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No Second Thoughts
A Short Story Starter
When searching the web one thing leads to another and you know how it goes, pretty soon you’ve found something more interesting than the thing you were originally looking up. That’s how I found a short story contest stipulating that the story be able to be read within 3 minutes.
It was intriguing because writing short stories is a fun diversion from life's routines. The topic for this one grabbed my attention because the challenge was to write a story in which a character finds something that they have no intention of returning.
After writing the bones of this story I took a closer look at the contest announcement. Bother. I was not interested in entering it after all. The awards were not my cup of tea, though it had been neat to read about what they were looking for, to think about how to begin a story from the prompt, and to try to surprise myself with the ending.
Motivated by the fact that their submission date was on Mother’s Day I chose to work motherhood into the story. By deciding to post it at HubPages I freed myself to widen it a little beyond the contest's word count. If you read fast you just might get through it in 3 minutes anyway!
Be warned, however. While love and sacrifice are major concepts behind the holiday this is not the usual kind of butterflies and roses Mother’s Day story we typically like to read. Deciding Factors is being posted the day after the holiday for that reason.
Letting it go was out of the question though letting it safely slip from her hand back into the flowering vine where she found it and make herself walk away was possible. With her other hand Violet casually brushed back straying wisps of her hair and determined to find a way to use it.
Focusing on the contrast of the colorful flowers in the vine with her gray circumstances to keep hope from showing in her eyes, she kept her steps even, her body language calm. The only way to protect herself from the find was to remain unequivocally unmoved by it.
The risk was huge. Being discovered with a Reserved Assistance Bundle would result in stark privation, but nothing in her was going to let her throw the invaluable vouchers away. As bleak as things were, she had come this far. She was still alive with a clear mind.
Avoiding all but the right person could be tricky. Desperation had become everyone’s companion for no one had enough. Despite promising more provisions every month, authorities only supplied enough to avoid outright rioting.
Too many had nothing to eat most of the time. Only recently had she come so near that place, but now, better prospects were secreted in her shabby coat cuff’s hidden pocket. She had to think straight and she couldn’t let her guard down.
So long had she been separated from everything familiar that her family and friends seemed very nearly forgotten. Survival meant focusing on the moment, on the day at hand. It meant paying attention and continually moving around, and she was not getting any younger.
This city was a large detention center and already filled to its brim, but the network knew the safest paths, helping to work out means of communication that evolved by necessity. Still, the fear instilled by the wardens' methods meant people kept to themselves as much as possible.
Trusting anyone could be uncertain business on a good day. One had to be decisive about the essentiality of carefulness. She had been held long enough to be quite familiar with how things worked. This was a time to be sure to use what she had learned.
Coming in weekly, the youngest among them worked with seasoned partisans to find ways of destabilizing central command's structure and develop escape routes. Those like herself considered it a responsibility to cover their tracks. They had to work together for the future.
Casual chats were uncommon. Serious conversation in public places was unheard of, and always well hushed privately. Even before becoming confined most had learned that a look, a nod, or a flick of the wrist read right meant knowing where to turn, when to stop, or when to disappear.
As well as providing subtle distractions for those trying to cover themselves by fading into the background, into a crowd, or into the shadows was an important technique to be well practiced at. As the population in the city grew more crowded information methods expanded for the network.
Whispers from bowed heads passing in alleys provided fair information. A question could be asked by drawing a symbol in the air with answers provided by a number of blinks that never once looked your way. Once learned, the creative communication techniques were priceless tools.
Pondering how long it would take to find an exchanger made her realize that she must continue to temper her eagerness and measure her moves shrewdly. Perhaps she should begin at the main station. A common disguise would definitely be required.
Maybe a black scarf to pull her white hair up into a large hat and a heavy coat with a scarf tucked underneath to give her some bulk would do the job. She could find them when night’s mantle wrapped its treasured dark mask around the streets.
Cautiously winding her way through the west quarter's sparse lanes while seeking out cleverly obvious markers, she remained firmly methodical. Avoiding being followed was imperative.
