I’ve been writing novels (for forty years or so) and blogging about them for quite a while. High time for a break. I love short stories and have always long to master them. For writers, they are a wonderful antidote to wordiness, an astringent for the mind. They remind us of the power of the single phrase. For readers, they are refreshing and bring home the power of the moment. Currently, in response to our readers’ fragmented multitasked lives, authors seek to tell a story in fewer and fewer words. Here’s one of mine in under 500.
The wind throws handfuls of ice at the windows, and the room goes black. Just like that, I’m sitting in a vacuum with no defenses against the howl of the storm. Without the television to blot out the voices in my head—my sister’s voice, forever warning me …
“No, no Agatha you don’t know what you are doing!”
A door slams upstairs, coming out of nowhere, like Roland’s rages.
“You’re gone,” I yell. “Gone forever.”
A shutter slaps at the back of the house.
“‘It’s nothing but the raven, pecking at my windowsill.’” I assure myself.
“No one wants that old place,” my sister’s voice comes again, “it’s nothing but a heap of rotting wood, way out there away from any living soul except the coyotes—you’re a fool, Agatha—a fool!”
I jerk to my feet in defiance, ignoring the beating of branches at the window. “I’m not letting you in, not listening,” I say aloud, heading for the kitchen and candles. “Big sisters are a pain in the ass.”
My fingers grasp a candle, fumble with matches as the coyotes howl from the hill. “Cut it out. You always did love to scare me, but you’ll never scare me like he did, laughing one minute, throwing things the next.”
More bursts of ice hit the windows. “You’re gone!” I yell at him, “You can’t get in.” The bursts quit, but the smatter of sleet on ice-covered snow is unstoppable. The wind moans through the slats in the fence. “So what?” I yell.
“So you’re alone—way out there with nobody,” my sister’s voice answers.
“That’s right,” I say, setting the candle on the table next to my chair. “I am. I want to be. I’m not like you, putting up with anything just to stay married, just to have someone.”
I plop down and open my book, determined to drive her away. The words flicker in the candlelight, teasing. The fire in the cavernous fireplace hisses, a cold draft brushes my legs, like the ominous moments before one of Roland’s mood changes.
A bang on the front door brings me to my feet, but Roland doesn’t appear. The bang comes again. It’s the storm door, blowing open as it always does in a storm.
“No one,” my sister moans. “No one to close it but you.”
“That’s right,” I retort, striding to the door. The ice slaps my face, tears at my hair, but in a flash I grab the swinging door and pull it to.
“There.” I close the heavy oaken inner door and lean against it, gazing into the blackness. Silence. All has fallen quiet. I laugh. “You see, sister,” I say, “I can beat you now. Alone.” I walk back into the living room and gaze out. The moon emerges from behind the black swollen clouds, lighting up a crystal world.