“Lightning Flashed”: 2nd Annual Flash Fiction Blogfest

Today is the 2nd Annual Flash Fiction Blogfest. Entries must begin with the words “Lightning flashed” and cannot be longer than 300 words. Mine is exactly 300 words:

Lightning flashed and minutes later the rain came in one full curtain, falling straight as hair from clouds to pavement. Annise stood at the tall windows and watched the world turn from color to shades of grey, listened as the leaves on the trees in the park across the street tintinabulated with the patter of a regiment of angels’ tears.

He would never come now.

He would never come in this weather, no, the sidewalk was vacant as all who’d been out sought shelter. The cars parked along the curb remained idle. Nothing moved through the streets.

Though it was mid-afternoon, the street lamps flickered on, set off by the dimness brought by clouds—heavy, but no heavier than Annise’s heart. The angels did not have tears enough for her disappointment.

As if to raise the stakes against her, the rain came harder and the clouds rolled in darker than before. Annise was all at once very aware of the silence of the apartment with just her in it; aside from the low hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen and the steady hiss of rain outside, there was no sound. She could not even hear her own breathing.

Or was she holding her breath?

Annise stared at the park, what she could see of it through the downpour, watched the bright pink and white flowers that lined the fences duck their heads against the weather. Much more of this and they’d lose all their petals, all their hope.

The bright sound of the buzzer cutting through the quiet jarred Annise from her thoughts.

Someone was at the door.

But it wasn’t possible; she’d been watching, hadn’t seen anyone on the pavement.

The buzzer rang again and Annise hurried to the intercom. “Yes?”

“Annise, it’s me.”

She unlatched the door.

Cupid’s Arrow

I am in love. With a person I’ve only seen once, from across a room, but there you have it: the strange nature of Cupid’s arrow sent sailing through the cosmos, cutting the thick air and landing firmly in the heart.

There is the strange sensation of knowing a person you have never met, like the rocking of a ship gives one vertigo . . . At a glance I am absolutely sure I know this man intimately without ever having spoken to him.

And the wound from the marksman’s shot leaves my heart exposed, even as my chest closes up and prevents me from being able to breathe. I am slowly bleeding to death, but no one notices.

I slap a bandage on the injury and continue on as if my world has not changed, though there is sure to be a scar.

Jane & Emily

(Conceived as a dialogue between Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, both of whom were born in December, though many miles and decades apart.)

JANE: Well, I suppose to have a birthday in December is to be considered a gift to one’s family. It is the season for gifts and giving.

EMILY: Or perhaps one should look at it the other way ’round. That the gift is from your family—your mother foremost—to you. Life is a gift, is it not?

JANE: Well, I’m sure I never asked for it, nor wished it before I was brought into it. Though, as with so many gifts, sometimes you never realize you wanted it until it’s been given to you. And then like a greedy child you hate to part with it.

EMILY: I won’t hate to part with this life.

JANE: Won’t you? I hate to think of all the fun I’ll miss once I’m gone, and all the interesting people I won’t meet, and who won’t have the . . . gift . . . of meeting me.

I’m free of you. And that makes me happy and it makes me sad all at once. Because I miss you, too. And sometimes I’m tempted to turn and look over my shoulder, like Lot’s wife, but that would only stick me here and keep me from moving forward.

Maybe this will happen in a big loop. Maybe we’ll come back around at some point, meeting like two planets sharing an orbit but moving in opposite directions. Right now we’re at the part where we put distance between us, but we’ll come face to face again someday. Collide on a city street somewhere, suddenly.

For now, this is like feeling my way through a dark space, relying on my other senses when I can’t see. It’s a little bit difficult to breathe in here, too, but I’m pressing on anyway. I’d reach back and grab you and drag you with me, but you’d only fight it. Right now I sense your heels dug into the floor—you need to get your bearings and I need to make a move, and that puts us in different places. At the moment, if not forever.

Writing: Character Meme

Found this on a friend’s LJ. Answers below are about Peter Stoller of St. Peter in Chains.

Body and Appearance

1. Describe the character’s height and build. Is he heavyset, thin, short, rangy?
Peter is tall and thin. Not muscular, more quick than strong.

2. How old is he?
Mid-thirties.

3. Describe his posture. Does he carry himself well or does he slouch?
He has good posture except when upset, at which times he folds in on himself.

