Friday, August 24, 2012

Blood and Tears


The flash piece I'm posting today isn't the one I originally planned, but there's always next week. This week in particular has simply been too hectic to finish the story I initially planned.  However, I do have something for you.  Though, I have something to say about it first.

As a writer, there are few things more certain than the inevitability of rejection. We all feel that disappointment when it happens, though we really aren't surprised.

Of course, when we are rejected, we experience some self doubt.  When I originally wrote this piece of flash fiction, I knew it wasn't necessarily an original idea.  Instead, I concocted it from a lot of influences, and I focused on creating an atmosphere as I wrote.  I concentrated on intense imagery.  I originally thought it was pretty good.  I sent it in with an unusual sense of optimism. However, when I was rejected, I began to wonder if it was as good as I initially thought.  

So I post it here hoping to get some honest feedback.  If there are any glaring problems with it, I need to know that.  Or maybe it really was the luck of the draw (the luck simply not being on my side in this instance).  I understand I'm setting myself up for potential criticism, but that's okay.  It's a risk all writers must take, and I am willing to do what it takes to improve my writing.


Blood and Tears

The sun is high overhead in the courtyard, and I feel the heat on my face.  This is the only exposure to the outdoors I’m allowed to have.

The genetically engineered blood lilies are oozing today.  The red liquid stands out in stark contrast to the delicate white petals.  The blood streaks the petals, naturally running along the veins.  By the end of the week, the blood will have accumulated until the weight of it flattens the flowers.  Then the blood will act as a fertilizer, nourishing the next generation of lilies until they too meet their demise.  The cycle is meant to symbolize the bloodshed of the revolution, and the triumphant rebuilding of our civilization. 

The whole process seems more like a subtle reminder of what I am.  You see, I’m not any different from the lilies.  Maybe that’s why these poor flowers disturb me.

Here’s my story. 

My mother died of poisoning during childbirth.  I became a ward of the state, and I was locked away to ensure the safety of our allies.  To the rest of the world, I might look like a normal young woman.  I am seventeen years old with a willowy figure, wispy blond hair, and sky blue eyes. 

I am also a living weapon.

I sit beside the blood lilies.  They emit an oppressive odor.  The metallic scent of the blood takes root in the back of my throat.  The natural scent of the flowers is drowning.  My stomach turns at first, but I take a deep breath, and the nausea passes. 

Removing my long black gloves, I see the rubber has left my fingers perpetually wrinkled from sweat.  My supervisors would go pale with fear if they saw me now.

I pluck one of the lilies.  Turning my hands palm up, I let the flower rest there, and I watch as the change begins.  The edges of the petals start to peel back and wilt.  White fades to brown.

Why am I reminding myself of my poisonous nature?  Most days I wouldn’t, but today is a bitter one.  A year ago, part of me died.

His name was Henry, and he too was a weapon.  We grew up together, and though I could never touch him without my gloves on, I felt closer to him than anyone else.  The rest of the kids were too scared to come anywhere near me.  He wasn’t.

Henry’s skill was telekinesis.  He lifted large objects with ease.  He controlled the tiniest of movements.  You name it, he did it, but they wanted more.  Our puppet masters worked to enhance those powers.

One day, something went wrong.

A regimen of narcotics had dramatically increased his potency.  His power soon outstripped his ability to control it, and there was an accident.  Three of his training supervisors died.  Henry suffered a concussion when he was knocked unconscious by flying debris.

When he was isolated from the rest of us afterwards, I knew immediately what that meant.  I’d seen this happen with others.

A year ago precisely, I went to visit him after lights out.  The moonlight streamed through the barred window, revealing that his warm brown eyes were open.  They were unfocused as they took me in.  He was clearly being medicated to suppress his abilities.  This much was to be expected.  It also meant he could barely move.

“Kali?”  His voice sounded soft.  Hopeful.

I sat on the edge of the bed and touched his hand with my gloved one.  “Yes, it’s me.”

 “The meds are killing me.  I can feel it,” he whispered.

This didn’t surprise me.  If they couldn’t control Henry, they would get rid of him.  Osiris and Tempest died the same way.  Our puppet masters would keep him like this, gathering all the information they could while he died.  This research would help them develop a weapon to stop any enemies with similar abilities.

I squeezed his hand, silently damning the gloves, our masters, and everyone else I could think of.

“Will you do me a favor?” he asked.

“Anything.”  Henry was the only one to whom I’d ever felt any real loyalty.

“Kiss me.”

The request stunned me.  “You know what that would do.”

“I’m going to die anyway.  At least this way I’ll get something I’ve always wanted in the process.”

Maybe I should have hesitated more than I did, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him slowly dying alone.  Not for their benefit.  I loved him too much for that.

I leaned over him, and he embraced me, the pressure of his arms granting me a temporary reprieve from the pain. 

I’d dreamed of kissing him before, but I never believed it would happen.  As such, I had no real expectations.  The warmth of his lips surprised me, as well as his eagerness.  Though the poison from my saliva diffused rapidly through his pores, moving steadily toward his heart, he kissed me hungrily, as if he were trying to fit an entire lifetime into that one moment.  Even with the inevitable outcome looming, he seemed to put the thought out of his mind.

Then his arms went slack, and his final breath caressed my face.  I pressed my forehead against his, the loss overwhelming me.  It swelled in my chest, threatening to explode.  Poisonous tears landed on his pale cheek, steadily burning into his dead flesh.

My masters like it when I cry.

When I look down at the lily again, there is no sign of life left in it either.  I close my fingers around it, and the petals turn to dust.

Everything I touch dies.  My mother.  Henry.

And like the blood lilies, the poison builds in my system.  If the excess weren’t removed regularly, I too would perish.  I try not to think about what my masters do with the poison they withdraw each week.

I finally let the floral corpse fall to the ground.

My hands are stained with blood.


7 comments:

  1. I'm no expert on sci fi but I found the piece interesting. The idea that everything she touches dies, sort of like a midas touch, was intriguing. I connected more with the story in the second half, for me it seemed more intimate with the kiss and the impossible love situation. I also thought the imagery with the flower was a good one too. I wonder if the section where you say, "Here is my story," sort of pulled me out of things a bit to give the back story. Hope this helps, I really couldn't see any major flaws.

    I think you should definitely give this one another shot at submission. Good luck

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  2. Crap...they rejected this one?? Sometimes I really feel like publishers are made up of a panel of idiots who have never read a dang book before.

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    1. It's a tough world out there. It's the same way with your art. Part of it's based on skill, the rest is based on personal taste. There are no guarantees, but I won't give up.

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  3. Well, since you asked... I found the prose monotonous, moreso near the start. "The [subject] [predicate]. The [subject] [predicate]. The [subject] [predicate]."
    The paragraph starting with "I sit beside the blood lilies" feels particularly staccato to me, one thought per sentence with no flow.

    Spelling out the lilies' symbolic meaning in the text seems a bit heavy-handed to me, but then, I'm not much for obvious symbolism so that seems very much a matter-of-taste thing.

    The idea, albeit not new, was interesting enough that I read to the end. The dynamic between their keepers and the narrator, with her needing them to survive, caught my interest. I'm also curious what consequences her killing Henry had, since I expect their masters were not thrilled that she messed up their research plans.

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    1. Thanks! Your comments are appreciated and will be helpful.

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  4. L.G., this story's gorgeous. Rich and satisfying. Actually, it's reminiscent of a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale I read last year, the name escapes me. But your story struck me as engaging as his, those yours is shorter.

    I like the first two sentences, but not where they are. I think you'd really grab an editor's attention with the blood lilies paragraph starting things off. But the first two sentences are important, as they inform the reader of the narrator's captivity.

    I like the immediacy and intimacy of the 1st person point of view, but the limitation of that is a 1st person narrator describing what she looks like can be awkward. It's good to know her age and that she looks normal. The willowy figure/wispy blond hair/sky blue eyes thing jarred me out of the flow of the story, a bit. Though the part where she calls herself a living weapon was killer, pardon the pun. :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

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