Experiment #16 – Shift 1000 words

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“Can you see me now?” Brody spun around and around in circles as fast as his five year old legs could carry him. The dizzier he got the slower he spun, but his mother didn’t have the heart to tell him that.

“Barely,” Randi said. “You’re just a green blur now.”

Brody kept spinning, and his mom kept washing dishes. Spring sunlight streamed in through the window. The thin, watery light still had too much winter in it. Pools fell on the kitchen floor looking cold rather than warm and inviting. Brody didn’t seem to notice. “How about now?”

“Take a break before you make yourself sick,” Randi said. “I don’t want breakfast barf on my nice clean floors.”

Brody collapsed in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes rolling around to keep pace with the spinning room. “If I go fast enough, do you think I will disappear?”

“Anything is possible.”

Brody considered that for a second. His eyes slowly focussing on the ceiling. “Is that where Daddy went?”

“I don’t think so, sweetie. Daddy and I—”

“But you said!” Tears sprang up in Brody’s eyes and he sat up, glaring at her. “Anything is possible.”

“Almost anything, then.”

“If I spin fast enough I bet I’ll go ‘pop!’ and I’ll be in another kitchen just like this, except Daddy will be sitting there drinking coffee.”

“And what would you do then?”

Brody shrugged. “Bring him back to the kitchen with you in it.”

Tears stung her own eyes, then, and Randi excused herself to go to the bathroom. She still hadn’t figured out how to explain to Brody that his dad wasn’t comingback. Marc hadn’t wanted any of this: her, the house, their son. He’d tried, he said. But he’d never been able to be happy with this life they’d built. Marc had never been happy with anything, for almost as long as she’d known him. But Marc had made a decision, finally, after years of letting life happen to him by default. No more ambivalent stares, shrugged shoulders, and “I don’t knows.” He’d finally had enough of all of Randi’s unsatisfactory choices and made one for himself: “Goodbye.” And it was going to take more than spinning in circles to bring him back.

When Randi came back to the kitchen, Brody was at it again. “Can you still see me?”

“Who said that?” she teased. Brody’s giggles filled the kitchen and he spun faster and faster. Randi wiped her eyes on her dish towel and went back to the sink. Dishes still needed doing; that would never change. She sank her hands into the warm soapy water and stared outside at the slushy grey yard. Somewhere under all that dirty snow, grass roots were stirring. It was only a matter of time.

Brody spun like a heard of tiny elephants stampeding in circles. In never ceased to amaze Randi how much noise one little kid could make. But his giggling filled the house and soothed her as much as the ritual of dish washing. It’s going to be all right, she thought. Time heals all—

POP!

Brody’s laughter stopped so suddenly the Randi thought her eardrums had burst. The kitchen was completely silent. But she could still hear the faint crackling of bubbles from the dishwater. Not deaf, then. She turned around slowly. Brody was nowhere to be seen.

“Brody?”she called. Her eyes scanned the kitchen for all of his favourite hiding places. “Where did you go?”

She was met with uncanny silence. No house with a five year old had ever been so quiet. Randi’s heart beat faster in her chest. “Brody!”

She walked from the kitchen, down the hall. Soapy water trailed off her gloves and left a path of bubbles behind her. She checked the bathroom and bedrooms. Nothing. The living room was empty, too.

Had she really heard a popping noise? Had Brody somehow managed to disappear?Impossible. He must be hiding somewhere in the house.

Not knowing what to do, Randi put on a pot of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table to wait. She forgot all about the dishes and the dirty snow. Her ears seemed to yawn into the silence, sucking up any noise they could in the hopes that Brody would give himself away and prove that she wasn’t going crazy.

When the coffee beeped, Randi poured herself a cup, still wearing her dish gloves.Her first sip tasted like coffee and smelled like Citrus Burst detergent. She couldn’t bring herself to swallow. Randi set the coffee down and went back to the bathroom where she stared at herself in the mirror as if she might be able to see madness blooming in her own eyes. She looked tired. Afraid. But not particularly crazy.

POP!

Voices and giggling suddenly rushed in to fill the void. It was like someone had unmuted the television. Brody’s laughter floated down the hallway toward her, and there was another voice, too. Randi moved into the kitchen as if she were sleepwalking.

There at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee, was Marc. Brody lay in the middle of the kitchen floor laughing so hard Randi was afraid he’d gone crazy. She crouched over him, scooped him up into her arms and hugged him so fiercely that Brody squealed and pushed her away. She let go and he sat up, grinning. “Told you I could do it,” he said.

Marc stared at them both with a bemused look on his face. Then he broke into a grin, too. Randi hadn’t seen him grin like that since they were first dating. She had fallen in love with that smile long before she’d ever seen the brooding glower that replaced it. She’d always suspected it was her fault, somehow, when the Marc she loved was consumed by the other, darker one. But now—

“I’ve missed you,” Marc said, smiling at Randi. “I feel like I’ve been away for a very long time.”

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This piece was written for the #BlogBattle Stories flash fiction challenge. April’s theme was “Shift” at 1000 words or less. This piece is 1000 words, exactly! Check out the other submissions HERE! And, as always, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

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21 thoughts on “Experiment #16 – Shift 1000 words

  1. Good pathos. You did an excellent job of showing how it breaks children’s hearts when parents abandon the family. The ending left me wanting to know what happens next. Does Brody have “powers” they’re just learning about? Does Marc change his ways because of his amazing son? Does it all spiral out of control again? In other words, are you going to do a sequel?
    One technical note that proves why we can’t trust Spell Check: After Brody pops, Randi could still HEAR (here) the crackling bubbles…. A minor critique for a fine story!

