Late last year we did something similar to the current ongoing Flash Fiction Challenge. Then, we spent five weeks (here, here, here, here, and here) writing 200 words each week. Each week we used the previous work of someone or some group to build on. It was pretty fun.
This time we were supposed to write 500 words as the first half of a 1,000 word story, but as expected, Grand Exulted Potentate Supreme Chuck changed the rules on us. Turns out our 500 words are only the first third (at least, until the rules change again) of a story, so our task is now to pick someone else’s first 500 words and add the “middle” 500 words of our own. Supposedly this means that next week we will all pick some other 1,000 words created by two other authors and finish it. Or at least, add 500 more words. You get the drift.
My first 500 words from last week was picked up by Jemima Pett and her continuation of my story can be found here. I really liked what she did and there are many suitably creepy things for us to figure out on our own.
The first 500 words that I picked is “Twinkle” from Aspen Gainer — her original post and website can be found here. I wanted to try to keep the tone of Aspen’s first half, while switching to Tomas’ point of view, and with luck, leaving it open-ended enough so that someone will tell us how it ends (or at least where it goes from here) next week. I hope you enjoy it.
TWINKLE (Act Two)
Act One (by Aspen Gainer)
“I’d like to go to space,” Katarina told her friend Tomas, tentative but confident. She turned the phrase over in her mind, testing the shape of the words in her mouth.
People laughed at her when she talked about going, but it felt more and more right each time. Even Tomas doubted her, writing it off as one of ‘Kat’s weird, wishy-washy ideas’ that would never pan out.
To be honest, Katarina even laughed at herself. Every time she thought about space travel as a real thing–not just a Heinlein-Asimov-Bradbury fuelled frenzy of excitement–after the awed giggles bubbled up through her tight chest and out of her upturned lips, she would shake her head just like her friends and tell herself why she’d never go.
“You’re too fat,” she’d say to the pink, blobby girl who lived in the mirror. She envisioned her reflection trying to squeeze into a spacesuit, coaxing and yanking an imaginary helmet over her chubby cheeks in the idle hope those cheeks wouldn’t trip up this one small step for Kat-kind.
“You’re too stupid,” she’d trace in the dust on her dresser while getting ready for bed. Even at night when she dreamed it was about her unsuitability for space travel. She’d find herself in a classroom, deep in a maze somewhere in NASA, and the man at the whiteboard would tell her she could fly whenever she wanted…after she solved the math problem on the page in front of her. Lost in space even in her dream, she doodled and doodled until the hand was just a skeleton and the paper had long since disintegrated.
Katarina knew she’d never go. She was nothing, no one, completely unworthy of these dreams. She was the night shift girl, the alcoholic’s daughter, not the Bondar-Lightyear-infinity-and-beyond type. Katarina Yosefa was tied irreparably to the gravid Earth, forever unable to ascend. She was not made of the right, light stuff.
But her heart was there anyway, buoyant beyond all sagacity, beyond the sky, beyond atmosphere and into the deep, vast nothingness–the emptiness that should have terrified her but reassured her instead.
Up there in the vast black space, she left here behind, left her behind. No heavy, cold blue-water world with all of its fluid, flexing pain. Up there she could lose herself in the searing-hot sun and empty darkness. She could drift in nothingness, alone and apart from everything she had ever known about life, about humanity, about feeling.
In space, there was nothing, her few friends told her, but for Katarina there was everything. Anything. The black, vast emptiness was potential, creation; she could build her own world and a life that came from within her.
Tomas, who never laughed at her, rang her doorbell one night for coffee. He hadn’t heard from her in more than a week, and while this was not unusual, it suddenly made him uneasy. There was no answer so he went in. The empty house chilled his skin.
Act Two (by Paul Willett)
The house was overflowing with an oppressive silence as Tomas crept through the downstairs rooms. Katarina had never allowed him to come in and had never said why. Tomas had been curious, but had always respected her wishes. Trespassing now felt like a betrayal.
Everything seemed to be in place and in order, but decorated from a period half a lifetime past. The main room was arranged around a low table serving as an altar, holding only a single, framed picture of a young woman. She stood next to a small airplane, one arm draped across the propeller, the other on her hip. Her head was thrown back with laughter and her expression was one of undiluted triumph.
On the couch and floor were scattered a multitude of empty liquor bottles. Tomas carefully picked his way around them in the gloom.
Creeping up the stairs, Tomas could see four doors leading off from the landing. The one directly in front of him led to a bathroom, dominated by a claw-foot bathtub. Mismatched towels lay in a pile under the freestanding sink.
Testing the door on the far left, Tomas found it locked. The middle door was ajar and swung open easily at his touch.
Inside, the dim light showed little, but the smell was revolting. As Tomas’ eyes adjusted he could see chaos, garbage and litter mixed with weeks’ worth of discarded clothing. The outline of someone was sprawled across the bed, far too large to be Katarina.
Had Kat’s father finally drunk himself into a grave he had pursued for years? Tomas was seized by fear and indecision, trying to think of what he should do and how he could explain his presence here. When the body suddenly convulsed with a snore and collapsed back into unconsciousness, Tomas thought his heart would burst.
Backing out, Tomas turned to the final door. This must be Katarina’s room. It was clean but cluttered, the dresser top covered in books about Mars and space travel and galaxies. The window was open, thin curtains fluttering with the breeze. Scraps of paper covered the bed, pages filled with doodles of alien landscapes and strangely beautiful ships of the night. The ceiling was covered with phosphorescent stars and moons only faintly glowing a pale and sickly shade of green, their energy from today’s sunlight nearly spent.
“Katarina?” he softly called. There was no answer, but a light behind him caught his eye. He spun, but saw nothing.
“Katarina?” he called again, a touch louder. Again, no sound could be heard but for the rustling curtains, but this time Tomas saw a short, faint increase in the light from the dim stars on the ceiling, as gentle as a sigh.
“Katarina? Where are you?” Tomas asked the emptiness more urgently. “Talk to me, I’m worried about you. What’s going on? Kat?” With each invocation of her name, a wave of light rippled across the plastic constellations, each swell of photons successively brighter.