitchen we share with the Bahmans. Today must be special because she’s made labneh balls and hard-boiled eggs with pita and hummus. When we sit down to eat, she pulls out the duster I had forgotten on the floor last night.  


“What’s this?” Maman asks, placing the stiff, tall stick beside me.  


I search her face for anger but clear like the sky after rain. “Mr. Grocer fixed it. He said it won’t become short anymore, it’ll always stay one size but he said it will work.” I put a hand on Maman’s thigh. “You won’t have to break your back when you do dusting at the Old Lady’s place.”  


Maman closes her eyes and opens them again as if doing so will help her see everything for the first time. She opens her arms and invites me in. I rush like a thirsty kitten. It has been so many months since she hugged me. It was always I who came after her. Bubba ruffles my hair as I bury myself in Maman’s chest. She doesn’t seem to mind Bubba’s closeness anymore either.   


“How did you fix it?” Maman asks.  


“Mr. Grocer has a magic glue that can fix anything.” I say proudly. “He says it may not be the same again after fixing but at least we won’t have to throw it away.”  


Bubba nods. “Mr. Grocer is very kind.”  



That morning Maman stands in front of the oval mirror that hangs on the wall and wraps her hair in her best brown scarf. She stops when she sees me staring at her reflection.  


“You look beautiful.” I say.  


Her fingers quicken around the scarf. She tacks it firmly in place with a pin.  


“Will it be ok?” I ask. “They won’t stop you from working because you wear a scarf?”   


Mama shakes her head. She picks up the duster but she also picks up something else. A blue file like the one Bubba has been carrying around when he asks people for a job. Perhaps, she too, hopes to have a job at a school as an English teacher. Perhaps she too, has hope.  


“I was thinking, Yamama, about what Mr. Grocer said.” She comes to sit beside me on the mattress where I’m finishing the Maths lessons Bubba gave me. “Maybe one day, we can also fix your leg. It's never too late.”  


When Maman is gone I look up at the silling. The fly is not there anymore. I rub my eyes to make sure the black spot isn’t there but I'm certain now. The fly is gone. Like all bad days, it did not stay for long. 


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Hello Writers and Readers.  

Feedback on the piece below would be much appreciated!  Thanks so much.


Keys and a Mustard Pot

The small restaurant wasn’t crowded yet.  A few locals, a few business people from out of town.  He was sitting on one of the high stools at the counter; his son – the only child in the place – on the one beside him.  He knew one of the owners.  That, and the fact it was early, made it possible for the boy to be there at all.   

There would be a jazz group playing in the cellar later.  The father and son would be home by then, Nolan fast asleep between superhero bed sheets and Peter watching something on tv.  

Nolan kept up a steady stream of chatter and commentary in which he just as often proposed answers to his own questions as prodded his father for replies. 

“Have they left all the pretty things in the stands?  Will they come to open the market tomorrow morning?  Won’t any bad men come in the night to steal the pretty things?” 

Peter suggested that there might not be anything valuable left overnight, that the outdoor market stalls were restocked every morning. 

“But the police watch over the whole town, don’t they?  They look for bad men.  When they see one, they catch him.  They put him in jail.  With a lock.   Do the police keep all the keys of all the locks of all the jails?” 

“I don’t know, Nolan.”  He wanted to change the subject.  “Are you thirsty?” 

“No.” 

A young woman asked if the barstool next to Nolan was free.  Peter nodded.  She sat down. 

Her attractiveness fleetingly registered in some part of Peter’s consciousness.  He did not remain aware of it.  Nolan was oblivious. 

“Do the police keep all the keys, Dad?” 

“I think the keys to the jail cells are kept at the jail.  The jailers or guards have them.” 

“What’s a jay-sell?”  Nolan asked. 

“A cell, jail cell.”  His father articulated, detaching one sound from the next.  “The room a prisoner’s in.  One cell for each prisoner, lots of cells in one prison.  In one jail.” 