4. How is his health? Is he fit or out of shape? Any illnesses or conditions? Any physical disabilities?
He’s healthy, intelligent. But doesn’t make any particular point of being healthy, i.e. he doesn’t eat health food or anything.

5. How does he move? Is he clumsy, graceful, tense, fluid?
Catlike.

6. How attractive is this character physically? How does he perceive himself in the mirror?
He is attractive and aware of it, even to being slightly vain.

7. Describe his complexion. Dark, light, clear, scarred?
Fair, clear.

8. Describe his hair: color, texture, style.
Dark blond to light brown, thick and even a bit coarse, though neatly styled.

9. What color are his eyes?
Slate blue.

10. Does the character have any other noteworthy features?
Long fingers.

11. What are his chief tension centers?
Physically? I’m not sure what this question is asking, but when Peter gets tense, it’s all in his arms and shoulders.

12. What is the character’s wardrobe like? Casual, dressy, utilitarian? Bright colors, pastels, neutrals? Is it varied, or does he have six of the same suit?
Peter likes to dress well but is unfortunately incapable of matching things up very nicely. (Might be a bit colorblind?) So he sticks mostly to neutral colors.

13. Do his clothes fit well? Does he seem comfortable in them?
Yes.

14. Does he dress the same on the job as he does in his free time? If not, what are the differences?
He dresses well no matter what. Suits for work, but still prefers nice shirts and slacks even on “down” time.

15. You knew it was coming: Boxers, briefs or commando?
Commando.

Speech

1. What does this character’s voice sound like? High-pitched, deep, hoarse?
Average, I guess.

2. How does he normally speak? Loud, soft, fast, evenly? Does he talk easily, or does he hesitate?
Quickly and smoothly, though he hesitates when he’s nervous.

3. Does the character have a distinct accent or dialect? Any individual quirks of pronunciation? Any, like, you know, verbal tics?
Educated, British, a tendency to let his words trail off when distracted.

4. What language/s does he speak, and with how much fluency?
Several, since his job requires it. English, French, German with fluidity; some Italian, Chinese and Japanese, though with more effort.

5. Does he switch languages or dialects in certain situations?
As needed.

6. Is he a good impromptu speaker, or does he have to think about his words?
He’s good at thinking (and speaking) on his feet.

7. Is he eloquent or inarticulate? Under what circumstances might this change?
Eloquent in working situations, and sometimes even in personal ones, though he can become inarticulate when having to deal with emotions.

Mental and Emotional

1. How intelligent is this character? Is he book-smart or street-smart?
He’s educated and capable of adapting to various situations. But his emotional IQ is somewhat lower.

2. Does he think on his feet, or does he need time to deliberate?
On his feet.

3. Describe the character’s thought process. Is he more logical, or more intuitive? Idealistic or practical?
Peter is logical, though he also trusts his gut. Not very idealistic, though.

4. What kind of education has the character had?
High end education.

5. What are his areas of expertise? What, if anything, is he interested in learning more about?
He’s good at his work: seeing patterns in things, sussing out the important bits in the face of a lot of information.

6. Is he an introvert or an extrovert?
An extrovert. Peter doesn’t like being alone with his own thoughts much. Prefers to distract himself in the company of others.

7. Describe the character’s temperament. Is he even-tempered or does he have mood swings? Cheerful or melancholy? Laid-back or driven?
He’s generally even tempered, focused on his work, known to be a solid guy, if not overwhelmingly cheerful. But deep down he has a streak of melancholy in him.

8. How does he respond to new people or situations? Is he suspicious, relaxed, timid, enthusiastic?
Curious. Interested.

9. Is he more likely to act, or to react?
Act.

10. Which is his default: fight or flight?
Fight.

11. Describe the character’s sense of humor. Does he appreciate jokes? Puns? Gallows humor? Bathroom humor? Pranks?
Dry, sardonic. Nothing juvenile.

12. Does the character have any diagnosable mental disorders? If yes, how does he deal with them?
Nothing diagnosed.

13. What moments in this character’s life have defined him as a person?
Becoming an intelligence agent, certainly. His work and sense of purpose.

14. What does he fear?
Nothing at first. But then, when he finally has something (or someone) to lose . . .

15. What are his hopes or aspirations?
To climb the internal ladder of the agency. That is, until he finds there’s more to life than work.

