The Carrot Ranch flash fiction contests came to an end in December, and I’m delighted to share my final entry. This last challenge involved 5 steps! Don’t feel you have to read them all, but… it’s a good example of how different 1st drafts (step 1) are from final drafts (step 5). You can see how crappy my first drafts are. Gak!
In 5 steps, write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis. Each step is its own flash fiction, but it is the evolution of a single story.
Step One: In step one free-write for 5 minutes. Stop even if it’s incomplete. No Editing!
Step Two: Edit your free-write into a 99-word story.
Step Three: Edit your 99-word story into a 59-word story.
Step Four: Edit your 59-word story into a 9-word story.
Step Five: Transform it into a 599-word final story in three acts: beginning, middle, and end.
Step 1: 5-Minute free write – no editing allowed
Tris stood before the archangels, with his plea. “How can I truly know love, if I have nothing to compare it to?” To know something, doesn’t one need to know it’s alternatives?”
“You wish to be reviled?” asked Gabriel.
I wish to understand love in its fullest form, and if that is to be scorned, then scorn me.”
“As you wish”
Tris plummeted through the air, white feathers in flames, this skin blazing, cracking, charring, sloughing off all that was beauty. His eyes filled with fire and he plummeted to the sea with a trail of smoke.
The woman wading in the waves saw his fall and ran into the waves to save him. But when she saw the charred pinions of his skeletal wings, the blackened bloody flesh and the scarlet eyes, she screamed and ran panic driving her to flee. Webbed wings, quilled pinions.
He stalked her, haunted her, black wings unfurling in the corner of her room. What do you want? She screamed. “What do you want from me?
“Love he croaked, and the sound of his voice scared even him.
She held her pillow, curled in her bed. “If you love me, you would leave me alone.”
The demand stunned him. How could he love her under such restrictions? He knew then what it meant to be reviled and his wings curled around him, relegating him to shadows.
Step 2: Edit it into a 99-word story
He plummeted through heaven’s void, white wings in flames, skin blazing. Sloughing his beauty, he plunged into the sea.
A woman beheld his charred pinions and fled the waves. He haunted her moonlit nights, wandered her dreams until she survived on pills and prayers, woke in a sea of sweat, and screamed, “What do you want from me?”
She curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you would leave me alone.”
His breath caught. How did one love if banished by love? His burned wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.
Step 3: Edit it into a 59-word story
He haunted her moonlit nights, wandered her dreams until she survived on white pills and prayers, woke in a sea of sweat, and screamed, “What do you want from me?”
She curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you’d leave me alone.”
His burned wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.
Step 4: Edit it into a 9-word story
For love, his burned wings enfolded him in shadow.
Step 5: The final 599-word story – a hero’s journey
He pled before Hadraniel. “How does one value love if one has nothing to compare? How does one know light without darkness?”
“You choose to be reviled?” the archangel asked.
“To experience love in its fullest form.”
Thus, he plummeted through heaven’s void, white wings in flames, skin blazing, cracking, sloughing his beauty in a trail of ash. A shooting star, his eyes brimmed with fire, and he plunged into the sea.
A woman wading in the waves ran into the surf to save him. But when she beheld the charred pinions of his skeletal wings, blackened scabs of skin, and irises licked by fire, terror pooled in her eyes. Her screams echoed the shrill keen of circling birds.
She fled the sea, drove with the wind’s howling, and spun through the city’s roiling anonymity. He hunted her with wings unfurled, bristling with burned quills. And each time he drew near enough to speak his heart’s yearning, fear prevailed and she failed to hear.
He spurned the sun to haunt her by moonlight when wounded souls melded with the dark. Cloaked in smoke, he inhabited the seams of her room and whispered love’s longing in her sleep. He wandered her dreams until she survived on white pills and prayers and woke in a sea of sweat. “What do you want?” she screamed. “What do you want from me?”
Thunder rumbled in his voice, and she curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you would leave me alone.”
His breath caught. How could this be? How did one love if banished by love? What had he chosen? Burned and broken wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.
For years, he watched her spiral in shouting matches and botched marriages, estrangements, peals of pleading, and regrets for promises shattered. He kept his word and hid in antiseptic halls with chemical restraints, through prescriptions that muted the sun and blurred the hours into strings of dull-seasoned days. Through vodka and heroin, overdoses and scars carved into her skin.
Until fear surrendered its grip.
He lingered in the corner when she lay on her deathbed, downy hair a soft cloud on her pillow, the callous blinks and bleeps of machinery her only company.
“You’re still here, aren’t you?” she asked.
His head rose from his chest, and he dared speak, “Yes.”
“You’ve followed me all these years?”
“Well, there’s no sense in hiding anymore.”
By inches, he unfurled a shadowed wing, revealing his blackened form, the sharp contours of bone, and embers of his eyes. Congealed darkness swirled aside, traces of old smoke dissipating into the night.
“Why did you haunt me?”
“To learn of love.”
“And did you?”
“I learned that love and pain and forgiveness are companions in this mortal world.”
“So, they are.” She closed her eyes, breath a murmur, and reached out a hand. “If I could live this life again, I would choose differently, my loyal demon.”
“Forgive me,” he whispered, and with skeletal fingers, careful of his claws, he caressed her hand. The yearned-for touch peeled away the char and ash of his skin, the scars that were his wings, and extinguished the blaze in his eyes. As she exhaled her last breath, he plummeted through heaven’s void, white feathers in flames, skin sloughing its beauty in a trail of ash. A shooting star, he plunged into the sea.
The woman wading in the waves ran to save him and halted at the sight of his seared pinions. Undaunted, she plunged into the surf and seized his hand.
To read Liz Husebye Hartmann’s winning submission and the honorable mentions for this mega challenge, click here: Carrot Ranch