Nolan was trying to figure it out.  He swung his left leg, bumping its heel against the leg of the stool at regular intervals.  “One prisoner, one cellroom, one key. One prisoner, one cellroom, one key…” 

A waiter put a plate with two sausages and a stack of French fries down in front of Nolan, nodded to Peter’s request for a second beer and asked the woman if she was ready to order. 

“Do you want something to drink, Nolan?” Peter asked his son. 

“No.  One key…” 

“You should have a glass of milk.”   

“Milk and French fries don’t go together.”  Nolan was definitive.   

Peter asked the waiter for a glass of water.  

“Can I have the salt, please?” his son asked, looking into his father’s face. 

Peter picked a fry up from Nolan’s plate and bit off half of it, chewed, swallowed.   “Tastes plenty salty already, Nolan.   I don’t think you should put any more on.  I’m sure the sausages are salty too.” 

“Can I have the mustard, please?” was the immediate response. 

Peter looked down the counter to the right, then past his son to the left.   

“Excuse me,” he said to the woman, “could you pass us the mustard, please?” 

“Yes of course,” she said as she reached for it and handed it to him.  She leaned slightly forward to look at Nolan and asked if he liked sausages.  

The child nodded, two quick bobs of the head, with his eyes riveted on his plate.  His father spooned a little mustard onto the edge of it, then cut the sausages into bite-size pieces, put the knife down and handed Nolan the fork.  His son began eating.  Peter placed the lid back on the mustard pot and slid in further toward the inner edge of the bar.  He smiled at the woman, then picked his beer up again. 

The young lady, still tilted toward the man and the boy, seemed about to say something, but then turned back to her own glass and a detached observation of the other patrons.  After a few moments, she asked the bartender for the menu and whether she, too, could eat at the bar.  She looked at Nolan again, smiling.  The boy held her gaze for several seconds with large, serious eyes.  Then he said, “I like these sausages with French fries and mustard.  Sometimes with cabbage and mustard.” 

“Well I can understand that,” she told him.  “I like sausages a lot myself.” 

“Milk is good for children,” the youngster went on.  “Beer isn’t.”  He transferred the last piece of sausage from the plate to his mouth.   

She nodded in agreement.  “That’s very true.” 

“Please drink your water,” Peter said to his son.   

A group of university students made a noisy entrance.  They hailed two people already sitting at a table across the room, asking why they hadn’t saved enough seats for all of them, then slowly made their way deeper into the restaurant with boisterous energy and bursts of laughter.   Peter encircled Nolan with his left arm to protect him from being unwittingly jostled.  There was neither tension nor defensiveness in the gesture, which seemed to go unnoticed by the boy, intently draining his glass.  Once finished, he put the glass down and wiped his fingers on the napkin next to his plate.  His father picked it up and wiped his son’s mouth, crumpled it into Nolan’s empty plate and swiveled off his stool.   

“I’ll be right back,” he said to the boy, passing behind him on his way to the register. 

Nolan watched his father briefly and then turned to the woman studying the menu.   He looked at her silently until she became aware of his gaze and, putting her menu down, leaned closer to him with an encouraging smile. 

“Have you ever been to a jail?” Nolan asked her. 

“Well,” she said with raised eyebrows, “no, I haven’t.  Why?” 

“Because of the keys.” 

“The keys?” 

But Nolan was already on another track.  “The police catch bad men and sometimes they kill them.” 

“Yes,” she said nodding slowly.  When no further remark was forthcoming, she added, “That’s one of the things policemen and policewomen do.” 

The waiter asked for the woman’s order and Peter came back at the same moment.  He lifted Nolan off the stool and helped him into his jacket.  Hand in hand, father and son made their way toward the door.   

Suddenly Nolan dropped his father’s hand, saying, “I’ll be right back.” 

He turned around and came back to stand beside the woman.  She looked down at him and he stretched his right hand toward her. 

“Goodbye.” 

She shook the small warm hand, meeting the steady gaze. 

“Goodbye.   I enjoyed talking with you.” 

She watched him return to his father’s side, nodding at Peter in answer to a second rapid smile.  Her eyes followed them as they went through the door and into the evening darkness.

 

 

 

Hi everyone, in case you are looking for a place to be the home for your microfiction 101 Words are  friendly and professional. And they just published 101 words of dark fantasy of mine, titled Ersatz. Hope you enjoy it and do check them out for your work too.

https://101words.org/ersatz/









Hello,

I've written some short stories over the years, one of which I think may be appropriate for this group. I've added it below. It's called 'Sight and Sound' and concerns a young man who wakes to find his world has just been turned upside down. It's 3,000 words long, so shouldn't take too long to read through if you're interested, and near the end the POV changes from one character's thoughts to another's before switching back to the main character once more. 

Given the context of the story I don't know if I could have avoided doing so, and please bear in mind that at the time I wrote this tale I knew nothing about the 'rules' of POV. So if you find it jars at all then please let me know, along with constructive suggestions about how to avoid the POV swap.

-----------------------------------------------------


Sight and Sound

Opening his eyes slowly Mark noticed that all the lights were very bright, and everything was blurred. His head hurt like hell, and he became aware that he was no longer standing up, but lying on his right side, with the smooth marble tiled floor against his cheek. The coolness of the stone on his skin helped to revive him, and in a second or so he found that the images were starting to sharpen a little as his eyes adjusted to the light. However things remained blurred, particularly around the edges, and he guessed it would take a little while for his eyes to focus properly.

He noticed that his glasses had fallen off, and his eyes felt unprotected and vulnerable, so he brought his left hand up to shield them from the brightness. At the same time, he tried to lift his head from the ground, and noticed that it seemed to stick to the floor. There was blood in his hair, and this had started to congeal, temporarily gluing him down. The effort of moving was also more than he had expected, and he found it quite a strain to lift his head up, and then try to raise himself to a sitting position.

People stood around him and watched his actions, and two or three of them even tried to help him up, but a man appeared in the small semi-circle of bystanders and gesticulated to them to stop, and let him stay seated. The man then knelt down in front of Mark and stared into his eyes, presumably in an effort to see if Mark was concussed. The man then started speaking to him, but Mark couldn’t hear a thing he said. Suddenly he realised that the reason why he had not been bothered by people so far was because his hearing seemed to have deserted him for the moment.

Mark found himself feeling as though he was floating, even though he could plainly see that he was anchored to the ground by gravity. He felt detached from reality, as though he were watching television with the mute button pressed. The trouble was he couldn’t find the mute button to turn the sound back on. Mark’s head was still spinning slowly, and he was confused; then looking round he saw his familiar stick lying on the floor a couple of feet away, and his glasses lying broken nearby, bits of dark plastic like tiny shadows littering the shining tan of the polished marble.

The sight of his familiar companions cheered him, but then he thought, 'Oh damn! I’ll have to buy some new ones now. Thank goodness my stick is OK. At least I’ve still got that, so I’ll be able to get around at least.'

The bizarre nature of his predicament suddenly dawned on him and he decided to take stock of his situation. He was sitting on the floor of a large, well lit, and well attended shopping mall, with blood in his hair that slowly trickled down onto his collar. His glasses lay broken on the floor, but his stick was now in his hand. He could see, but not clearly, and his hearing seemed to have gone. There was a man kneeling in front of him who was obviously talking to him, but not a sound penetrated Mark’s consciousness.

Mark was troubled. It wasn’t the fact of whatever had befallen him, as he was quite obviously not in any physical danger, but something had changed in his world. A profound change had occurred that was only now beginning to impinge itself upon his psyche. He had gone deaf! His universe had completely changed. He could no longer make out who was around him, or whether he was in any danger from people or objects hidden by walls or round corners. In fact, the reason he was now sitting here was because a group of kids had run out of a shop and knocked him flying. So even his now defunct hearing had not been able to save him from this.