16. What is something he doesn’t want anyone to find out about him?
His personal life. Peter keeps that private.

Relationships

1. Describe this character’s relationship with his parents.
Nondescript. Peter went away to school, has always been a dutiful son, is probably closer to his mother than his father, but the nature of his work prevents him from being very close to anyone.

2. Does the character have any siblings? What is/was their relationship like?
An older brother and sister. Peter is the youngest. His older brother mostly ignores him (or needles him a bit), but his older sister is fiercely protective.

3. Are there other blood relatives to whom he is close? Are there ones he can’t stand?
Not really.

4. Are there other, unrelated people whom he considers part of his family? What are his relationships with them?
His boss Gordon is his mentor and a sort of father-like figure, and Gordon’s wife Elinor is a kind of mother to Peter.

5. Who is/was the character’s best friend? How did they meet?
Peter has many colleagues, acquaintances, but no close friends. He necessarily dropped all childhood and school friends when he began working for the government.

6. Does he have other close friends?
N/A

7. Does he make friends easily, or does he have trouble getting along with people?
His smooth way of interacting gives the appearance of Peter making friends easily, but he’s not open enough to really make friends.

8. Which does he consider more important: family or friends?
That’s the problem: Peter is caught between his loyalty to Gordon and his love for his boyfriend Charles.

9. Is the character single, married, divorced, widowed? Has he been married more than once?
Many relationships, nothing very serious until now.

10. Is he currently in a romantic relationship with someone other than a spouse?
Charles.

11. Who was his first crush? Who is his latest?
Peter is used to being the subject of crushes, not crushing on others himself. Which is why his infatuation with Charles is so surprising.

12. What does he look for in a romantic partner?
Something and someone completely different from and unrelated to his work.

13. Does the character have children? Grandchildren? If yes, how does he relate to them? If no, does he want any?
Not really interested in children in any way. A sort of absent uncle to his siblings’ kids.

14. Does he have any rivals or enemies?
Gamby, another agent.

15. What is the character’s sexual orientation? Where does he fall on the Kinsey scale?
Gay, though he’s maintained heterosexual relationships for the sake of his work.

16. How does he feel about sex? How important is it to him?
Usually finds it a means to an end, enjoys it, doesn’t normally attach a lot of importance to it.

17. What are his turn-ons? Turn-offs? Weird bedroom habits?
Is surprisingly mild when in a safe relationship, though open to doing whatever.

Beliefs

1. Do you know your character’s astrological (zodiac of choice) sign? How well does he fit type?
Aries maybe. Or a Cancer/Leo cusp (mix of sensitive and dramatic).

2. Is this character religious, spiritual, both, or neither? How important are these elements in his life?
Doesn’t really figure in his life.

3. Does this character have a personal code of morals or ethics? If so, how did that begin? What would it take to compromise it?
It’s all about the work, whatever it takes to do the job, though his love for Charles may force Peter to compromise.

4. How does he regard beliefs that differ from his? Is he tolerant, intolerant, curious, indifferent?
Indifferent mostly. He only cares if it stops him from getting his work done.

5. What prejudices does he hold? Are they irrational or does he have a good reason for them?
He comes from the old school, and therefore may be a bit sexist.

Daily Life

1. What is the character’s financial situation? Is he rich, poor, comfortable, in debt?
Doesn’t make a lot of money but comes from money, so he has no worries on that score.

2. What is his social status? Has this changed over time, and if so, how has the change affected him?
He’s a snob, though he doesn’t really know or realize this. Being with Charles forces Peter to confront this, however.

3. Where does he live? House, apartment, trailer? Is his home his castle or just a place to crash? What condition is it in? Does he share it with others?
A flat. Beautiful and mostly empty because Peter spends his time at the office. Alone at first, until Charles moves in.

4. Besides the basic necessities, what does he spend his money on?
Clothes. His fancy watch, his car.

5. What does he do for a living? Is he good at it? Does he enjoy it, or would he rather be doing something else?
Intelligence agent. He’s very good at it, enjoys it, has bought into the whole rhetoric of Queen & Country.

6. What are his interests or hobbies? How does he spend his free time?
At first he doesn’t do anything but work, eat, sleep. But once he begins a relationship, that changes.

7. What are his eating habits? Does he skip meals, eat out, drink alcohol, avoid certain foods?
He likes gourmet food but can’t cook so eats out a lot. Drinks wine.

