Well, this was not an easy decision. Quite honestly, once upon a time, I was against the idea of holding contests here because I never like having to just pick one entry as a winner. It’s akin to picking a favorite candy—there isn’t just one in mind, is there?
Last week’s prompt was a quote (originating from my WIP, funny enough, that I thought would be a good prompt): “Who are we then, if not for our memories?”
The winner in my mind is a story that best encompasses the prompt. I loved each and every entry as they all accomplished that, but after a lot of thought, I chose Monacular Spectacular’s entry, Locked Together. You can read it on his blog or below. It is a captivating piece that delves into psychological realms of memory, trauma and illusion, be it as it unfolds throughout the story the capacity of how the mind changes is vast. But, don’t let me tell you—go on and read it. I’m waiting…
Locked Together by Monacular Spectacular.
“Who are we then, if not for our memories?”
The illness had cleansed the streets, no one was permitted outside for fear of infection, but the real threat was already in our homes.
The paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists said it was all part of their plan but when pressed would never confirm who ‘they’ were.
The absurdity of it aside, It didn’t feel like a sinister government initiative. No, it was bigger than that, divine retribution maybe.
It was no secret the world had gone to hell lately, maybe we deserved it.
People were losing themselves, forgetting who they were. It wasn’t just a severe case of cabin fever either.
I fear for my wife, Diane. She gives me looks and I see that I’m a stranger to her. She’s scared of me.
Poor thing, her nerves have been racked since the break-in. Some poor soul who ran through his rations too quickly maddened by hunger.
The only thing to hand at the time had been a butter knife. I made do with a show of force that surprised even me. Not so much cutting but mashing and scraping his face.
Diane cried over him long after I disposed of the body. Tragic, really, necessary but tragic.
That’s when the looks started. She’d forgotten who I was, my face disturbed her.
It bothered me too. I took down our wedding photos, holiday snaps. Locked them away in my wardrobe.
The murder had left a deeper wound than I thought. Every time I looked at the photos I saw his face. Not as it was, but how I had made it. A mottled canvas of red ribbons.
There was no room for anything else. I couldn’t remember the details of our honeymoon, anniversary, anything. Who are we if not for our memories?
The trauma contaminated my face and before I knew it, I had taken down every reflective surface, fearful of seeing that man’s face again.
Diane was of no comfort. How could she be? Half-crazed by an insidious infection and manic to boot.
She needed reassuring. He wasn’t coming back. I dragged her out back and exhumed him. If the photographs wouldn’t convince her…
His scarred face was just as repulsive now as it was before. Diane screamed in terror as I took hold of her to try and calm her down.
As I soothed her, a light caught my eye, coming from the grave. Gold. Had he stolen it during the fight?
Slipping it from his lifeless finger I showed it to Diane, overjoyed. “See?! This is why! We’re married and here’s the proof!”
Diane cried over him long after I disposed of the body. Tragic, really, necessary but tragic.
Congrats, Monacular Spectacular. Here’s your badge of horror for the Little Writing Workshop of Horrors’ Horror House Flash Fiction Contest #1:
Now below are the rest of the entries (in the order received). I hope you enjoy them just as well as I did.
Kismet by Michael Raven.
“If your memory serves you well, we were going to meet again.”
He looked up in the direction of the voice, winced, and looked back down. With a grunt, he continued rubbing the blade against the wet stone, honing the edge razor sharp. He’d well remembered she was going to return this day, though he’d hoped otherwise. Or maybe he’d waited for the day to arrive with bated breath.
“Aye. And so we have.” He paused enough to tuck the greasy tendrils of hair out of his face with a crooked and weathered finger. “I had wondered that you had forgotten our little… pact.”
She stepped into the sunlight so he could see her. She hadn’t changed in all these years. He supposed she must remain eternally young. Her black hair fell in loose curls on her bare porcelain shoulders, her lips flush and blood red. Her sense of style had changed, but the dress still spoke of the lines and shapes from when he was still in his foolish youth. Though he knew better, he still felt compelled to dance with her again.
“I called on them, and they saw your favors done,” she said tersely. “You got your words, you had your fame, your name was sighed by breathless young waifs anxious to bed you.”
