Before the ballad

2 Oct

This week I thought I’d take a break from ruminating on fiction writing and post some of it instead.  Big thanks to Kokkieh for blogging the idea that got me going:  Write a 300 word story, ideally mystery or crime, based on the title of a song (Swing Life Away), without hearing or listening to the lyrics first.

I’d never written in this genre before and it sounded like a fun way to take a break from fantasy, so I gave it a try.

By cheating.  (My story’s quite a bit more than 300 words).  I did resist the urge to revise it though because I saw the challenge was tagged as Flash Fiction.  Not too sure what that means but I’m guessing it doesn’t involve extensive editing.  In any case, I thought it would also be fun to see how quickly I could write and post something (sadly, me and speed and writing have never been in the same sentence before, despite years of yearning).

OK, with trepidation, here’s my attempt:

Swing life away

She hangs sticks, small ones, from the little wooden frame.  The cord she is using is frayed, but it’s thin – and even better, golden – so it looks good.  The wood clacks together.  Good.

But does it look right?  She scratches her chin, sticks a tongue out, on purpose.

“Be ladylike!” says the voice of her mother.  But, only her voice, because she isn’t here silly.  She’s at home baking, or something.

And, I’m only six.  She pulls her tongue in, enjoying the sound.  Like a frog would make.

Watching the sticks clack together again, she supposes she does want to grow up.  They dance and she smiles.  They move just like the ones at the market; the ones in a painted house with curtains; a little house, so little that the man with the red face can stand above it and can move his hands and make the little painted people dance.  He pretends that they aren’t attached to strings, that they are moving on their own.  She knows better.  Perhaps she already is grown up.

And it’s still fun.  And now she has her own little dancing people.  She taps the string again.  If only her sticks had a house…  Although, if they were painted, it might not matter.

The great wooden frame that soars so high in the sky before her that it hurts her neck to look at, it doesn’t have a house.  It does have strings though.  Big ones.  They even have big loops.  But they have no people attached to dance yet.  How marvelous will it be when they do!

Here comes Geordie.  She frowns.  He walks over Newgate’s cobbled square, not looking at the place where it grows wide before the stone building and the great wooden frame.  This may mean trouble.  He’s also frowning.  But probably because his face is just stuck like that.  She giggles.

“Emily! What are you doing here?” he says, chimney-hat nearly falling onto the tails of his jacket because his head has swung back in surprise.

“I’m here to see the show,” she says, realizing her mistake right then.  Didn’t he just tell her, when she was watching the red-faced man and his painted people, that there was work to be done?  Or studying, or something.  No time to watch someone swing life away.

But he suddenly doesn’t look cross.  Just sad.

“Let’s go,” he says.  “This is an awful place.”

She takes his hand and does not look back.  No point in upsetting him.  Even if he is the strangest brother in the world and makes no sense at all.

 

Copyright 2013 Nate J Adam

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4 Responses to “Before the ballad”

  1. KokkieH October 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Hi Nate. Thanks for joining in the challenge. Flash fiction has nothing to do with the speed. It merely refers to the length (anything between 100 and 1000 words, depending on who you ask). Keeping it short is part of the challenge for me (which at times involve extensive editing) and I picked 300 words as you can fit in a bit of plot, setting and characterisation in that length. But my philosophy is your blog, your rules, so cheat away (I do as well).

    I have to say I think you failed as far as the mystery-genre is concerned. This reads like fantasy, but deliciously dark fantasy at that. And this kid sounds like she could have walked out of a Stephen King novel. I like it.

    • Nate Adam October 2, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      Ha ha! Thanks Kokkie. Back to the mystery/crime drawing board for me!

      My idea was to have a child looking at a gallows (so my vague crime link) and have a chat with someone named Geordie. He’s the subject of an old ballad about someone who was hanged for poaching. Anyway, I was far too vague, but it was good fun to do, so thanks again for the suggestion!

      Oh, thanks too for the information on flash fiction. I definitely have to explore it some more.

      • KokkieH October 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

        There are quite a number of blogs that contain mostly flash fiction. Just search for it in the reader. You’re sure to get many options to choose from. I only found out about it myself last year. They’re also called short short stories. The idea is that you write a complete story in less than 1000 (sometimes 100) words. My song title stories are often closer to scenes than complete stories, though. But then I made up the rules for this challenge so I can break them as well 😉

        By the way, I really liked how you incorporated the actual title into the text of the story.

  2. Nate Adam October 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    Thanks again! I’ll check for those on the reader for sure. I’m constantly in danger of getting long winded, so this seems like a really good way to practice the art of not straying into that.

    Heh, I like your ideas on breaking the rules too. Makes things a bit more fun 😉

    Thanks as well for your comment on the title insertion into the text of the story. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, so really cool you liked it!

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