The Things They Do – SHORT STORY

the girl who drew a phoenix simon and schuster

 

      THE PHONETIC SOUNDS of Vivaldi (just as he intended) echoed off the walls of my skull. Our phones had been ringing incessantly the whole morning.
In a rare moment of silence, I opened up my emails and clicked on a video link accompanied by, ‘You’ll love this Eve, Diane x’.
Within minutes the entire office; Doug, Jenny, Clara, Melissa, and Pauline were huddled around my work station as the cat video played, leading to laughter, Awww’s!, and declarations of cuteness.
Just as a once-fluffy white cat styled like a lion was batting at a glass on the edge of a kitchen counter, while the owner deplored it not to, yet somehow couldn’t stop filming… a collective groan greeted my ringing phone, my mobile this time.

‘Oh god, is she ok?’ Blood drained from my face, a hand on my mouth. I felt someone place one on my shoulder. ‘Ok, I’ll be there as soon as I can.’ My tone had gone flat and weak. ‘Something happened at home, I have to go…’
I didn’t wait for permission but vaguely recall somebody offering to drive.
I just hoped it wasn’t serious, they said Ashley was fine.
Home was ten minutes drive, and countless speed limits were broken as I floored it, windows open, trying to counter the high noon sun.

Within a mile my blood drained again, seeing a spire of thick black smoke rising from the midst of the sprawl of houses.
How many times could a heart sink in the time it took to drive Gilligan Street?
Cars were parked up on the pavements as I navigated the narrow roadway. Three fire engines were outside…my home, what was left of it.

Slamming the hand brake I ran towards my driveway, in numbness pushing past the onlookers until a fireman in a yellow outfit blocked my path

‘That’s my house!’ I yelled, nearly in tears. ‘Where’s my daughter? Where’s…’

‘Wait here!’

I watched, my body shaking, as firefighters on either side of my two-story house, fired water into the remaining one story, flames curling out, orange streaks flickering, the same fire that had destroyed everything precious to me.

Well, not everything…

Ashley was shouting, running along the pavement as if in slow motion; skipping over swollen hose pipes, wearing a wide gap toothed grin, her pigtails with blue streamers flowing behind her, the yellow jumpsuit she loved marred by black marks.

On my knees I stretched my arms out and when she nearly knocked me over I felt so relieved, hugging her tight and peppering her with kisses until I collected myself.

‘What happened my precious?’

She looked up at me as innocent as you like. ‘I wanted to make a phoe-nix appear!’

Dumbfounded, I looked at the remnants of home through watery eyes, tasting smoke every time I breathed. All I could think to say was, ‘Couldn’t you have burnt something smaller?’

She looked at me dead on, didn’t miss a beat. ‘The baby sitter is smaller! But Mum, I been thinky, bigger fire, bigger phoe-nix!’

Something went still on my left hand side.

 

lion around 2

38 Comments

  1. Hey Fionn. I see that earlier readers have already captured what I’d like to add here. But nonetheless. This was gripping. It was more than once I wanted to jump to the end and see what happens. But worth the wait, I must say. Fabulous one this one. 😉

  2. Twice today you caused my heart to beat faster! What a story Fionn!

    The pace is fantastic. At the beginning I almost got bored by the randomness and cliché of the opening scene. That is so well played, because then the contrast in the narrative woke me up instantly. When numbed by our daily routine, we can never imagine we are just a ring away from our life turning into a perfect nightmare.

    In hindsight, I believe the commonness of the first scene made me feel in sync with the character’s situation – reading on automatic mode, then sensing danger and hitting manual again to be in control and face what was coming next. I was driving in her place at once.

    You managed to make this story feel true – your use of just the right sensory words helped a lot to achieve this.

    The spectrum of scenes, situations, and resulting emotions keeps the reader hooked. You used stereotyped elements – cat video, “evil” child – added your special spice – the Phoenix and the fire – and found a way to create a really spooky horror short.

    Just making sure I got the ending right though – she put the baby-sitter on fire and then went on to burn the house as well?

    I love the final image – a house on fire does resemble a phoenix.

    Twisted child… I am creeped out.

    1. Wow what a break down, thank you doas!
      You pretty much nailed the psychology of the piece ☺ The generic opener was to set the ordinary scene and set up the transition. Kept it short so no one got too bored straight away.
      As for the ending, the way the wording came to me meant the babysitter got lit up. Really twisted obviously, but it also dealt with the ‘wasnt there someone watching ashley?’ question.
      Originally that extra twist wasnt there.

  3. You changed emotions very effectively in this. I was rolling my eyes at the office tomfoolery one second and on the edge of my seat with worry the next. Spooky ending, too. Nicely done! ☺

      1. I meant how time seemed to quicken when the narrator got the phone call and then slowed down when they saw their daughter safe. It went well with how the narrator must have been feeling at the time. I hope that makes sense!

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