He nodded. “For a time.” He examined the blade’s edge in the sunlight she’d not yet blocked. It was a fine blade. He’d bought it for this occasion. Only the best for him. Only the best. “And then it all evaporated. No one knows me, or my words except as something held now decadent and obscene. I haven’t been kissed, let alone fucked in… I forget how long.”
“Not my problem. You had your favors done and I care not the length or breadth of your enjoyment of those favors, only that I am paid for what I gave you.”
He sneered. “I don’t suppose you’d reconsider this arrangement.”
She shook her head.
“I didn’t think so, though I’d still like to keep at least one of those kisses until I move on. I’ll have nothing else if I pay you what you are owed.”
She sighed. “I’m too kind, you know. But I have a soft spot in my heart for our time together. I will leave you this one last gift but don’t test me further. My affection for you is not so great that I am willing to bargain further.”
He nodded without looking at her. “I’ll ask for nothing else save that you take my life when you are done.” He held out the blade to her, handle first. “Who are we then, without our memories? I’ll be nothing but an empty husk without them and I don’t care to go on without.”
“Really, you expect too much.” She took the blade from his hand all the same. “You’re very lucky I’m so very fond of you.”
“Yes, I am.” And he meant it and closed his eyes, waiting.
She leaned forward and kissed him, bruising his ancient lips with hers as she breathed him in. With her, she took all of his experiences and memories, his agonies and ecstasies, his highs and lows — filling her lungs with everything he was until not a shred of his past remained.
It would sustain her.
And, as she had promised, she gifted him with a more gentle kiss, one like she’d seduced him with so many years ago. It was a kiss of cinnamon, black silk, and lace, her breath like the desert breeze. He breathed into him a single new memory.
He opened his eyes. “Are you a goddess?”
It was what he’d asked before.
“No,” she said, suddenly sad. “But I am close enough as far as you’re concerned.”
She allowed herself a single tear as the blade crossed his throat, letting his life pour out of him in scarlet. He smiled while he died.
In the manner, as she’d arrived, she rode the wind to places unknown.
Memories of the World on Fire by Julie Karey.
“Stories are wondrous things. …And they are dangerous.”–Thomas King
Little Billie Jean King pushes her forehead against my cheek and touches my arm with her paw.
I can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds these days. I feel like I can’t see, or is it more like being adrift in the middle of the ocean after falling out of a burning plane, scorching in the sun, tossing about in the waves?
I lie in bed waiting for my mind to wake up and willing it to stop throbbing for no apparent reason.
“Who are we if not for our memories, Billie Jean?”
Same, same, I think.
A failing working memory–normally like a boat across the ocean from one comprehensible moment to another–is disorienting and downright scary. I have nothing to put my feet upon, and even when I think I’ve found a footing, the horizon goes dark. Who am I? Where am I? I was going to do something, but now I can’t remember what it was. I had a glimmer of understanding, and now it’s gone.
I now stand listlessly in the kitchen, head cocked slightly to one side. My mind tosses and turns.
Sometimes I think, well, what does it matter anyway in the grand scheme of things? I am relatively safe, still have a home, and have food in my fridge, etc. But then I take a step or two and forget that I’m ok and struggle to touch down again.
How did I get here?
That I know. Pushing too hard, persisting too long, fighting the good fight against too many odds, aiding and abetting, doing right, making right, and not letting up.
You’d think knowing how I got here would form a track for me to follow through on, but this knowing is too abstract to form a logical path. I’m also not so sure logic will lead me true from this point. And in the anxiety of confusion, my mind pushes away the sleep it needs–it wrestles with smoke and reaches its feet down and down into a bottomless ocean.
And here I am again. “Everywhere you go, there you are,” a wise woman I know says once in a while. How true, I think.
But where is here? I could say that here is the kitchen; here is now, June 3rd, 2020; here is standing in mismatched socks under LED light.
My mind goes dark and I draw once again an anxious blank. What was I onto again? As my cooler friends would say, IDK. Also possibly, IDC.
“Well,” I throw my hands and eyebrows up in the air, “I might as well make myself a coffee and have a cigarette because clearly, these will help.” I know what I really need is a nap, but I smoke a cigarette anyway and harbour the ensuing anxiety.
