Today is the day. It is the first deadline for our Twelve Short Stories challenge. I am excited that so many people have joined the group and are going to participate, but I am also a little nervous. This group is a lot bigger than I imagined, which is awesome, but I hope that Facebook is up to the challenge.
Here is the procedure:
Read today’s post.
Post your story as a status update on the Facebook group, 12 Short Stories In 12 Months, on 15 February 2017. (If Facebook blocks the group, because we are all posting on the same day and it thinks we are a bunch of spambots, please be patient. It’ll take a day or so to get it back up. Once it is, I’ll post Plan B. Thank you for all the suggestions of alternatives, but I would like to keep it as simple as possible.)
Read and comment on at least four other stories. Please spread the love. Look for stories that haven’t been read, instead of everyone reading and commenting on the same stories. If you want tips on how to comment, read last week’s post: The Complete Guide To Evaluating Your Short Story.
This is an exercise in discipline. The comments are a bonus. There is no prize because I want you focus on writing for yourself and to try and take more risks.
Be kind when you comment. Start with a positive comment, suggest an improvement, and end with something positive. We are here to learn.
- Our prompt for March is at the end of this post.
A few more points:
- I will try to read as many posts as possible, but I do have a day job that I would like to keep.
- NO hate speak. None. If you see something nasty that I should be made aware of, please send me a message.
- Be careful of profanity. Less is always more in writing and we don’t want Facebook to think we are up to no good and block us.
- I need to approve every post. Please be patient with me. I am teaching during the day and I will approve them as quickly as I can. They will all go up.
The List by Mia Botha (1500 words)
She pressed the home button and Instagram shrunk into a tiny square on her screen. She squeezed her eyes and tried to stop the tears. It didn’t help, they ran unchecked over her cheeks and spilled into her bath water. It was a game to them. A stupid game. She turned on the old bronze tap again and let the bath fill to the brim. The ancient pipes shuddered in protested, not impressed with her demands for hot water. She sat very still, tracing her fingers along the grey tile grout, counting the smooth white tiles as she went along, like she used to do when she was a little girl. That was a long time ago.
The water threatened to spill and she closed her eyes and sank slowly beneath the surface, it filled her ears and closed over her face, distorting the ceiling. The brown stains, remnants of the great geyser fail three years ago, danced with the water, mocking the surrounding white ceiling. Old houses and new plumbing were never a good idea. If only her parents cared for things from this century as much as they cared for the things from the last.
The water drowned out the sounds, drowned out the world, drowned her. She stayed submerged until her lungs ached, fighting for air. She listened to the steady, but distorted drip of the over-full bathwater soaking the bright pink bathmat, creating puddles around the old bronze clawed feet. She fought the urge to sit up. She wanted this. She wanted it to end, but life won.
She exploded out of the water, dripping and spitting and choking and gasping. Water splashed over the bath and she grabbed her phone, shaking off the drops. She reached for the towel on the floor. It was wet as well, and she dried her phone as best she could. Victorian baths are not suited to twenty first century social media conundrums.
Her phone blinked on to show three notifications. She didn’t want to know, but habit won and she checked them. Instagram filled her screen again and she clicked on the post: Lisa, four. Angela, six. Livia, twelve. Julia, thirteen. She was going to win. Why did she let them do it? No one was ever going to believe that she just went along for the joke. Kevin won’t believe it either. She turned off her phone and sank under the water again.
“Julia!” She heard the muffled sound of her sister pounding on the door. The thudding reverberated through the water. She ignored her, but her sister didn’t stop.
She came back up, wiping the water off her face and sputtered, “What?”
“Jeez, don’t be such bitch. Your boyfriend is on the phone. He says you aren’t answering his calls, that your phone is off. What is going on? He won’t stop calling. Did lovey-dovey not buy you enough chocolates for Valentines?”
Julia sighed and picked up her phone. “Tell him, I’ll call him in a minute.” She watched as the little apple appeared on the screen, willing the process to slow down.
“I’m not the bloody secretary. Tell him yourself.” She pounded the door one last time as her steps disappeared down the passage.
Julia dialled Kevin’s number. She was on hold, but she heard the click as he changed calls.
“Hi.” She mumbled.
He said nothing. The silence stretched. None of their usual banter.
“What’s up?” She grabbed into the void.
