Congratulations to Kenneth Yu, our 2009 winner of the Halloween Flash Fiction Contest, and well done to Eden Robins and April Reyes for their talented, top three stories. Read Kenneth Yu’s winning short story below.
Lost for Words
by Kenneth Yu
When she was young, the words flowed freely, fearlessly, seemingly forming on their own into sentences and paragraphs, pages upon pages, blending together until they became stories.
She drew scenes with almost no effort, conjuring them with a vividness that took control of her readers’ imaginations. She could make her readers cry or laugh, fill them with anger or melancholy, leave them sighing in bittersweet pleasure, or stir them with high inspiration, all as she so directed with the words she chose.
She saw herself simply, as a conduit. Her hands were the means by which she held the parchment in place, by which she moved the quill over paper, by which the ink plotted words, making worlds. The ways the tales sprung forth stayed a mystery to her, a kind of fantastic magic which she never pondered long or deeply upon, reveling instead in that they came to be set down and indeed written.
Every completed tale filled her soul with a supreme sense of fulfillment. In stature and strength she fluorished, finding both her confidence and her identity.
She longed for that time, when she was young.
Friends told her she would heal, but she knew she never would. How to erase from bitter memory a loving husband lost in a storm? Or a daughter, to grave illness, though much deadlier to that child her festering heartbreak for a lost father?
Now, she lived alone, locked away in her all-too-quiet home, carrying the sadness of a mind and heart no longer unburdened. The sharp, tangible pain of loss slowly turned to numbness and drudgery. From her bed, she spent many nights wishing into the darkness for the power to shed the weight of life as easily as she shed her garments. Come the morning’s harsh light, she found her wishes never granted.
One day, even behind muted whispers made in low breaths, she overheard from an open window the talk of her fellow storytellers out on the sidewalk, at once pitying and envious: “What happened to her is unfortunate, but now she will use her sadness to weave even more word-magic, better than before, and the rest of us will seem all the lesser!”
Somewhere in her insentience, she bristled. That she would use her family for this type of gain, that she would use their passing to seek her own, selfish fulfillment, seemed insulting to their memory. She resolved never to do so, and gathered herself in a last, great effort.
She stopped the words.
In her haste she still gave small thought to the consequences. A struggle to bottle the words, to wall them in, to keep the magic and the tales from escaping, was not beyond expectation, but curiously, no such struggle occurred. When she tested herself and familiarly brought a quill to hover over a blank sheet she simply sat there, her arm immobile, for minute upon minute. Satisfied, she put away her instruments and decidedly forgot them.
As the words she once spun had made her grow, it was not long before she began to shrink.
The first hint came with the loosening of her garments. An inch long here, another wide there, and soon her dresses became old, loose-fitting sacks draped carelessly on her body. In two days she shrunk to nearly half her original size and height, and had to choose between traipsing around naked or donning her daughter’s clothes. She chose the latter, but in a few days more it didn’t matter as then even her child’s attire became too large. Her modesty asserted itself only briefly, but careworn and feeling the loss of her family at its most piercing, she let all cloth slide over her skin for good before hiding away in her daughter’s room.
As a pet, her daughter had kept a songbird, a yellow tit, in a gilded cage by the open window. On the day her daughter was buried it had ceased all song. For some reason she felt drawn to it now.
She approached the table upon which the cage stood; with each step the piece of furniture loomed taller, larger. She raised her arms and discovered that she could only just get her fingers over the edge, but it was enough leverage for her to hoist herself up and on.
The shrunken woman and the yellow bird studied each other through the bars. The bird spread its wings and cocked its head several times, gauging her through black, button eyes.
She chose an end to her heartbreak.
Stepping up to the cage door, she released the latch. With a heavy intake of breath, she swung it open, stepped inside—she never wondered at how much smaller she had suddenly become to fit through—and walked adamantly to the middle of the cage floor. The tit fluttered down.
The first peck, an exploratory one, hit her squarely on the shoulder. It felt like the slash of the sharpest knife, and drew blood right away. Spatter appeared on the tit’s yellow breast, a shower of crimson raindrops. She screamed in agony but did not run away.
The tit took out her eyes next, then attacked her throat. A flurry of blood, yellow feathers, and flesh exploded inside the cage. She fell, and the tit hopped onto her; its clawed feet became scrabbling spears that punctured and scratched her body through. The tit’s head bobbed up and down with each attack till all that remained of her was the mush of her flesh and her cracked, broken bones.
The tit shook itself and screeched, trilling a terrible song before flying out the cage door and through the open window, losing itself against the grey sky.