Picture Challenge Story

The challenge: to write 500 words about this picture. I went for an exact word count.

 

A chill spread across the land as the wind blew in from the sea. The trees shivered in response, awaiting the opening of the skies. A clap of thunder heralded the threat, but the promise of rain was enough to make the trees tremble with excitement. The clouds were dark and heavy, ready to burst, ready to shower the land. A glimmer of light flickered through the clouds. Not lightning, but the Sun itself, forcing its way through, threatening to overthrow the darkness, to dry up the rain before it had begun.

The trees grew restless. They had need of sunlight, they had need of rain, yet where did their loyalties lie? ‘Who cares about the rain?’ cried one youthful tree, merely a sapling not three years since, ‘there are all sorts of rivers and lakes around here’. The elder trees were not at all impressed, after what seemed like an age one of them replied, ‘you know nothing of the replenishment of the soil, young one, you know nothing of drought, though perhaps one would do you well.’ The outspoken younger tree rocked in the wind, deep in thought. ‘I heard thunder, what if there’s lightning?’ A susurration swept through the forest, for the electric threat was all too familiar to some of the older trees, and the younger had heard terrible tales of flames and fear. ‘You’ll be begging for rain if fire catches,’ declared a particularly stout tree who had seen his fair share of flames.

The argument raged back and forth in the bustling wind, until one of the oldest trees in the woodland pointed out that it was not in their control, but that whatever happened there would be good and bad. They fell silent, but for the wind buffeting them to and fro, and watched as the battle between light and cloud commenced. The contrast of the dull clouds and the pure light cast strange serpentine shapes in the sky. They appeared almost to be writhing, attempting to strangle the Sun and subdue it. Screams echoed across the land from the serpent’s many mouths as the heads were forced apart. The Sun was winning, forcing its way through the vaporous vipers, illuminating the forest below.

In the distance the skies grew darker and heavier as the clouds were forced back by the Sun. Before long their hissing could be heard as they proclaimed defeat and released their rain elsewhere. The light of the Sun was soaked up by the trees, young and old, as they began to discuss the hostility in the heavens.  The young trees could not hold back their excitement, nor could they stop themselves from gloating. The older tree shook slightly, ‘let them have their moment,’ he thought, ‘for soon they will be dreaming of rain, wishing for the return of the serpents. The sounds of thunder may yet be the music they choose to dance to, if they ever should feel the fire of dragons or the damage of drought.’

Possible writing project

I recently had an idea for writing which I might actually follow through with. Normally I have big ideas and never get round to starting them, but with this I want it to be different. I intend to write some zombie apocalypse fiction, well aware that it is popular at the moment and that it seems like a bandwagon I’m jumping on. In a sense it is, as my love for zombies waxes and wanes every so often, depending on how much I immerse myself in the fiction. I took part in 2.8 Hours Later last year and would thoroughly recommend it, especially if you love zombie fiction. My current interest is not due to World War Z, though I have seen it and did enjoy it, though I wouldn’t exactly think of it as a zombie film. It is because I finally got round to watching The Walking Dead and have even managed to get my hands on the comics, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

Last year I wrote a zombie short story, which you can read here. I’d figured out some of the logistics of a zombie threat, hinted at mostly, though one of my main ideas turned out not to be as original as I’d hoped. I went for the fungal-infection version of zombies, which appears to be becoming popular. The rage virus types would scare the crap out of me, but I wouldn’t call them zombies. I prefer the slow, lumbering types. My more recent short story is meant to be more touching and is set towards the end of the major conflicts, or at least well into them.

I’m thinking of writing a series of short stories which will be collected as a larger whole. They are provisionally called Where Were You? but I am considering changing that. Some will be very short, others will be quite long, and will each be about a character at the time of a zombie outbreak. Each story will explore what it was like for them to survive in the place they happen to have been at the time. I’ve been thinking of how much luck would be involved in such a scenario. There are times in my life where I know that I would have stood little to no chance, whereas in some locations or with certain people there are more possibilities for survival. At a music festival, for example, I’d have been completely overwhelmed, whereas those rare occasions spent on an army base would have improved things somewhat. My main decisions now involve style and localities.

Unnamed short story

This was my latest entry in a Facebook short story competition, I don’t think I got any votes this time. I can’t be bothered to give it a name. I actually got to choose one of the topics, but ran out of time to submit my choice (they used something from a comment I had made which wasn’t completely serious and didn’t change it later when I had an idea).  The topic choices were:

“1) A soldier (male or female) returning from war and the reception by those at home. The war can be past, present, future or fictional.