Yesterday I had a friend, but today he is gone.
People tell me, and I know, that I need self-care, but the world wants more of me than this, and I can’t reconcile. I forget who I am in the sea of voices and tidal waves. This last one is a tsunami of urgent uprising that has turned me, tumbled me into forgetting, into remembering only the tidal wave itself and my tumbling.
I reach for something to hold onto. “What?” …something real. “Real.” Like a pomegranate or a knife?
But does trying to grab hold of something concrete in this violent mixing, this clashing of needs and forceful requirements, of violent enforcement and rightful, rebellious rage help me to remember, or does it simply rip me apart?
Billie Jean smiles with her eyes.
I feel like I need to let go of the concrete and cling to Kindness and the Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, and forget who I am for a spell so that I can remember that I am not only smaller but also much larger than this tidal wave, and the concrete ground will follow from this.
I must create, reinvent myself through rest and forgetting how to be torn between forces.
“That’s just it, isn’t it, Billie Jean?”
I must nap, fall off from this torment, this torrent, and rest in my own ocean, and speak to the otters, sea ducks and turtles, listen and receive the earth of Life they have the power like no one else to bring up from beneath all to the soles of my feet, to rest in gratitude and in the context of Life upon the back of the turtle.
Forget to remember, and remember to forget who I am. Woman. GoC desk jockey. Smart. Chronically ill. Burning up with the just anger and hurt of the world.
Billie Jean stands on my chest. Now back in bed, I have this cooling cascade of ideas…
…to let my body and sole soul bring me down and then back up again to rest upon the divers and climbers of the deep, to learn and receive and be reborn, while the world mind ocean tosses and bucks. Our Indigenous foremothers and fathers know true. I am white, but no less, they came before me. This is true.
The land I stand on, stolen not only from our Indigenous Elders but from Life itself, has liquified beneath our forceful feet.
It’s still turtles all the way down. This is also true.
Somewhere I hear an imperative: “Shift the scorpion off your back, and let him sink or swim, let the poison from his sting dispel in your ocean and destroy its hook in your back. Let it destroy your dependence upon carrying him to reach his shore.”
“Hmmm,” my far less deep and open mind responds. “Ok. Let me think on that while I nap.” And again a door opens somewhere in there… “Forget the tidal wave world. Let me remember the turtles and my own dark sea of stars.”
I think, as if for the first time, “Who are we if we do not remember?” Good question. Perhaps the most important of all questions.
I let out a heavy breath and settle onto my pillow. “Ok, Billie Jean, down I go.”
And little Billie Jean King Sphynx rested beside me and purred.
Memories by Harsh.
“Hey, Elena! I am home.”
“Who? Who are you? I don’t know you. Get out of my house!”
“Hey! Hey! Calm down. Look, it’s me. Rob. Your husband.”
“You are not Rob. Get away from me!”
“Calm down, Elena. Look closely. It’s me.”
Elena suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She couldn’t remember anything. She had no memories. She was always afraid of people, thinking they will take her away. It was getting too difficult to control her.
Rob was helpless. He couldn’t see the love of her life in this condition. But there was nothing he could do. He took care of her. He did everything he could.
But he was aware that things would not change. Those days would not come back. She was not the same anymore. All the memories of her and them came flashing before his eyes. He said to himself, disheartened,
“Who are we then, if not for our memories?”
Recounting Stars by Matt P.
The sky’s overhung with laden slaty clouds. The distant day is veiled, but for whom do they mourn?
I hear percussions crack the sky. I always fear it, but not now. Why- for I see a boy broken in his eyes. Sans raining, his sculpted face’s flooded. And lightning claws his soul to scars. At the cliff’s edge, he waits for the angel in his punt.
“Hey, a terrible day to go for a swim, no?” I called.
“Test the waters, maybe.” And I see that shattered smile. His universe is an explosion of stars, and I’m there just falling.
I sit with the broken boy and share his reflective silence then look into his icy eyes to offer fiery heat. I was lost in the labyrinth of his silver flecks then felt his burning tears in my face and his lips on mine.
“Do you remember?” She asked.
