When the last cherry blossom falls

Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig…and he’s offering loot!

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/04/12/flash-fiction-challenge-choose-your-opening-line/

 

When the last cherry blossom falls

“When the last cherry blossom falls, so will my axe.” That was the mantra Darrich had been instructed to repeat. He’d done so with a steady voice, denying his internal strife an outlet. The shaky voice of his youth had been beaten out of him long ago. Darrich believed the trees could hear the words he couldn’t yell, could see the tears he couldn’t cry. His heartbeat was banging away on the war drums in his ears, calling him to do the inevitable.

A light rain had swept across the village that morning, attacking the resolve of the cherry tree’s ornaments. The vast majority of blossoms had let go of the branches from which they’d clung so delicately. Their tender petals blanketed the courtyard like freshly fallen snow, signaling that the time for the ritual had arrived.

Darrich had looked forward to the ritual with ignorant enthusiasm. Today would mark the day he became a man – a great warrior of the Josi’ck tribe. Now with axe in hand, he wanted anything but.

The Josi’ck were feared people, unequalled in the arts of war, bloodthirsty savages on the battlefield. They brought uncompromising, nonnegotiable hatred down upon their enemies. The Josi’ck were well know for hunting the families of their fallen enemies in an attempt to stomp out the bloodlines of those who’d dared oppose them. The sight of just one Josi’ck warrior in full battlements was enough to make most men betray their allegiances and flee in terror.

During his warrior training, Darrich had slowly come to terms with the severity of the trials he’d been made to endure – too slowly if measured by the beatings he received at the hands of his father. Josi’ck men didn’t express emotion. Josi’ck boys were beaten severely whenever they lost composure. Darrick was often betrayed by his voice during the early years of training. His father would question him sternly and listen for sounds of weakness. Knowledge of the beatings that would follow his failures were often enough to cause Darrich’s voice to quiver, forcing the punishment, intensifying his dread, and making the task of hiding his fears increasingly difficult.

Darrich knew of boys who’d been beaten to death by their fathers. He’d been friends with one of them and the boy’s death had cut Darrich deeply. After that, he’d started to gain a level of control over his emotions – perhaps for no other reason than his own survival. He’d continued to receive the beatings, but their frequency had lessened as control over his emotions grew.

His mother, Carrin, had often helped him to practice control over emotions while his father was away. She questioned him frequently about events she knew would trouble him, trying to provoke a response. During these harsh questioning sessions, Darrich saw a weakness in his mother; her eyes betrayed her otherwise stoic manner. It obviously hurt her to dig at him and make him feel pain, hidden pain or otherwise. Darrich had always been thankful that women weren’t held to the same standards as men. His mother would’ve been beaten mercilessly if they were and to his knowledge, she’d never had a hand raised to her. Even without fear of beatings, she’d always shown great respect for her husband, and mostly controlled her emotions.

Darrich didn’t fear his mother, and her questioning had less impact on him as time went by. She’d often made up outrageous stories to try and find any weakness. She’d once told him that his father was going to make Darrich kill his own dog, the one she’d given him at age four. Darrich hadn’t flinched. Another layer of naiveté was stripped from Darrich that evening at dinner.

“Darrich believes you too kind to have him kill his own dog,” Carrin had said to Darrich’s father.

Darrich had felt it pulling at him then as it did now. There was no escaping a thing that had to be done. His father had halted dinner to take Darrich outside where he’d forced him to execute the animal and then endure hours of questioning.

There were no beatings that night. He’d performed the task without hesitation and answered the questions as if they’d concerned the act of breathing in and out. He’d wept for the last time that night, silently into his wool pillow.

Darrich had wanted to hate his mother after that but he couldn’t. He’d seen something in his mother’s eyes; she’d done it to protect him. She’d hardened him with her betrayal, strengthened him in a way that made beatings a rare occurrence and ensured his survival.

The Josi’ck had learned long ago that it wasn’t enough to have one’s enemies fear you for what you did in combat. They needed their enemies to also fear the youngest of untested warriors for what they had done before ever stepping onto the field of battle. They needed the world to fear the ruthless nature of what it meant to be a Josi’ck warrior and had established a code of training to ensure that every man who donned the warrior’s battlement had unquestionable resolve.

The rain began falling again. Darrich looked into the grey sky and let the drops fall across his face like tears. He wondered if anyone would be able to tell if he were, or if he would even be able to cry. He knew he wouldn’t. He had learned on his own that while he wasn’t allowed to express emotions, feeling them wasn’t really optional. He felt certain today would change that. A storm was raging within him and he feared something might disconnect, might snap.

Darrich looked at his mother’s outstretched neck on the chopping block. Her eyes betrayed the brave face she was attempting to show her son. He looked beyond her to the cherry trees in the courtyard. He watched as the final rain-soaked cherry blossom fell into the dirt.