2) Amnesia – take it any direction you want. ”

Enjoy…

 

The street was empty, fortunately. The front gate was only slightly open, a good sign, I thought. I crept carefully past the side of the house and noticed that the back gate was still closed. I used the wooden gate to help myself get up onto the shed next to it, allowing me to check the back garden. It was clear. The back door to the house was wide open. I’d left it open only a crack but expected it to have moved. I carefully dropped down off the shed and made my way back to the front of the house with my crossbow ready. Underneath my old bedroom window was a ledge, with a chest height wall nearby. I slung the crossbow over my shoulder, easily lifted myself on to the low wall, and then reached up to the ledge to prepare myself for the difficult part. I spotted some movement near the garages opposite my house, a safe distance away, but I couldn’t resist having a shot. The bolt flew from the crossbow and lodged itself in his brain. I never miss, at least not when they aren’t chasing me. I made a mental note to collect the bolt later; it would probably be broken, but was worth collecting nonetheless.

I struggled to lift myself onto the ledge, scraping my chin and arms in the process. I wasn’t as agile as I used to be, when I’d sneak off out of the house after being grounded. I’d left the window open a crack, just enough so that others wouldn’t notice it. I opened the window as far as it would go and threw the crossbow onto the bed at the other side. Hauling myself through took a lot more effort, I felt like I was going to tear myself in two when I rested all of my weight on my stomach, but I made it through eventually. My bedroom was unchanged, so I carefully and quietly gathered a few supplies. I had a couple of survival guides, some weaponry which was mostly useful for display but could come in handy, a first aid kit I used to use whilst camping, an old torch which needed fixing, and considered taking a guitar as they are always useful for boosting morale. I left them all on the bed, except for one of the swords, and tried the door.

The door had been locked from the outside using a very simple lock. I knew that I had to make some noise to open it, there was no way around that, so I pulled as hard as I could. In the silence of the house it sounded like an explosion, I struggled to keep calm, but nothing came. I breathed a sigh of relief, then stopped breathing when I saw her. She was lying outside my room, not moving, she looked as though she was sleeping. Her fur couldn’t hide the bones that had become prominent through her skin. As my eyes began to well, I forced myself to step carefully over her body, so that I could check every room in the house. The whole place was untidy and stank, but each room was empty. In the kitchen the sink had overflowed, but the tap was no longer dripping. I’d left it to steadily fill up so that they wouldn’t struggle to find water.

I saw no sign of the other dog, she must have escaped. She was capable of climbing the high back wall, but she must have been petrified or desperate in order to do so. She could still be out there and I might never find her. I felt sick. I gave myself a moment and resisted drinking from the water in the sink. My whole body was shaking as I returned upstairs. She always waited outside my room when I was in there, and she was still waiting, even though she was gone. I cradled her body in my arms, slumped against the wall, and wept. I remembered the welcome home I used to get; even when I had only been gone for half an hour they would throw themselves at me, wanting to lick my face, wagging their tails, their whole bodies wriggling in excitement. This time there was no such welcome. I tried to take comfort in the thought that she had not been attacked or eaten, but all I could think of was her starving to death waiting for my return. She’d always loved food. She used to beg for it too much, but I’d have given anything to have her annoying me, pestering for leftovers.

I tried to tell myself that I did the right thing. If I had taken them with me we would almost certainly have all died. Those… things, they were attracted to sound, and my dogs are noisy creatures. Were noisy creatures. I felt selfish, I felt like I should have given them a chance with me. Other dogs had survived with their owners, but I panicked and fled, leaving them without food. They were my family, I had a responsibility to look after them, and I failed. I don’t know what I expected. I deserved no fanfare, but I still had hope. Even with the dead stalking you, their companionship would make it bearable. I came looking for something to live for, I came looking for the love they gave, but found only death. That’s all there was in this world – death. It was the only constant, whether the dead got to you or you were simply unable to live in this world, death was the only guarantee.

I looked down at the animal in my arms, she’d waited for me, but the other got away. There was some slim hope. I kissed her forehead, tears streaming down my face, and whispered “Goodbye”. I laid her down gently, found a blanket in a nearby cupboard and wrapped her up in it. There might still be time to find the other alive; I might still get that fanfare.