The other shocking thing that Mark noticed was that he was wearing odd socks. He felt embarrassed. He had put his socks on this morning as usual, and no-one had said anything to warn him of his blunder, so he had gone about his normal business, without a care in the world, with odd socks. The thought made him laugh, but the sound of his mirth only came to him through the vibrations in his skull.

'This is really weird,' he thought.

Then said out loud to the man in front of him “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you. I've gone deaf!”

He wondered if he was shouting at the man, because he gave Mark a very peculiar look, and then produced a handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe the blood off Mark’s head. As he did so, he moved round so that he could look into Mark’s right ear.

'I don’t know what he expects to find in there,' thought Mark, but he didn’t try to dissuade the man, as his head was throbbing, and each stroke of the man’s hanky down Mark’s hair brought fresh waves of pain from the right side of his head.

Suddenly Mark jumped, as if a loud bang had scared him nearly out of his skin. He looked suddenly frightened, and with eyes wide like a child he took in the world around him. Then he smiled at the man in front of him, and grinned at the assembled crowd of onlookers.

“I can see!” he shouted. “I can SEE!”

Just then a security man appeared with the standby nurse, and they helped him up to his feet. Then the nurse took one arm, the security man the other, and they tried to lead him to the first aid room.

“I’m alright,” protested Mark, but they wouldn’t listen, and they bustled him into a lift and up to the top floor of the complex, where he was led down an anonymous grey painted corridor and into a small room.

There on one side was an examination couch, and the nurse motioned for Mark to sit on it while she went to get some water in a kidney bowl, and a sponge. She came back and carefully washed the blood from Mark’s head, and parted his hair to get a good look at the large bruise that was swelling up just above his ear. All the time she was doing this she spoke to him, and he didn’t hear a word. He had hoped that his hearing would start to return by now, but as yet nothing could make its way into his head except as vibrations in his teeth.

Mark didn’t care though, he just sat there and grinned. He could see! His white stick was leaning against the wall, and he looked at it with curiosity, as he had never actually seen it before. It was about five feet long, and tapered, with the white paint chipped off it near the bottom. The handgrip had worn shiny, and the leather wrist strap was beginning to look frayed.

'Bout time I got a new one,' he thought, then realised how ridiculous the thought had been.

He didn’t need a stick now that he could see where he was going. The novelty of his situation kept him amused for some time, and eventually the nurse gesticulated for him to get down from the examination couch and look in the mirror.

What a shock that was. Mark had forgotten what he looked like during the four years since the accident, and looking at the stranger who stared back at him from the mirror gave him some cause for concern. The scar on his left temple that had been a legacy of the accident, had faded to just a thin line going up to the hair line from the outer end of his left eyebrow. It was smaller than he imagined, and not quite as deep, but would be with him forever, so he might as well get used to seeing it. The hair would have to change though. He preferred it shorter than it appeared in the mirror, and the lines around his eyes seemed deeper than he remembered them. That was the price of growing old.

He had been nearly twenty when he and Dave had been out skateboarding around the square by the Town Hall. The collision between them had left Dave with a broken nose, a fat lip, and two broken teeth, but it had left Mark blind. The doctors couldn’t explain it, but had admitted defeat when they couldn’t find anything wrong with his eyes, or the function of his optic nerve.

Well, now it had returned with a bang, or more precisely a bump, on his head. A severe impact had blinded him, and now another had returned his sight, but deafened him. So Mark wondered what would happen if he got hit on the head again. Would his hearing return, or would he just go blind again, and end up blind and deaf? The prospect did nothing for his mood, but he decided to worry about that another time. For now it was good enough that he could see, and once more appreciate the world as he always had before his accident.

Good news travels fast they say, but for Mark it couldn’t travel fast enough, and he pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket to call his girlfriend Sheila and give her the good news. It was only after he had dialled the number and held it up to his ear that it dawned on him. He was deaf, so he couldn’t hear whether anyone was answering or not. Instead he asked the nurse to take the phone and pass on the message that he had regained his sight, but was now stone deaf, and could Sheila come and get him from the mall.