“What’s up? Seriously? How about asking, what’s off, hmm, like maybe your clothes?”
“You saw?” She grimaced.
She sighed and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.” Shame warred with embarrassment. Everybody had seen it. He had seen it. “I am very sorry. So, sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“For what? For lying? For making me look like a fool?”
She recoiled and looked at the phone for a moment, she had never heard him sound like that. He was bitter, hard.
“I can explain.”
“What is there that you can possibly say that can fix this? What excuse do you want to use? Were you drunk? Were you high? Did someone force you?”
She squeezed her eyes. Trying to find the words. Yes. Yes. No. It was a joke. A silly joke.
He chewed through her silence. “I thought I wanted to hear an explanation, but I guess I’m over it.”
The beep of the dial tone was deafening. She dropped her phone in the bath and sank back under the water. She rubbed her wrinkled fingers as if the phone had burned her and kept only her nose above the water. She shuddered at the dull thud as the phone hit the bottom of the porcelain bath.
The pounding came again, but harder and more insistent this time. “Julia,” her mother bellowed as she yanked the handle. “Open this door.”
Julia pushed against the side of the bath and forced herself deeper under the water. The pounding only stopped when the yelling got louder. She remained under the water, pushing up her nose and mouth, taking small breaths without resurfacing. She knew what her parents were saying. Fire and brimstone and eternal damnation. She didn’t need to hear it. They could do it for hours and she knew this wasn’t going to end soon.
“The Principal called. The principal!” Her mother.
“You are grounded for the rest of your life.” Her father.
“Is this how we raised you?” Her mother.
“What were you thinking?” Her father.
“What must we tell everybody?” Her mother.
“How could you do this to us?” Her father.
“Julia, open this damn door.” Her mother.
More of the same. It was to be expected. It was the one thing they always warned her against. The dangerous world of social media. Their antiquated advice as outdated as their obsession with the antiques they tried to sell. She waited for the diatribe to finish. It didn’t.
“I’m phoning Pastor Simon. He’ll talk some sense into you.” Her father, when in doubt recruit the clergy.
She pulled the plug letting the cool water run out. Once it was empty enough she filled it with hot water again. Her parents went away at last, hoarse and angrier than before, but relieved at the thought of imminent holy intervention.
She looked at her dress hanging behind the door, chosen especially for the Valentine’s dance. It was red and strappy and perfect. Kevin should have been here by now, instead he was avoiding her and she was still in the bath. Her hair wet over her shoulders. Her mascara a black mess down her cheeks.
Her sister was back. “So, little miss perfect messed up.” Her voice full of laughter. “I think your video has gone viral. Why didn’t you say anything? You are a star, big sister.”
“Go away, Kelly.”
“If it is any consolation you look really good. The comments are blowing up. You have way more likes than everyone else on the list, but that is probably because you are wearing way less.”
Julia went under again.
“I wonder if Mom is angrier that you’re naked on the internet or that you did a striptease in your school uniform. Apparently, the principal was very interested. Who knew he could get so hot and bothered. He really let Mom have it when he called.”
She giggled. “Some of the guys recon you can make a living doing this. You know, after the schools rethink those scholarships. Swap the ivy leaf for a fig leaf.”
Julia stared at the light brown spots on the ceiling that were shaped like a rose. She wanted to stay here forever. In the quiet. In the deep.
“And come on, hurry up in there. Some of us still have plans for tonight. You can wallow in your room.”
She closed her eyes once more. The List was supposed to be a myth, until a drunken dare made it a reality. A list of the wildest girls in school made every year and voted for on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t supposed to be true. They said they deleted the videos.
She ran her finger along the blade of her dad’s razor. Typical of her father. It was an old fashioned one, the kind with the folding blade. She topped up the bath again, the water scalding her skin. The blade stung as she slipped it into her vein, cutting along the length as far as it would go. Clumsy, and with dripping fingers, she switched hands and found the next vein. She let the knife glide along the blue line, creating a matching red one. The blade dropped into the water, a dull metallic scrape as it settled next to her phone. She sunk down into the bath, calm and peaceful.
Red ribbons danced in the clear water creating heart shaped patterns around her arms, and her head and her belly, until the water turned pink. She didn’t fight this time. Luckily the pastor was already on his way.
If you want to participate in the challenge, join the closed group on Facebook: 12 Short Stories In 12 Months.
If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts.