Throughout August (and a little beyond), Writer in Motion is challenging writers to write a <1000 word story based on a prompt, and I’m taking part! If you want to find out more about Writer In Motion, click here.
For this final round, I was assigned an editor and worked with Tyler Zeoli (website|twitter). The feedback I got was so encouraging – basically, this is perfect, change only these few words. It was such a nice email to get, as I’d been so nervous about the story and convinced I’d utterly gutted it in the trim passes. Given how new the style and format was to me, I’m so proud of this story.
It’s also a bit of a relief to know there’s no more work needed on it, as the other weeks during the project have been utterly manic attempts to balance it with the final edits for my book. But betas went out last weekend, so now I am diving into research for my next project (and deliberately not thinking that my book is out there in friends’ hands).
OK, yes, this is 1001 words, but I am not going to quibble over that one word.
CW: grief, loss
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink
You approach the cabin with the setting sun. It’s always setting when you arrive; a place frozen in time, needing witnesses to fall back into the march of hours, days, seasons.
Thighs cramping from the long climb, you pause with the sun on your back. The air is chill with approaching night, your shadow lengthening before you, darkening the gorse.
The cabin is dirty gold, squatting among the dark-green plants, duck-blue hills, and grey-blue sky. Time weathers its concrete sides like a toddler’s inescapable handprints. The shutters, once a bright red, are dull maroon mottled with pale wood from too many repairs.
You trudge the last fifty meters, feet acting on instinct. The rusty lock fights you but you shoulder the creaking door open and sling your bag onto the bed. The springs squeak in faint protest, too tired to complain.
One worn concrete floor, four concrete walls tacked with faded pictures of family. A corrugated metal roof rises and falls in frozen waves. Noisy when the rain comes. You’re not sure you’ll notice. A table and some rickety chairs, an empty water filter and no tap. There’s a natural spring somewhere about – you’ll deal with that tomorrow. Wooden shelves bear dusty tin mugs and battered plates.
That’s it. No sheets, no curtains – nothing soft. But it’s quiet. No one asking how you are, if you want anything, their well-meaning thoughts drowning out your own, deafening in their persistence.
A few sleeping bags lie in the drawers under the bed. They smell fusty, but you make a nest, shuck your bra, and climb in. Single bed – good. Did you ever bring–?
You stop the thought. Turn to face the wall so you can’t see the empty room.
It’s the cold that wakes you, and the pressure on your bladder. You grab a jumper, stuff your feet into boots, stumble to the outhouse – a wooden bench over a hole in the ground. You should wash – that’s what people do – but that means trekking uphill for water. Cousin’s been talking about laying pipes to bring water but Ti– You stop again. Can’t think the name.
You dig through your bag, a random assortment of clothes. Your phone winks sleek and grey, but you forgot the charger, and the socket dangles from the wall. No signal, and the point was to escape from sympathy you can’t handle. The family didn’t think you should come alone – they want you close, in hug-reach.
Your finger hovers over the power button, but you stop. An orange ticket pokes from the case. Dad set an alarm to ensure you leave on time. If you don’t catch the right train, they’ll send out search parties, never trust you alone again. So you turn it onto airplane mode and stuff it away.
A few old books sit on a shelf, colours bleached from the spines, pages yellow and sagging. Bird-watching books and a Bible. Better than nothing. You drag the old rocking chair out into a tree’s shade and cocoon yourself in a sleeping bag. It’s windy today.
Rolling hills misted in grey undulate as far as you can see. Sun behind you, sky pale blue. A few birds wheel overhead, swooping and diving in pairs. You drift off.
When you wake, the sun is overhead, mist burnt off and shade gone. There’s a head bobbing up the slope. A man, a bit older than Dad, with stout boots and thick trousers. You know him – you know everyone in the hamlet– but his name eludes you. He smiles, that soft, sad smile everyone’s been giving you. “Hello,” he says gently. “How are you?”
How can you be anything when you’re missing half of you? Feels like more – like everything’s gone but this sliver keeping you going whether you want to or not.
“We were so sorry to hear it. So young.”
You can’t muster a smile. Lips won’t bend. Can’t find the words – haven’t found a suitable response in the last three weeks. So long already?
He nods awkwardly, then removes an obnoxiously pink coolbag from his backpack. “I brought food. Marjorie made sure to include potatoes pasty – your favourite.”
Your family probably asked him to check on you every day.
When it becomes clear you have nothing to offer, he sets the bag down and goes home.
A dry throat drags you from the cocoon, and you open the coolbag. You ignore the paper-wrapped objects and tupperware, but down half the apple juice without realising it.
Sun’s too warm, so you chuck the sleeping bag on the grass, hoodie following. Move the chair into the shade and fetch the water container. Once it’s cooler, you’ll get water and eat this evening.
Sit back in the chair and grab a book. Open it randomly – psalms – pages wafer-thin and slippery under your fingers.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink into the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
There’s more, but you can’t go on. Not when it speaks exactly of the tides lapping over your head, the dull weight dragging you under, stealing your air. A splodge of water on the paper, turning it transparent. Another tear follows, and, suddenly, it’s a blur of black and white as you sob. You cried when you first heard and then at the funeral – more water pushing you under. This time… it just comes. Doesn’t add, doesn’t diminish. Just expresses something that numbness can’t.
The sun lowers, and you close the Bible. There’s more – much more – to the Psalm beyond the desperate cry. But you can’t read it now. You get to your feet and pick up the water carrier instead. The spring isn’t far, and then you can nibble that pasty.
Maybe tomorrow you’ll read a little further. Maybe it will take a few days, weeks, until you reach the next verse. Not today, though, but it will come.
Read the rest of this series:
- WEEK 1 – Thoughts on Prompt
- WEEK 2 – First Draft
- WEEK 3 – First Revision
- WEEK 4 – Second Revision
- WEEK 6 – Reflections
The Bible verses used above are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.