#FictionFriday 237: there’s a zombie on your lawn

To get practice reading out loud and help generating ideas I’m taking part in Write Anything’s Fiction Friday challenge this month. My second attempt took about an hour write give a quick once-over. I wouldn’t call that editing. Not really. The goal was around 600 words and I overshot completely. The final tally is 975.

I’m quite enjoying writing these stories. I am aware that they aren’t great but I don’t care. The joy of the task comes from working within the restrictions: write on a topic, for a set time, don’t edit. Instant gratification.

Recording them is less fun. I need a lot more practice reading out loud: five minutes is more than I can do without stuttering and slipping up.

Short, December 09

The cup of coffee was warm in Lara’s hand as she crossed the street. She smiled at the people she recognised: all the office workers, walking the same route every day. They passed each other and they recognised each other but they didn’t really know each other. Living in the city was very different from living in the country:  she felt both alone and protected here.

The park was empty when she crossed the lawn, taking a short cut that a hundred people took every day. The park attendants probably screamed in frustration at seeing the brown line across this corner but not matter how many “Don’t walk on the grass” signs they posted, people cut across here. It was just faster than walking on the path.

The grass was freshly mowed and she enjoyed the smell of grass and warm asphalt, the scents of the city in the summer. It made her feel so at home. She took a sip of her coffee and was about to enjoy the aroma when something else caught her attention. There was an off smell coming from somewhere. A sweet, slippery smell – the smell of dead things. Lara stopped.

This smell she knew. When she’d been at home on the farm her dog, Russet, would bound off into the forest and find something smelly to roll in. She was fond of dead sheep or cows. It could take a week for the smell to go away even with repeated sessions in the bath.  Lara looked around. There was a dead body somewhere close. On the lawn to the right a couple stood talking. They were facing each other but not quite, Lara noticed, looking at each other. He was looking over her shoulder and she as looking over his. Lara caught his eyes and tried her good morning smile on him. The smell was coming from over where they were standing. She started walking towards them just as he nudged the woman and she looked over at Lara. They both stared at her impassively.

“Can you smell that?” she asked as she got closer. “It stinks. Something’s dead around here.”

The woman turned fully around but neither of the two answered her. Now she could see them better there was something about them she didn’t like. Lara stopped and took a step back. The smell came from the couple, she was sure of it. They reeked.

Ah. Zombies.

They looked completely normal, if a little pale and kind of waxy. They still stared at her. The female tipped her head this way and that, like a bird, looking, judging. Suddenly the couple smiled. It was not a re-assuring sight.

The zombies had black smiles. Their teeth were black, their gums were black, the skin on the inside of their mouths was black. A normal smile is pink, white and glistening. These were black, grey and dry. The woman stuck out a black, leathery tongue and licked dry, cracking lips. The man hissed. Lara took another step backwards.

“Never-mind,” she called, her voice shaking slightly, “my mistake.”

She stepped back on to the path and started walking away. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder only to see that the couple was walking towards her. She walked quicker. She could hear the clicking of her heels against the asphalt but not the sound of their shoes. She looked behind her again. They were following, one on either side of the path, both on the grass. She noticed that they were bare foot and that they now moved with their hands in front of their bodies, as if that would help them keep their balance when they moved faster.

Coffee spilled over Lara’s fingers as she started jogging. She threw the disposable cup onto the grass and tucked her handbag under her arm to stop it from bouncing. The park was empty. Usually there were women walking their children to school, morning joggers, cyclists, pensioners walking their dogs. Now there was no one. She could hear the steps of the couple now. They were getting closer. She glanced to the side and could see the male lumbering along on the grass, ungainly but inexorable. The woman was on the other side, a little further back, moving in the same steady but difficult way.

The gate to the park was ahead of Lara. She sent a quick thought of gratitude to the friend who had talked her into these chunky heels. She would never have been able to run at the speed she now accelerated to if she’d been wearing stilettos. She sprinted through the gate and shut it behind her, slamming the padlock she found hanging on the gate closed. The couple was still ambling towards her but slower now. It seemed they lost focus when she was no longer in the park. That must be their territory.

Lara opened her handbag and dug out her mobile phone. If there were zombies in the park it should be closed. She could have died in there! She phoned the emergency services. While waiting to get through to the switch board she started walking back to the gate where she entered the park. She had to make sure that it was closed so that no one else walked in there.

The sun shone brightly and all she could smell now was the warming scent of the sap oozing out of the park’s cedar hedge. She had to call her boss to let him know why she was late and she needed another coffee. With the danger behind her she was quietly pleased at how she’d handled the zombie attack. Her mother would be proud and horrified. The city was dangerous but if you took precautions – paid attention, wore shoes you could run in – it was no more dangerous than the countryside. At least there were no werewolves here.

#FictionFriday 236: your main character is in the process of escaping…

To get practice reading out loud and help generating ideas I’m taking part in Write Anything’s Fiction Friday challenge this month. Below is my first effort. I wrote for five minutes, then a couple more, checked the spelling, changed a word or two but resisted editing. That was very hard! This week’s fragment is 301 words long.

(The spoken version is on Audioboo.)

Fragment, December 02

She tore out of the cellar, scraping her shoulder as she pushed through the broken window, and ran across the garden. She didn’t dare look behind her to see if she was being followed but focused on running as fast and as far as she could. At the end of the garden she vaulted the fence and continued running, ignoring the fact that she was trespassing. She didn’t know anyone here. That was part of her problem.

The rain cooled her body but her breathing became laboured quickly. The sound of the rain and her own breathing made it difficult to hear anything else. The hair at the back of her neck prickled as she jumped over a second fence. She was sure that there was someone, something, just behind her. She moved a little faster. The wet grass was slippery and she almost fell when she landed after jumping another fence.

She rested for a second, crouching below the white picket fence she’d just jumped over. She caught a glimpse behind her. She couldn’t see anyone. There was no one there, no one coming after her. No shadows in the rain, no movement at all. She was relieved but also worried. They couldn’t just let her go so if they weren’t behind her, they must be ahead of her, or running alongside her. They had to be close. What was their plan?

She looked frantically around and was startled to see a small boy standing in the garden behind her. He was wearing a baby-blue onesie and sucking his thumb. His blond hair was plastered to his head, water running down his face. He was drenched.

“What are you doing?” he said, taking his thumb from his mouth. “Are you playing hide and seek?”

“Kind of,” she answered. “Kind of.”

December challenge: Fiction Friday and Spoken Sunday

I need to practice reading out loud. It became very clear when I read at Illicit Ink: although I had practiced and knew all the words, my voice sounded shaky and strange as soon as I pointed my mouth at the microphone. Reading in public is different from a simple recording at home, but practice at the latter can only improve the former. Surely.

To help myself become a better reader, and to get some flash fiction practice and feedback too, I’m doing Fiction Friday and Spoken Sunday this month. They are both run by Write Anything and seem a great way of sharing and getting feedback on your writing from a wide and dispersed audience.

For the next five weeks, I’ll post my very short stories and recordings here as well as on Write Anything.