Drifting yacht off the coast. We lay on a bed, watching the dusk painting starry sky, recounting stars. Her heat is a sensation I’ll miss, her voice as gentle as the waft of air, and the velvet touch of her lips.
“How can I not?” I whispered back. I hold strings in my desperate grasp, and she’s trying to break it. “Don’t go.”
“I can’t stay, John. The heat’s fleeting.” I look at her orbs- all is dull.
“Do you remember our first date? We went stargazing.” I lay my head on her chest as the old wrenching pain’s unleashed. “I was just watching you then and beheld my universe. It’s the first you said you love me, and I’m content. We’ve got it all planned. I’ll marry you under the stars and have three kids running in our home. And-” I close my eyes, stung with unshed tears as I race time. “Did you regret not fighting it?”
“Fight for lost victory? No. I’d do this with you all over again- create moments. For who are we then, if not for our memories?” She held me tight. “And know that I can only remember loving you. I love you, my little doc! You’ve done it all, now’s time. Let me go, please.” Her voice cracked as I felt her chest rise as she steals a breath. I tighten my hold to her.
Memories flash as I listen to the thump of her heart. Memories sneak out of my eyes and crawl down my face. I lay here feeling the fleeting flare of her star. I lay here remembering, in a now cold, empty silence.
Again, I’m ruled by the demons she once locked.
Memories by PatBunny.
You’re watching through the window. I see your eyes wander from my face to what I’m holding. My eyes are pleading with yours, and I see you hesitate a bit longer. But you finally look away and close the curtains.
I pluck up the courage to walk forward, towards your front door. I’m standing there, right in front of you, a brick wall separating us. My finger reaches out, and I press the bell.
I’m waiting, like an idiot. You made your intentions clear. You want to forget. You want to start over. You want me gone. But stupid me, I’m not a quitter.
The door opens, and you step outside. You close the door behind you, and I involuntarily step back to give you space. Space. You wanted space. I remember.
“Please. I’m sorry. I’m…I’m really trying. Just, please? One more time– ”
You interrupt me, and I want to roll my eyes, but it won’t help my case. “This…this is not going to happen.” Your hands are tucked in your pockets, and I want you to reach out and take what I’m holding. Just take it…I’m searching your face, to see if you have even an inkling of a feeling…
“Forget me.” You say it so abruptly, that I suddenly flinch. I don’t want to, I’m stubborn like that. “No,” I reply firmly. “I can’t. I want to remember you. I still want us to– ”
You smile at me sadly. “Who are we then, if not for our memories?”
I’m standing there, waiting like an idiot for you to explain that statement.
I see you wipe the tears from your face, dry the back of your hands on the sides of your jeans, and turn around. As you take a few steps forward, my eyes blur with tears, and I turn around too. I don’t want to see you leave. Not yet. Not while I’m still holding this, standing in front of your door, waiting for your face to appear on the other side of that window.
I don’t want this to be my last memory of us.
Untitled by Chris Ludke
I have a pretty good memory for a life long pot smoker and it’s a good thing. People say you should live in the moment and forget the past but I can’t relate to that. My memories are my life and they’re my path and no one else’s. The things I did, the things that happened to me made me who I am, and if I remember everything I can understand my life better, the good and the bad.
Just today I remembered the times my Dad set up his still in the house! I had completely forgotten it until now. I didn’t mind much that he was probably breaking the law but it smelled horrible! And it stunk up the whole house! For days!
He and the neighbor were making wine first then he switched to making the strong stuff. It wasn’t moonshine because that’s from corn. This was something distilled that starts from wine. I know not what it was except that I sure didn’t want to drink it.
The contraption took up the whole kitchen and eventually you could watch clear hot liquid dripping out of a glass tube into a bottle. My mom never complained about it, but she didn’t talk much anyway.
One time I was playing in the cellar and accidentally broke the glass tube which had another glass tube inside it. I think I sat on it. I didn’t tell Dad and he didn’t notice. I guess his days of distilling booze were over.
That’s all I can tell you about my strange childhood in this story. This is the kind of thing that made a kid grow up to be an artist.
Stay tuned for tomorrow! Every Wednesday there is a new horror house flash fiction prompt to tackle. Oh, the fun we are going to have.