    1. Thanks! Good catch on “here,” I often mix up homophones when I’m tired.

      I don’t have plans for this one yet. It started as just a funny idea that popped into my head when my own kids were spinning around the kitchen and I warned them that if they spun too fast they might rip a hole in the space-time continuum 😂

      The part with Brody’s dad came as a bit of a surprise as I was writing, and I think there are some interesting avenues to explore with depression and parenting, the “other” version of yourself that disappears when you’re on a high or low… if anything I’ll likely expand on this piece into something a bit longer that digs into the themes a bit more and leaves a more satisfying conclusion.

      Thanks for reading and for your feedback! One of the reasons I love these challenges is that the brain comes up with such interesting connections when forced to write a prompt. Never know what you’ll dig up in the old subconscious, lol

  2. Yay, he just popped off to get his Pop…

    Do you draft in another app and paste into the editor? Your formatting comes out odd in my browser, there is no space between the first two words in each paragraph and in some other places in the text. Tried in both Chrome and Firefox… I used to get that with drafting then pasting it from Evernote, gave it up in the end.
    But it may be me that’s the odd one here, which of course would be about right.

    1. Huh. I do draft in word and then paste into WordPress. But it looks okay in my browser (using chrome on my computer and safari on my phone). It might be because I use Word’s paragraph formatting to indent paragraphs, which doesn’t translate into WP? Do all of my stories do that, or just this one? Thanks for letting me know!

      1. Looks like it’s just that one, I’m sure someone else would have mentioned it before but I tried a few older ones anyway and they’re all fine.

        1. Well, I tried opening it in the editor on my phone and I could see what you were talking about! Not just first paragraphs either, there were a whole bunch that were buggered up. That’s so weird!

          I tried to fix it on me phone. Does it look better now?

          1. Lol. Well, it had better pop back! I’m going to be annoyed if I have to draft stories in WP…

  3. Interesting story! I would really like to know what will happen next! 😉

    1. Thanks! Me too 😂 I’ll be exploring this one a little further I think.

    2. This comment is intended mainly for Rakayle: Why do you need more than what the author is willing to give? Isn’t that part of the story, letting it end where the writer, not the reader, wants to end it? There is nothing wrong with wanting to know more, but I believe if the author needed to tell you more she would have. Not everything has to be spelled out. Leave something to the imagination. Appreciate the mystery.
      Enjoy the story for what it is, not for what you need it to be.

      (If I am offending anyone with this response, it is not intended that way. One never knows how life is going to turn out, and art reflects life. Why should we demand art give us a definite outcome? Anyone who needs an end can give it the one they want–they might not be satisfied with an ending a writer is forced to give them.)

      1. I can’t answer for Rayayle, but I find this is the one if the most common pieces of feedback on flash fiction (for my own writing and others’).

        Short stories, and especially flash fiction, can be much more subtle with resolution. Some readers, especially if they mostly read novels, don’t like that. But sometimes writers who aren’t used to short form will cut the story off before there is any resolution, so it’s more of a vignette than a “story” (by the structural definition). I try to avoid that, but sometimes it happens!

        If a lot of people give me that feedback on a particular piece, I usually look to see if I’ve been too subtle with the resolution and how I can strengthen that. Sometimes it’s as easy as showing a shift through imagery/symbolism. But sometimes it means I’ve neglected the character arc and have more work to do.

        It can be frustrating, since one can’t turn every short story into a novel! So I usually try to step back and see if I can do anything to make it feel more resolved at as close to the original word count as possible.

  4. Just a toy shotgun, SC. 5 proofreading/housekeeping changes needed (that I noticed) and otherwise fine as is. A good story, ended in a good place. Good vocabulary, good grammar. What more could a reader ask?
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks 🙂 Dod you notice any words that were stuck together? I had trouble with formatting this one and had it edit it on my phone.

      1. Yes, 4 of the proofreading issues I noticed were lack of spaces. But they did not seem to be the ones another reader was talking about. They were quite random. I don’t have your story in front of me, but I believe there was a “comingback” or something like that. Some were lack of spaces between punctuation marks, esp with a quotation mark involved with the end of a sentence. Once you used the word “the” when you clearly meant the word “that”. Otherwise I liked the story.

        1. Okay, thank you! I’m not sure what happened with the spacing. I’ve never had that problem before. They all seem to have happened at the beginning of paragraphs or after punctuation marks. Word and WordPress aren’t playing nicely.

          1. No problem. Computers do what computers do. No matter how many times I proofread my work, I usually find something else I have missed. Doing one’s own proofreading is the major problem, as the eyes see what they expect to see more often than they see what is actually there. Reading online is much worse than reading an actual book. The number of errors is amazingly high in comparison.

  5. It’s a good story, with lots of potential, but I think it needs a longer form, sort of 2-4k length. Then you have the space to show more about old/new Marc, and whether new Marc wants to get back to where he came from, and how Randi might be persuaded to do that.
    It would be nice to know what happens to wherever Marc is pulled from. Is there a Randi there who wonders why Dad just vanished.
    As a passing thought, it begs a follow-up, an older Randi who perhaps wonders if there’s a paralle self hurt by the theft.

    1. Yes, I agree! I didn’t have answers to any of that in mind while writing it, but after the draft I started playing with the idea a bit more. I’m envisioning a kind of split/parallel where when the normal version of a person is in one world, the depressed version is in the other world. Depression has often felt like being a completely different person to me, so I wanted to explore that. Where does “the other” go when depression eases up? I’m not sure how I’ll work it into the story yet, but it’s definitely something I want to explore.

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