Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Old habits - a 425 word short story

Here's a piece of flash fiction that I wrote just before Christmas. It was inspired by a 425 word writing competition run by Viva Lewes - thanks to Tara from Short Fuse (now Story Salon) for flagging it up!

Brighton author & poet  Louise Halvardsson also wrote a great piece on the same theme, which you can read on her myspace page.  

Old Habits - by Amy Riley
Fingernails to the quick – that’s me. I bite them every time I have a deadline, and being someone who always leaves things to the last minute, that’s every time an article’s due in.
It’s a frosty winter’s night as I pull the electric heater close and hunch over my pad. It’s 4.25am. Five more hours. My head hurts and sleep beckons, but I resist.
A badger wanders past. 
Frost cracks across the patio, coats the grass and looks like an icy lace shawl under the half moon’s light. 
The wind blows and heaves from the north, scaring me. I’m alone. I look up at the door, making sure no one’s trying to get in, and continue to write.
My writing takes me on a journey through a valley, where I can count the ghosts. I rifle through my pages of handwritten notes, wondering why my handwriting never improves over the years, wondering why I never bothered to learn shorthand, why I can never finish things.
A man’s voice calls through the pages. A hoarse voice, whiskey cured and Marlborough reds deepened, he can still curse on his deathbed. 
‘Goddamn, give me some brew,’ he says to his son-in-law, who goes out to the fridge. 
He was a man living out in the woods, nursed by his daughter and forgotten about by history. The oldest living Confederate, he claimed, with a cheeky glint in his eye.
‘You shouldn’t drink,’ says the daughter, who wipes his brow with a towel.
‘I can do what I damn well like’ says the man. ‘I’m going to drink my beer and I’m going to tell my story to this nice young man visiting us.’
The man looks at me, licking his lips, watching as the son-in-law, a heavy man with a blue lumberjack shirt, surrenders the can.
I was the one who travelled hundreds of miles, looking for the man they said had killed three bears with his bare hands, and I’d found him, invalid, sickly, dying of cancer.
As the sun begins to rise, I type away my notes, which I carried from Arizona to Texas to here, in a rucksack, by bus, car, motorcycle, train and then plane, and see my story take shape.  
It is like watching a miracle happen, and I know that I’ll be able to finish the article, re-read it, sub it, then email it to the editor for 9am.
I tell myself I’ll start earlier, plan it better. 
But old habits, true to the saying, die as hard as the oldest living Confederate.

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Blogger Louise Halvardsson said...

a belated comment but I think you have captured the habit of writing beautifully ... we all know the dreaded deadlines :)

12:34 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

haha...i'm up against one yet again too...thank you.

4:09 PM  

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