The nurse wasn’t keen on this, as she wanted him to go to hospital for a proper check up. The last thing she needed was for Mark to drop dead from a fractured skull that had gone undiagnosed due to him not going for a proper examination. So instead she asked Sheila to come and join him for the trip to the hospital in an ambulance. She then called for the security guard to come around and make sure that Mark didn’t try to run away. While they waited the nurse went off for a couple of minutes and returned with cups of tea for the three of them.

“Where is he?” said Sheila as she rushed into the small room. “Oh, I thought you were at death’s door. The nurse told me you had had a whack on the head and she was afraid you might have concussion and a fractured skull.”

Mark just sat with his mouth open and said nothing. He had never seen Sheila before, so he wasn’t even sure if this was her. However, she came straight over and started fussing over him, turning his head and parting his hair to get a good look at the cut and bruising. Meanwhile, all he could think of was how much smaller she was than he'd imagined. Her hair was totally different from his mental image of her, and her eyes were brown. He always thought of them as blue, even though she'd told him she had brown eyes, he just had a picture in his head of a girl with longish fair hair and blue eyes.

The actuality was completely different. She had dark brown wavy hair, brown eyes, and a lopsided mouth. Not very lopsided, but a bit, in fact her whole face was a bit lopsided. This jarred with his imagination, and it wasn’t helped when she smiled and showed a crooked tooth and fillings.

'Wah! What have I been doing going out with this woman for the last three years?' he thought, but managed a weak smile in return.

The stranger continued to mouth words at him as though he could hear, and bustled around him as though he was still blind. This was bizarre. He couldn’t accept her as the person he had grown so close to in his world of sound and smell and touch, and she obviously hadn’t yet accepted that he could see. Or perhaps she didn’t even know that he could see. The nurse may not have told her. So Mark decided he had better make sure and grabbed Sheila by the arm. She looked startled, and turned toward him.

“I CAN SEE Sheila, I CAN SEE!” he said.

She looked puzzled for a moment, then started saying something, but Mark put his finger on her lips to stop her.

“I can see but I can’t hear. The bang on my head has given me my sight back but left me deaf. Do you understand? I can see you for the first time in my life, but now I can’t hear a word you’re saying, so you might as well stop talking and write down anything you want to tell me.”

Sheila was in shock. She didn’t quite know what to do. Mark was no longer the helpless but determined man she had befriended and grown to love. He was now able to look after himself, and be completely independent. In her innermost thoughts she had always thought of herself as being a Florence Nightingale figure for him. Someone he could rely on to drive him around, and guide him through the obstacle course of restaurant tables whenever they went out for a meal. She had imagined herself guiding him through the rest of his life in the same way, but now he wouldn’t need her anymore to do all the little things for him, and if he didn’t need her, she worried that he might not be attracted to her either. She didn’t consider herself the most attractive girl in the world, but as Mark couldn’t judge her by her looks, she had always felt safe with him.

That had all changed now though, the new situation they were both entering could easily put strains on their relationship that might cause it all to fall apart at the seams.
Apart from anything else, Mark was still disabled, only now instead of her having to describe the visual world to him she would have to be his ears, and learn to sign in order to communicate with him.

'That’s a thought. He'll have to learn how to sign too, so we can learn together!'

With that she felt better. She could relax knowing that Mark would still need her in the future, so all was not lost yet.

Mark watched her face as the thoughts raced through her mind, and wondered what she was thinking. Did he see a fleeting frown of disappointment flicker in her eyes as the enormity of it all hit her? He couldn’t be sure, but he thought she was avoiding his gaze, as though she didn’t want him to see the emotions welling up inside of her. She seemed sad all of a sudden, as though she had lost the wind from her sails, and he couldn’t quite understand why.

