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: Sibling Fight

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

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #11: Sour.

~Sibling Fight~

Fights among siblings are normal. Just not in their household. Her older son is a saint among mankind who does everything he can to make his brother happy. That love, in turn, inspires absolute trust and obedience in her younger son.

So it is a rare sight indeed to see her younger son storm out of the birthday party in the living room, back turned from his most favourite person in the world with his lips puckered like he just ate a lemon. The furniture shudder as his power lashes out at everything around him, but it’s a testament to his growth that nothing is actually damaged.

“What happened?” she asks her eldest son and his friends.

With everyone’s help, they piece together the events leading up to her younger son’s tantrum. Armed with that knowledge, she heads off to find the young boy.

He’s curled up in the corner of their backyard, where a little shed has been specially reinforced to withstand his power. She sits on a tree stump outside, close enough to be heard but far enough to escape if she needs to.

“I heard about what happened. How do you feel?” she asks carefully.

“Brother gave away my present,” he grumbles, referring to the navy blue poncho blanket her eldest had lent to his friend.

“Only temporarily. She was feeling cold,” she says.

A clump of weeds growing out the side of the shed is ferociously torn into pieces. “Only Brother can use it.”

“He knows that now. We gave his friend something else and he’s wearing your present now. Do you want to see it?”

Her younger son is silent. She waits patiently, keeping her body carefully relaxed. Finally, she is rewarded with a tentative nod, followed by hesitant fingers wrapping around her own. Her face wants to break into a wide grin at the rare gesture, but she tempers it to a gentle smile so that she doesn’t scare him off.

Together, they head back into the house.

~End~

Genre: family, superpower, speculative fiction

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Labyrinth to Freedom

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #10: Pick.

~The Labyrinth to Freedom~

Invisible to the eye, she floats above the labyrinth while a runner stands at the entrance, faced with two options. After a moment’s hesitation, he steps through the doorway and picks left.

The path leads him through a narrow corridor with hardly any room for him to dodge the spears that shoot through the walls. So the young man completely ignores them, counting on his speed to keep him out of reach. His feet slides as he turns sharply around the corner, and now his arms spin wildly as he tries not the trip on the oily marbles coating the floor. He almost slips over the edge to the spiked ditches the line both sides, but manages to reach the other end.

She follows his progress from the sky. It’s been years since anyone survived the maze. Maybe this human will finally break the dry spell!

Then she sees something that makes her blood boil.

The labyrinth is deadly, but she designed it so that those who overcome the trials hidden within the winding passages earns their freedom. Yet, instead of an exit, the runner meets a dead end. He punches the walls first in frustration, then resignation as the monster he just escaped catches up to him.

This will not do.

She descends in between the man and the beast and knocks the monster back with a wave of her right hand. With her left, she grabs the human by the arm and leaps up into the air.

For years, she has appointed wardens to manage her labyrinths. It’s time for her to pay them a visit.

~End~

Genre: fantasy

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: Her Fan, Her Weapon

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #7: Fan.

~Her Fan, Her Weapon~

Her fan is her weapon.

Among the flowing gowns and bright chandeliers, the purple and silver leaf hides her sharp smile, helping her blend in with the socialites around her.

In the shadows, the honed iron ribs slices as cleanly as any knife. In the restrictive dress favoured by the ladies of the land, it’s hard to fight, so she makes sure every strike counts.

Many have asked to touch her fan, a faux pass in her culture. All are rejected. They think that the fan is just a quaint decoration. She’ll keep it that way as long as she can.

~End~

Genre: general

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: The Little Candidate

Follows after The Little Applicant. Read this first for context.

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #6: Spirit.

~The Little Candidate~

She kept up with their gruelling training, followed the strict diet they created for their candidates, pushed herself until she puked or passed out or both, did everything they asked of her and more for the sake of a stronger body.

But there were some instincts that were hard to overwrite, and even a fiery spirit couldn’t completely stop her full body flinch in the face of a threat. After much deliberation, he called their smallest candidate to his office for a chat.

“I don’t think you should be a bodyguard,” he said bluntly.

She held his gaze, face deliberately blank, fists clenched so tightly her knuckles turned white. “I can be better.”

“I don’t doubt that.” In the short time she had spent with them, she’d bulked up considerably from the scrawny lass who first signed up for their program. “But that doesn’t mean this is the best path for your potential. I have a suggestion.”