Filled with more wardens than expected the dingy station also contained cheerless new internees, making for a good crowd to get lost in. If she could mix in until some were asleep she might be able to locate an exchanger's agent.
Intently, yet discreetly, she scanned the large terminal. The dim light was enough to let her search patiently, warily watching for telling signals meant only for the eyes of those with something to trade. Traffic would flow counter-clockwise around the brokers so she watched the crowd's movement with interest.
Pitched, uncertain voices nearby broke through her intent thoughts to unexpectedly grip her attention. Their quiet yet frantic tones reached her ears, curiously distracting her just as she was about to widen her search mission.
Two nervous girls were moving far too carelessly, not seeming to heed their surroundings. Clinging to each other, they were clearly nearing their wits’ end. Their voices were on the verge of drawing unwanted attention that would mean serious trouble for them and anyone who could not leave the area quickly.
Violet stared a moment, then felt the skin on her face grow cold. Her heart alternated beats. The girls’ faces were a clear reflection of her sisters' and her own innocently looking out from ancient grade school photographs. Their soft noses and round chins were distinct, their amber curls too beautiful for words.
Her hands began to tremble in spite of the discipline buttressing her for that incredible moment. The decision was simple. She moved nearer their direction, pausing to make eye-contact, finding herself coming far too close to mouthing their names.
They stilled themselves, not understanding, but sensing that the old woman’s presence meant something critical. Edging closer, Violet looked beyond the two as she reached around an embraced couple to inch the girls to her side. Barely breathing it out, her faint but firm “for you, now go” gave them a jolt.
Her chest yielded a deep sigh that came from a happy past as the coveted vouchers slid from her palm, then her fingers. Heartbreaking joy planted itself in her breast as they turned away with her slight push that cut her own heart into pieces. She tilted her dark hat brim lower and crouched slightly. The desire to call them back tore at her resolve.
Violet had gently brushed her hands against theirs and purposefully vanished into the odd mass of humanity. She could not, would not fetter them with her identity but, oh, oh!, how many questions she wanted to ask! What did they know of their parents and cousins?
Now 19 and 21, Arabella and Belinda’s gasping eyes had gone down quickly when she shook her head ever so slightly, warning them to be careful. Her staunch composure helped the girls collect their thoughts and gave them needed courage.
Turning, they subtly straightened themselves and stayed quiet after a quick glance back over their scarf draped shoulders. Young people had to learn how to live in such times at an early age. These knew what to do. They would be okay.
Silently, and too quickly, they were gone leaving Violet dizzy with a heaving grief.
Trying hard not to stumble she made her way out of the building's opposite end. When she found a dark corner to rest in her thoughts wandered over the past with sharp recollection. A strange ache formed in her throat. Growing up safe from fear of the storm her parents saw coming, she saw their love and care through eyes of experience.
The smell of her mother’s peonies wafted through the memory of how they systematically taught their children to be wary and to take care of themselves so they could care for others. Her father and mother told their children to teach their children.
It was an incredible comfort to know that skills learned on the quiet farm beside the beautiful woods filled hills long ago could serve them so well even under this swell of oppression. She might never see her girls again, but they too had unbelievably come this far.
Loneliness she thought finally dead returned with a vengeance, but she looked it in its ugly face and scoffed. Her granddaughters could eat for a good while. They were young enough to get safe passage out, and now, she thought with deep, shuddering sighs of satisfaction, they would have strength for their journey.
What Does the Future Hold?
This story reflects the heart of loving mothers throughout the ages. Some modern day fears that our own culture breeds also rang in my thoughts as the piece evolved. When I began I was already considering what the future could look like if we do not heed Truth and say no to all that feeds fear. Thanks much for taking a look at this short story post.
Learning to Write Short Stories
Honing one's writing skills comes with practice, but a bit of guidance certainly helps the process along. Writing Short Stories: A Routledge Writer's Guide provides beginners and those who want to take their writing to higher levels with an opportunity to improve their work. Even the most talented writers appreciate how challenging themselves by studying and exercising their craft on a continuing basis gives them a fresh edge to go forward. The rest of us? Well, it can't hurt to explore the guide.