For S in the AtoZChallenge I’m so happy to be sharing this flash fiction story that came third in the flash500 comp in 2013.
Judge Steph Patterson – Senior editor of Crooked Cat Publishing stated,
‘Unusual, emotional, warm, surprising — a warm, unusual story. It moved me when I read it. It has an air of esoteric.’
Have a read and let me know your thoughts…
Cecilia no longer saw the faces of the dying. They were merely shells cast off at the last to free the soul within. But, in the moments before death, she often wondered what happened to their spirits.
Sensing the man’s time was drawing near, she picked up her lute. Her fingers plucked the strings, dancing like raindrops over the notes, filling the room with fluid harmony. Slowly, the man in the bed responded. The music rose to a crescendo as he took his final breath, and she wept as his spirit lifted clear of its bonds to embrace the light. Cecilia let her fingers fall from the strings, while the haunting resonance of the song echoed around her. She cradled the lute in her frail hands and allowed the stale sickly air in the room to dry her tears. The intrusion of another broke the spell, and she opened her eyes to blackness.
‘He’s gone, Cecilia. But he died with a smile on his face,’ the nurse told her softly. ‘Come on, let’s get you back to your room.’
Cecilia shook her head. ‘There’s another down the hall…’ She rose on unsteady legs, clutching the lute possessively against her body.
‘At least let me help.’ The nurse took hold of her arm, but Cecilia recoiled from the touch and the strength of life flowing through the younger woman.
‘I can do it myself.’ She felt her way to the door and shuffled along the corridor with her hand trailing along the wall. Finally she reached the right room and slipped inside. She plucked the familiar notes of the spirit song until the dying woman floated away into the healing light.
Cecilia slumped to the floor, hugging the lute to her chest. Exhaustion tugged her towards sleep and she dreamt of the place beyond death.
She awoke in bed and sensed the nurse at her side. A warm hand squeezed her cold bony flesh.
‘My lute…’ she croaked and felt feebly for her beloved instrument.
‘Have a drink first.’
A straw prodded her lips and she sucked at the water, choking as its coldness flooded her constricted throat. The covers shifted under the weight of the lute and her hand scrabbled to lay across its neck. She stroked the strings with her fingertips, too weak to pluck a note.
Cecilia drifted back to sleep. The music swelled inside her, its poignant melody leading her spirit away from its dying shell. She travelled through a tunnel feeling weightless and pain-free, and cocooned by warmth. Bright light blinded her and cold air caressed her naked body. The shrill cry of a new-born filled her ears. Cecilia forced open her eyes and stared up into a stranger’s face.
Before the memories of her old life faded away, she finally had her answer.
The story behind the story;
Spirit Song holds a very special place in my heart. I wrote it when my Grandad was admitted into a hospice. At the time I was attending creative writing classes and the prompt for that week was Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.
I sat in bed with my notebook and closed my eyes to think. When I started to write this piece seemed to flow onto the page almost fully formed and I instantly fell in love with the character.
I entered it into the Flash500 comp. The critique stated it was a lovely character study, but not a story.
I couldn’t let Spirit Song go, or maybe it wouldn’t let go of me. I rewrote the end and gave it a starting point that tied in with the conclusion. Then I re-entered and this second attempt was placed 3rd in the Flash500 comp. I felt like that was a turning point for me, a time when I could really start to believe in myself as a writer. Two years later, I self published my first novel.
Did you have a defining moment when you realised you were a writer?
(If you want to find out more about the Flash 500 Quarterly competition, click here. It’s well worth paying for the critique, my story would never have been placed without that important feedback.)
Tomorrow T for Titles.
Check out some other AtoZ posts here