The Secret Door

Another week of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. This week is all about what is on the other side of the secret door. I thought I would try a little first person for this one. I also banged the whole thing out and let it simmer, spelling errors and all before revising. It comes in at exactly 1000 words (title excluded). I welcome all comments of value.

Chuck’s challenge can be found here.

The Secret Door

by Mark Snider

The partially finished garage was cold and quiet. I stood shivering, half asleep, looking at the strange door where none had been previously. Its location suggested it would lead to the laundry room. There was no handle or any sign of a hinge. I pushed firmly on one side of the rugged door and watched with bated breath as it began to open.

There was no awe-inspiring vista awaiting me on the other side. It was a square room, poorly lit, and badly cluttered. Files were stacked haphazardly in every available space. I stood before a mound of folders and lifted one from the heap.

There was only one word written across the front page in bold letters – Bears. I turned the page and read about a boy lying next to his mother on her bed. He was waiting for the bears to come. He’d seen them approaching his home earlier in the day. A humidifier wheezed miserably in the corner of the room. First one bear appeared at the window, then another. The boy was holding several flimsy steak knives with wooden-handles. He tried to sit up and throw them at the fury beasts now climbing into the house but he couldn’t move. Death was certain if he didn’t get up but all he could manage was to lift his head enough to watch their approach.

I dropped the papers on the floor, backing away in shock. My childhood dream had been recorded on paper with unbelievable accuracy. I could feel traces of the sore neck I’d experienced the morning following the dream. So vivid it had been to my young mind that I had actually tried lifting my head while sleeping.

I quickly fetched another file. My face grew hot as the words pulled me into yet another forgotten memory. This time, a graphic sexual fantasy I’d dreamt up about one of the girls I went to high school with. I skimmed it briefly before fetching a different file. A Tolkien style fantasy I’d contemplated writing early in my naval career. I had written the rough draft of the opening scene while deployed. That had been followed by an immediate revision, more polishing, and a final edit of the first pages of what were sure to be the greatest novel ever. It was the only work I ever did on that project. Here in my hands were several more chapters I didn’t write. A quick read of the pages had me remembering idea fragments I’d once tossed about as possible directions for my epic trilogy.

Hours passed as I relived the memories, dreams, and random thoughts from my life. Some had been nicely fleshed out into story ideas while others merely listed thoughts with just enough detail to bring forth the specific memory. There were easily over a thousand folders in the room.

I was suddenly overcome with the urge to write. Ideas swelled, threatening to split me open. I selected a random file from the heap and cleared a space to work. I selected a sharpened number two pencil from an old Campbell’s soup can on the desk, and then went about the task of letting the words flow.

The hours flew by as I worked on the files. I was immersed in forgotten details from my life. Sleep eventually found me at some point and I dreamed of multi-million dollar book deals falling from the heavens as I churned out one best seller after another.

I awoke on my laptop’s keyboard, the soft white glow of an empty Word document lighting the mosaic of my face. The memories were already disappearing. I tried to remember the hundreds of files I’d looked at in that room. If nothing else I should be able to salvage something from the ones I’d worked on.

I sat back in my chair and banged sentence fragments into my word processor. My eyes, not yet adjusted to the light and without the aid of glasses, blindly observed as my fingers feverishly attempted to recapture a portion of the details. The memories were disappearing like survivors in escape pods fleeing a doomed ship. My fingers began bleeding from the furious attempt to recover something useful from that room. Desperation gave way to despair at the thought of how much I couldn’t save and my pace slowed. I decided it was time to pause long enough to fetch my glasses and skim over my work. My mind crashed into the floor of realization when I stared at line after line of unreadable nonsense. I’d lost it all. After closing my laptop, I crawled into my bed and let sleep take me once again.

_______________

Since childhood, I rarely have been able to recall dreaming. Several months had passed since my episode in the room behind the secret door and I’d not been able to retrieve even one item from the files locked within. My blank page was now a vacant billboard mocking my incompetence. On occasion I would find myself staring at the unfinished sheetrock wall in the garage. Other times I just mouth-breathed at the screen displaying the file I created that night. I let my eyes run over my electronic version of chicken scratch. I was about to delete it when my eyes came to rest on four actual words – bears will kill her. Memories of lying in bed next to my mom came rushing back. Vivid memories of talking with her about books and movies we liked were fresh again. I recalled feeling that she needed my protection. It was coming back faster now. I inhaled in the moist air of the humidifier. I could feel the rivets in the wooden handles of the steak knives. I eased up to the keyboard and slowly allowed the words to appear on the screen. I could sense the files stacked all around me. I glanced over my shoulder and there it was, the secret door. This time I’ll get it all I thought.