He handed her an envelope.

“You want to be stronger so you can’t get hurt. With your size, you’ll always be at a physical disadvantage in a direct fight. But combat isn’t the only way to neutralize a threat. You can learn to sprint faster and longer than your attackers, dodge out of danger, slip out of restraints or unpick locks, just to name a few. I know a friend who can teach you all of this. Together with what you’ve already learnt with us, that’ll be enough to keep yourself safe. Thoughts?”

She ran her thumb over the envelope.

“I’ll think about it.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

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: The Old Boat

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #3: Vessel.

~The Old Boat~

The boat might be large, but it’s also old. A faded sea-green hull covered by white scratch marks, musty carpets curling away from the yellowing walls, rusty hinges that leave doors permanently open or close, the list goes on.

But the rigging and motor are good and it’s within his budget, which is more than he can say for the other vessels he’s seen the past few months.

“I’ll take it.”

He doesn’t have the money for now, but he’ll earn more in the future to slowly fix up his new home, one problem at a time.

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Written in response to the Inktober prompt #2: Suit.

~Not All Heroes Wear Capes~

The suit was tailored to fit him like a second skin. That meant that when he had a growth spurt overnight, they had less than a day to figure out how to fix it before the recital that evening. There was a chance his instructor might accept his growth spurt as an acceptable reason for turning up improperly dressed, but she kicked two students out of rehearsals last week because they wore hoodies. He wasn’t willing to take the risk.

Letting out the hems wasn’t enough to cover the extra length his limbs now had. The fabric came from an older batch with a hue just different enough that the alteration would be obviously tacky. They tried to rent a piece, but his lanky body meant that anything at the right length was too loose for his body.

“I can take it in for you,” said the staff at the fifth suit rental they visited. “Give me an hour.”

They waited in the shop, staying near so that he was within reach whenever the staff needed extra measurements. He paced up and down the carpeted floor, nervous fingers tapping the notes he would perform in a few hours against his thighs.

One hour before he needed to be at the concert hall, the staff emerged with the suit. “Done. Let’s try it out.”

At a glance, the suit didn’t look any different, but after he put it on, the previously baggy material moulded to his body in pleasing lines. He clutched the staff’s fingers, flushed red from the intense sewing under fresh band aids.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

Inktober attempt:

Short Story: Aggressive Gift Giving

Related to The Odd One Out. Best to read that first for context.

Also written in response to the Inktober prompt #1: Crystal.

~Aggressive Gift Giving~

He was in his shed, tinkering with his latest invention, when his neighbour burst through the door. Without even pausing to greet him, she looped a necklace around his neck.

“What’s this?” he asked as he lifted the crystal pendant for a better look.

Gold light rippled beneath the green surface, and his breath caught as he recognised the jewel as the latest storage crystal on the market. Despite being small enough to fit in one palm, a single piece could hold enough power to make his house float in the sky for a whole year without getting recharged.

Too bad he couldn’t use it.

He hooked his fingers under the metal chain to pull it off but his neighbour pressed her hands over his.

“I can’t use magic. I won’t be able to use this,” he reminded her.

“Doesn’t matter. I customized it so it’ll work even for you. Watch.”

She snapped her fingers and conjured a fireball in his face. He jerked back, instincts kicking in even though he knew he was too close to the flames to dodge. But the fireball never reached him.

A barrier sprang in between them and the flames crashed harmlessly against the translucent shield. He looked down to see runes of light floating above the surface of the pendant.

“It’s not the same as using magic yourself, but I’ve included a few simple spells,” his neighbour explained and handed him a folded piece of paper. “Instructions are here. If you need help you can practice with me.”

“How much is it?” These things were expensive, definitely beyond the budget of a girl balancing work and study while providing for two younger brothers after losing their parents the day she turned eighteen.

Once again, he tried to return the necklace, but his neighbour backed out of the shed.

“Don’t worry about it. Think of it as payment for always babysitting my baby brothers for free. Childcare’s expensive, and if you’re well protected it means my brothers are too. Anyway, I have a shift starting in ten minutes. Bye!”

She snapped her heels and teleported away, leaving him blinking at empty air. That was… the most aggressive gift giving he’d ever experienced. His gaze slid to the mechanical guard dog he was working on, still incomplete on his desk.

Fine. If she insisted that he take her gift, then she had no room to refuse his later.

~End~

Genre: fantasy

Inktober attempt: