Short Story: The Definition of Insanity

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #12: Stuck.

~The Definition of Insanity~

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. She’s been stuck at the same question for an hour. Staring at it isn’t getting her an answer, so obviously she needs to try something different. A walk will definitely help.

She jumps to her feet.

A hand clamps down on her shoulder.

“Where are you going?” her brother asks, voice dangerously low.

“Err… kitchen?”

“What for?”

“Going to get a drink.”

He points to the half-drunk coffee she made fifteen minutes ago.

“A snack.”

He points to the cookie jar she brought up half an hour ago and the rice crackers she grabbed ten minutes before that.

“Toilet?”

“You just came back.”

“I… need to go again.”

Her brother shoots her an unimpressed stare. The pressure on her shoulder increases until she’s forced back into her seat. He pulls her exercise book closer to himself.

“Which question?”

She wanted to find the solution herself, but she also knows when to admit defeat. She taps the problem she’s been struggling with.

“Start with the recap notes in Chapter 7…”

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Open Window

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #9: Pressure.

~The Open Window~

The violent slashes of the angry words stand out among the neat dot points of her son’s physics notes.

I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANY MORE!!!

She knows he’s stressed. Everyone in his year is under immense pressure to perform well at the national exams so that they can pursue the career they want. But just this afternoon he was laughing and sharing jokes over lunch. He had everything under control.

She thought he had everything under control.

The windows on the second floor of their house have safety features so that they can’t be open wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Someone has tinkered with the frame so that it swings wide like a gaping jaw.

Her heavy heartbeats and gasping breaths drown everything out as she crosses the empty room. Shaky hands brace her body against the pale green wall as she braces her mind for the horrifying sight she’s about to see. Her head pokes out and she looks down at the ground.

It’s clear. She doesn’t find her son’s broken body.

She sobs in relief as her knees buckle, but she’s not done yet. Where is her son? She can’t leave until she knows her son is safe.

“Mum?”

She follows the voice to the rooftop, where her son sits, with nothing but his own sense of balance to keep him in place instead of a splat on the ground. Terror sharpens her voice.

“Get in now!”

Her son climbs towards her. If he slips, there’s nothing she can do to stop his fall, but she also can’t not watch his every move, as if she can make his limbs stick to the tiles by sheer will.

Finally, he clambers over the windowsill. The moment his feet touch the floor, she wraps him tightly in her limbs until all the air rushes out of his lungs.

“I just needed some air,” he gasps.

She thinks there’s plenty of air inside, or even downstairs in the yard if he wants ‘fresh air’. Clearly, her son has inherited his father’s love for heights.

“If you really want to sit on the roof, get safety rigging first. No harness, no roof.”

Her son is silent at first, then he rests his arms carefully around her.

“Alright.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Knot So Bad

Follows after Knot a Problem.

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #4: Knot.

~Knot So Bad~

He has just finished an hour long boss battle when a timid knock draws his attention to his bedroom door. His sister leans against the wooden frame, fingers twisting in the folds of her skirt.

“Can you help me with something?” she asks.

He saves his game and swivels his chair around so he can face her properly. “Sure. What do you want me to do?”

Last time, he helped her sort out ten balls of tangled yarn.

Today, it’s the same request with a different batch of yarns, now also covered in hardening glue. How did this even happen?

“I have a solvent to dissolve the glue, but I’ll need the yarn to be already separated before I can completely wash it off. It’s one of those chicken and egg things, you know?” she says with a helpless shrug of her shoulders.

Flakes of dried glue hangs off his sister’s fingertips, evidence of her own attempts to pull the threads apart before coming to him for help.

He rolls up his sleeves. “Pick a spot and we’ll start from there.”

The thought of touching the sticky threads make his skin crawl, especially when the solvent turns the glue into a slimy goop, but once he actually digs in it’s not so bad. By the time the sun goes down, they have each colour laid out to dry before his sister rolls them back into balls.

“You don’t have to make anything for me,” he says, remembering the last time he helped out. His sister has finals coming up. He doesn’t want to distract her.

She buys him a new game instead.

~End~

Genre: family, slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Melancholy Day

Today she’s feeling melancholy.

There’s no trigger, no reason. It’s just one of those days when even the brightest sun feels like a waning nightlight running out of battery.

Old her would have stayed in bed, losing hours, sometimes even days, without even realising it.

New her has a new family who has spent years training her to look for them when all her thoughts and feelings are leaking out of her control. The her right now is just a shell, shuffling down the hallway with only one thought in mind: find someone, and they’ll take care of everything.

She finds her foster brother in his room, a cooling pad on his forehead as he sleeps off a fever. She moves forward and wriggles under the covers. His skin is hot and clammy, but she burrows into his side anyway.

That wakes the older male up with a sleepy grunt. He mumbles something neither of them understands, and she ignores it. She found someone. Her part is done.

Sinking back into a haze, she hears a dial tone, distant like it’s coming from the neighbour’s house.

“Yes, sweetheart?” her foster mother’s voice answers.

“Melancholy day,” he slurs.

“Alright, I’m coming back.”

The call ends soon after, and her foster brother falls asleep just as quickly. She matches her breathing to his faster than usual ones, and lets everything else drop away.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

September post count: 8/12

Short Story: The Different Child

Her parents had twelve children.

Most were adopted. And by most, she meant she was their only biological child. Yet somehow, she resembled her parents the least. The only blonde among the brunettes, the only O blood type among the As and Bs, the only one without a widow’s peak…

With her family structure, she’d grown up assuming she was adopted the same way most people assumed they weren’t. It was only after her parents showed her the video of her birth that she believed them when they told her she was their flesh and blood.

“But why do I look so different?” she asked.

“Recessive genes. You just happen to have a lot of them. And it’s not true that you don’t look like us. You’re just not looking at the right spots.” Her mother bopped her on the nose. “We have the same schnoz.”

“The same smile.” Her father grinned.

“Grandma’s wavy hair.”

“Granpa’s tiny toes.”

A weight dropped across her shoulders as her older brother chimed in. “And you all scrunch your nose the same way when you smell baked beans. I’ve never seen anyone else do it so you’re their kid alright.”

“Is that enough proof for you?” her mother asked.

She snuggled into her father’s side until only a single shy eye peeked out. “I’ll believe you more if you make earl grey panna cotta.”

“And that’s your aunt’s bargaining style right there.” A large hand patted her head as they chuckled. “Alright. If we start now, it’ll be ready in time for dinner.”

~End~

Genre: family, slice of life

September post count: 2/12

Short Story: Driven to Excellence

In every class, she paid full attention. Ears towards the teachers, eyes on the whiteboard, hands busy with notes. Even being the top student in the region three years in a row didn’t slow her down.

At first they praised her as a hardworking student, then they used her as an example for others to follow, but when she showed no signs of relaxing, they started to ask her to relax.

“Life is more than just studies. You need friends,” her homeroom teacher told her.

“Balance is important. Do you have any hobbies? And I’m not just talking about the mandatory extracurricular clubs,” the school counsellor said.

“Why don’t you take a day off? You’re the only person in the school who hasn’t even taken sick leave,” the school nurse said.

No one asked her why she was so driven. They just assumed she was the studious type who was too serious for her own good, the kind of people who ended up never leaving academia for the ‘real world’.

If anyone had cared to ask, she would have explained that she was the middle child in a family of nine. They were financially stable enough for all her siblings to complete basic education, but not enough for all of them to continue on to further studies. Her older siblings contributed by working odd jobs to help pay for their own fees. Her aim was a full scholarship so that the money that would have been spent on her could be passed down to the next sibling in line.

With her younger siblings’ future on at stake, how could she give anything less than her best?

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Short Story: Annual Spring Clean

Once a year, the whole extended family gathers from all over the world to their family home. It’s a huge building in the middle of nowhere, which means that their two week long gathering always starts with a massive spring clean.

Everyone tends to claim the same tasks year after year, familiarity making the job easier to complete when no one knows where everything is in the mansion. The exceptions are when new members join the family, or when the younger kids grow up.

He usually helps his dad in the attic. This year, he’s joining his cousins to clear out the ‘shed’, a free standing structure that’s as big as a barn. While his cousins carry the heavier tools, he runs ahead to open the door.

The moment he pushes the wooden panels apart, his vision explodes in a buzz of black and yellow.

“Bees!”

Arms thrown up to protect his face, he has no extra limbs to stop his fall. He lands painfully on his bum, but he’s only down for a moment before someone drags him to his feet. Blinded and disorientated, he follows the pull until they are safely inside the main house.

“There’re honeybees in the shed!” his cousins announce to anyone who will listen. With so many people, surely someone knows what to do with the hive in their shed?

Someone does know what to do, and it’s to call in a team of apiarists. Yup. A team, because just like the shed, the beehive is massive, large enough for a few of them to crawl in if they hollow the hive out.

Looks like it’s back to attic duty for him this year.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Short Story: In His Stead

Parenting Pains (start here for context) | Dangerous Disagreement | Sorry State | After the Accident | Mini Mystery | In His Stead | Sibling Fight

~In His Stead~

Once, she feared her younger son.

She’s still wary of him, but years of love from his older brother has soften the ill tempered toddler into a more conscientious teen. They might never be completely comfortable with each other, and she’s self aware enough to know that it’s largely her fault, but at least now she’s able to sit by her youngest’s bedside while he sweats off an intense fever.

Lost in his dreams, her youngest son keeps calling out for his older brother, who is away on a trip with his university friends. They’re trying to break her oldest son’s tendency of dropping everything in his life for his brother, so order for her older son to continue his holiday, she has promised to take care of her youngest son in his stead.

She makes herself comfortable with a pillow against her son’s wooden headboard. With a book in one hand and refreshments on the bedside table within reach, she braces her other arm on a bolster and runs her fingers through sweaty bangs. Under her touch, the restless squirming calms. Even with his flushed complexion and laboured breathing, it’s the most relaxed she has seen her youngest in her presence without her older son around.

One day, she hopes that this peace will be the norm rather than the exception.

~End~

Genre: family, superpower, slice of life

Camp NaNoWriMo short story count: 16/31

Short Story: Antique Junk

The downside to staying in the same house for centuries was that junk piled up.

No one was a hoarder, or lazy. It was only natural to accumulate things over multiple lifetimes. And with the ample storage space their ancestral home boasted, it was easier to keep things away than throw them out, especially when someone passed.

But everything had a limit, and when the rooms on all three floors of the north east wings were filled, they knew it was time to do some spring cleaning.

All family members were called back. Even with all hands on deck, it would take them months, maybe even years to clear everything.

That didn’t stop them from getting distracted.

Most of the things collecting dust in their rooms were junk, but they were antique junk. While common in the past, they were almost impossible to find now. The older generation might have some exposure, but for the younger ones, everything was unknown. All over the building, similar conversations took place between the generations.

“What’s this?” a young boy asked as he dragged a briefcase almost as large as he was.

“It’s a telephone,” one of his great-grandaunties answered.

“No way.”

“It’s true.”

After three years of hard work, half of the items ended up back in storage anyway, but now they were properly displayed to satisfy the curiosity of the generations to come.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

If you’re curious, look up ‘briefcase telephone’.

Camp NaNoWriMo short story count: 9/31

Short Story: He Hates

He hates this. He hates the weeds that choke his plants. He hates the branches that don’t bear fruit. He hates the birds that pick off what little he manages to grow. He hates that his backyard is more like a wasteland than a garden.

“Then what will you do about it?” his grandmother asks.

He shrugged unhappily.

“If you don’t like it, you can always uproot everything and cement the whole floor.”

But that isn’t what he wants.

His grandmother chuckles at the frown on his face. “You don’t like what you see, but you don’t want to get rid of it either. Silly boy. Just complaining about problems won’t make them go away. You need to do something about it. Come on, we can start by getting rid of those pesky weeds.”

His grandmother wades into the sea of grass and crouches down on her creaky knees. Wrinkled fingers dig in without hesitation and wrestle the first weed, roots and all, out of the soil.

With his grandmother personally involved, there’s no way he can just stand by and watch. Giving up his plans to play the rest of the afternoon away, he squats down beside her and digs in too.

By the time the yellow sun darkens into orange, they have a hill of weeds and there isn’t a single patch of earth left that doesn’t have a hole in it. It’s ugly, but his grandmother has a satisfied smile on her face.

“Tomorrow, we’ll do some pruning,” she says.

If she’s optimistic about it, then so will he.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, family

Camp NaNoWriMo short story count: 7/31