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: 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: A Sky Worth Staying For

Features the siblings from The Sky and Its Shadow.

~A Sky Worth Staying For~

Today was a good day.

She had a new camera, a wonderfully pleasant weather, and a sky with a gorgeous cloudscape.

It didn’t matter that she already had folders and folders of cloud photos. It didn’t matter that her train was coming in five minutes. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to grab lunch on the way to the station.

Imagination could do many things, but there were always gaps and blind spots. Before she saw it with her own eyes, she couldn’t have imagined how a rainbow could hide in a cloud, or how something made out of water could light the sky like a bonfire.

And with her new camera and its more advanced lens, she could immortalise even more details that she couldn’t before. She happily snapped away, capturing every angle as the changing light painted the cloudy sky in all kinds of hues.

“There you are.”

She startled as her brother appeared beside her. She was even more surprised to find that the late morning sky had darkened to twilight. Her brother reached over to scroll through her camera’s gallery, his eyebrows rising as the pictures she took revealed how long she had spent in the same spot.

“Good day?” he asked.

“The best!” She smiled, mind already racing to all the skies she can draw.

Her empty stomach wasn’t as happy, releasing a low growl. Her brother chuckled.

“Let’s go home.”

~End~

Genre: slice of life

September post count: 11/12

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 Cabin in the Mountain

Only seasoned hikers challenge the physically demanding but popular two-day mountain trail. That means that most of them plan the trip with the cabin in mind.

No one knows who owns the cabin. All they know is that hikers have been sharing it for years, and no one has ever come to chase them out. The large structure, more like a mansion than a hut, has enough room to house half a dozen groups at a time, and the unspoken rule is that anyone who uses it is also responsible for taking care of the place.

Either from the forums or through the more experienced hikers, everyone learns the chores needed to keep the building running. How to stock up the firewood, where to collect water to fill up the tanks, the tradition of leaving extra supplies for the emergency pantry, and more.

Those who don’t do their part, or worse, actively sabotage the amenities, get booted out. It doesn’t happen often, but a freezing night outside and with the howls of nocturnal predators are usually enough for most people to learn their lesson.

After all, if they don’t take care of the cabin, they won’t have this pit stop to refuel, and this trail won’t just be challenging, it’ll be deadly.

~End~

Genre: slice of life, general

September post count: 3/12

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