Associations

Which of the following do you associate with the character, or which is his favorite:

1. Color? Grey.
2. Smell? A spicy cologne.
3. Time of day? Night setting in.
4. Season? Late summer.
5. Book? Any spy thriller.
6. Music? Classical.
7. Place? London.
8. Substance? Red wine.
9. Plant? Something nondescript and green, no flowers.
10. Animal? Tiger.

A Variety of Snippets

He only wants to be held, but as this is not a manly wish, he says nothing and instead goes to lie on the bed and feel sorry for himself. But she knows him too well, and looking at him discerns his need. She lies down next to him and gathers him to her, tucking him to her chest as an angel might take an injured man under its wing. And he breathes her in and relaxes and soon falls asleep.

 
 
 

“Don’t look back,” she tells him. She is driving, and her oversized sunglasses make it impossible to see her eyes, but her mouth, although not frowning, is firmly set.

He sits in the passenger seat and trains his eyes on the windshield in front of him, the road beyond that curving away. The grass on either side is still green, even as the trees are changing color and losing their leaves.

But today it is sunny, and they can almost believe it is still summer, that the rain of the previous night never fell, and that what lies behind is not smoldering wreckage, the timbers of lives so carefully built now falling in on one another in a heap of splinters that pierce the heart.

Don’t look back. Easy enough, no need to turn to salt. But even inside the car, the smoky smell of burned bridges lingers.

 
 
 

Ah! My fierce lion!
My sweet dragon!

Your day begins as mine ends
and yet
the shared pillow
the tangled feet
the warmth of distant suns
the soft distraction
that opens your chest
and spills your heart

Water into water
we were meant—
What would you give
to pull me over the waves?

It was like learning a language via immersion, but silent, all hands and lips and eyes and the discovery of another’s body as if it were made of strange new letters—the angles of hard consonants, the soft roundness of vowels. Sign language, both taught and assimilated, a foreign exchange. Solemn but not without joy, a staid celebration akin to a graduation. And maybe, he considered, that was exactly it: they had joined, enrolled, matriculated.

And when he woke, her arms around him and his around her like lost children in a fairy story, he understood he had come out of that night educated and all the wiser. And no longer alone.

Doctor Who: The Doctor Accessorizes

A Twitter friend (and on Twitter one uses “friend” loosely, since in a lot of cases one has never actually met any of the people) asked today: “If you were playing The Doctor [on Doctor Who] and had to have a gimmick as part of your outfit what would you choose eg bowtie, Converse etc??” [asked by @bluebox99]

My initial response was some kind of cool/weird coat or jacket because I have an especial fondness for jackets, blazers, coats, &c. And then I considered jewelry, maybe a signet ring of some sort. Could be interesting to build a story around the potential significance of such a thing.

But then I thought: What about a tattoo? How would it be if The Doctor regenerated with a tattoo? What would that mean? You could maybe build an entire series around that question and its eventual answer. What would the tattoo be of? Where and when might that image pop up? What if someone recognized it, even if The Doctor didn’t know what it was or what it symbolized? How cool could that be?

They had come to that point where, after a day spent in each other’s company, they would either be inseparable or heartily sick of one another.

It was late, the moon high and sliding slowly down the far side of the sky, and they stood under a tree in the small rectangle of grass outside her flat. In a few steps she would be inside and gone, but they had stopped walking; who had stopped first, he wondered, but couldn’t remember.

She’d turned to face him—she had parcels on her right arm from all the shopping—and his mouth had gone suddenly dry. He wanted to take her hand, the free one, but was reluctant to upset their strange balance. Like any man unsure of his welcome, he hesitated, alert for any small signal that she might be receptive to an advance.

But she wasn’t looking at him, was in fact looking down with a tiny frown as if she’d forgotten something. And so he stood there impotent, trying to decide whether to take her shopping bags and offer to carry them up. She would miss the point, though, he was sure; she was perceptive but also trusting and never sought any deeper motive in people than what they themselves suggested.

“I’d ask you up for tea,” she said, still frowning at the grass, “but I’m not sure I have any.”

Her eyes lifted then in an attitude of bravery, and she blinked and squinted at him as if he were standing in bright light, though the streetlamps were soft and widely spaced.

He reached out and gently took hold of the parcels. “At least let me help you with these.”

A shiver ran through her when his hand brushed hers, and that gave him hope. No woman who’d made up her mind against a man trembled like that.