She should be happy for him now that he could see again. She should be laughing and grinning like him, full of joy at his return to the world of the seeing. Instead she seemed to withdraw into herself, and put on a mask to hide behind. Her smile seemed forced somehow, as though she were having second thoughts about him and their relationship.

This irked him. He was finding it difficult to look at a face that didn’t match up to his dreams, and a figure that, although not bad, was not the perfection he saw in his mind’s eye. This little woman, with the nondescript hair, and lopsided smile in front of him was a stranger. She wasn’t the warm, soft, sweet-smelling comfortable human duvet he had snuggled up to for the last three years. Her skin had imperfections, her eyebrows were too thick, and met in the middle. Her eye shadow was the wrong colour, and her eyelashes looked as though someone had plastered mascara onto them with a trowel. Furthermore, her clothes were not immaculate and smartly tailored as he'd always imagined, but faded and slightly scruffy looking, and her skirt was twisted, as though she didn’t take pride in her appearance. But then again, she hadn’t needed to, as he was none the wiser. Well he was now, and what he saw annoyed him. He felt betrayed. He wondered if she had been like this for the last three years. Slouching around in any old clothes, with her hair not properly brushed and make up thrown on from a bucket.

That would all have to change now if they were to continue going out together. He didn’t want to be seen out with her if she was going to look like this. She was a mess. Just then she put a piece of paper in his hand. The writing on it made him feel guilty immediately.

“Sorry I look a bit of a mess, but I was in the bath when the nurse rang, and I just grabbed the nearest clothes I could find, and came straight down here. I don’t normally look like this, honest, so stop giving me those funny looks! :-D”

Mark was totally deflated. His high moral ground had crumbled beneath him. His resolve to take charge of the situation, and her, had deserted him. He was the helpless blind boy once more, even though he could see, and he meekly followed her out to the ambulance, holding on to her as he always had, with his arm locked through her elbow, to make sure she could guide him safely.

-----------------------------------------------------





So  I write a little but am still new, especially short stories and hope it's OK to post here's it'll probably be a bit trash.

I love short stories! As a writer and as a reader. As a NaNoWriMo challenge I wrote short stories collection. In December I wrote another short story and now I'm adapting it into an animated short film script. I didn't share any of my stories yet. And this is one of my main goals for 2021: to overcome shyness and share! 

Hi I am an absolute beginner and have written a few short stories, is this forum suitable for my level?

If anyone is interested in looking at work by a complete newly please let me know.

Thanks


Hi Folks,

I am a happy creator of romantic smut (do we have to call it erotic fiction?), and I have a few short stories I'd love some constructive criticism on. Before I post, though, just wanted to check. Is this group smut-friendly? I totally understand if the answer is no, and in that case, didn't want to put forth some perfectly good smut and then have someone's reaction be EW! I AM MENTALLY SCARRED FOR LIFE! I am committed to being appropriate to my audience(s).

Just published a collection of seventeen of my stories as an eBook on Kindle. I‘ve called it The Late Shift Specialist. I hope you’ll like them. Do let me know what you think, either way, if you have time and inclination. Thanks, guys.

Hi Harvey and members,

I have a short story to offer to the group for feedback. It is currently offered to a couple of competitions, but regarding publication, I do have a somewhat pathetic strike rate-12 out of 76. Towards the end, I change the POV. Not sure how well that works. It's titled Leaving Without Looking Back-1500 words

Bryan

Hi everyone. I'm new to the group today, though I've been with JW for over a year. Just published my first novel ( a crime thriller set in Crete called The Unforgiving Stone) but I'm also interested in short stories and have written over twenty. I'm planning to publish a collection of these as an eBook in a few weeks' time. It'll be called The Late Shift Specialist. Here's one as a taster: The Garage Job. 

Schoolboy Kit lands a cushy weekend job with some lovable rogues, but, when events take a shocking turn, he has to question his ideas of right and wrong. 

Do let me know what you think.

https://www.alexdunlevy.com/newsletter-garage-job.pdf

Best regards,

Alex