Skipping Stones (Free Fiction)

Skipping Stones

A.J. Brown

“Flat stones, Cadence.  You have to use flat stones.”

Remy ran his hand through the sediment just beneath the water’s surface. Sand washed away with the current of the river as he pulled his hand out. Five black rocks sat in the palm of his hand, four of them smooth and flat. He tossed the one rounded rock back into the water

He looked out over the narrow neck of the river. Tree branches stretched across the water from both sides. Thick moss hung down like heavy strands of hair on a hag’s head. Remy had tied the target to one of the thicker branches so it would dangle a few inches above the water.

Remy turned to his daughter, took in the eyes that were odd: one wide and one like a slit across her face. He took in the way one side of her lip pulled down, the scars on her face and arms where flames had licked her skin. His heart cracked and he clinched his teeth to bite back the anger welling up in his chest. He closed his eyes, released a long breath, tried to relax his suddenly tense muscles and opened his eyes.

“You do it like this,” he said and held his arm out to his side and at an angle. With a flick of his wrists he let the rock go. It skipped across the water, went into the air, skipped again but sailed just to the right of the target. “Dang it, I missed.” He shook his head.  “But, you get the picture, right?”

black rocks 2Cadence nodded, her once curly blond locks were short, barely there and clung tight to her skull.  The one good blue eye shimmered with excitement as she took a stone from Remy, held her arm at an angle and tossed the rock. It plopped into the water and sank.  

“Ah man,” she said, lowered her head. It came out “ah bant.”

“Try again.”

The second rock sank as well.

Remy held the last rock out for her.  “One more, kiddo.”

Cadence took the final rock, one a little bigger than the others. Remy stepped behind her, took her elbow and steadied her arm. “Close your eyes, child. See the target in your mind, feel it in your soul as if it were pain. We don’t like pain, now do we?”

”No sir.” It came out “Doe thir.” She did as she was told. Her eyes closed, her lips a crooked line across her face, one puckered with scars.

He stepped back. “Go on ahead now. Hit the target. You can do this, Cadence.”

Cadence took a deep breath, opened her eyes and stared down the target with her one good one. She stepped out with her left foot and flicked her wrist. The rock skimmed the water’s surface three times before striking the woman dangling upside down from the overhanging tree limb.  She let out a yelp of pain as she swayed from side to side. Blood spilled from the wound above her eye and flowed into her brown hair. 

“Bulls eye,” Remy cheered.

The child’s eyes grew wide, a smile stretched across her young face.

“Do you want to try again?” 

“Yes,” she said, clapped her scarred hands together.

He rummaged through the sediment, came back up with several smooth rocks. The woman cried, her nostrils flaring, her mouth held shut with duct tape, muffling her screams. 

“Aim for the middle of the target next time. She’s still much too pretty. Remember how she looked at you? Remember what she said to you? Remember how it made you feel?”

Cadence nodded, took another rock and closed her eyes and remembered …

__________

This piece was written when my son was five years old. The family had gone to the river walk in Cayce, South Carolina. The river was low and I told a couple of stories how my brother and I would cross the water when it was low enough to. We also used to have stone skipping contests. My brother, older by a year and a half, was always better than me at most things until I got into my early teen years. Skipping stones was one of those things he made look easy. 

My son asked me to show him how to skip stones. For half an hour or so I rummaged around in the water looking for smooth rocks, which there were plenty of. I showed him several times how to hold the rock between thumb and first finger with the middle finger like a resting spot for the rock itself. I showed him how to hold his arm sideways (much like a sidearm pitcher would). I showed him how to flip the rock, allowing your wrist to snap and your first finger to release the rock so that it sailed even with the water, striking it and bouncing up in the air. It took him a couple dozen attempts, but he finally skipped one three times across the top of the water. He jumped up, pumped his fist and yelled, “I did it.”

We walked away a few minutes later, him happy and me proud and my mind turning over thoughts. The first line to the story is almost word for word what I told my son, but I had used his name and not the fictional burn victim, Cadence’s. As we walked the path to the car, the story had somewhat developed into a father showing his child, one with bad scars all over her body, how to skip rocks and take revenge on someone who had looked at her in the wrong way and insulted her. I won’t lie and say I didn’t have a little fun writing this piece.

Hey, while I have you here, did you like Skipping Stones (or any of the other stories posted so far this month)? If so, would you mind leaving a comment, liking the post (and following the blog if you want notifications of future posts) and sharing it to your social media pages? It would help me get these stories out to others. Thank you for reading, commenting, liking, sharing. 

A.J.

A Note About 2011

A couple weeks ago, I lamented on how 2011 has not been the banner year for me, as far as writing goes. 2010 had been a boon and I thought things were looking up. Then came 2011 and, well, I came back down to earth (in a meteor crashing from outer space kind of way).

In that blog I also mentioned something about things may be changing. I’m here to tell you now that something good is on the way.

We’ll start with a few publications that accepted stories that have either recently came out or will be coming out very soon.

I know… I know… some of these I probably should have mentioned before, but, like I said, it’s felt like a down year so the enthusiasm hasn’t always been there to blog about it.

Shame on me.

Not again, though.

I’m almost positive I did throw a blurb up for this first publication, but just in case:

The Horror Zine picked up a story I co-wrote a couple years ago with Diane Smith (a very talented lady I may add) after entering it in a flash fiction contest that I had no business writing for. Interestingly enough our stories were as similar as they were dissimilar. The story, The Third Edge of Power was submitted by Diane and accepted by Jeani Rector for The Horror Zine. It came out in August and I’m quite proud of the story.

[Side Note: I must add that Diane did most of the work on this after it was written, so I really can’t take much credit for the story finding a home. This was all Diane’s doing and I thank her for pushing on with this one. End Side Note]

Back in October of 2010, Necrotic Tissue picked up my story, Picket Fences for Issue #12. It was the editor’s choice, chosen, I believe, by Daniel Russell. It was my first pro paying story and another reason to believe I was finally on the way up (if only by one rung of the ladder).

Sadly, Necrotic Tissue shut down after Issue #14 (which came out in April, 2011). When I say sadly, I really mean it. NT was my favorite horror publication and I have several of their issues. I wish I had all 14 of them.

There is a good note to this. R. Scott McCoy, the owner of Necrotic Tissue, decided to put out a best of NT earlier this year. It came out in October. My previously mentioned story, Picket Fences is in there, along with some very good writers (Nate Lambert, Cate Gardner, Robert Eccles, Daniel Russell, Greg Hall, Brian Hardin, to name a few).

You can find this collection at Amazon, but I’ll make it easy for you. Just follow the link:

Best of Necrotic Tissue

[Side Note #2: In 2012 I plan to rewrite Picket Fences, detailing more of what the story is about. The original version was an experimental story trying to use what I considered ‘future tense.’ Though I love the story in it’s current state, I want to go down that road again and write it in a more traditional style. It may even end up being a novella or… something longer. End Side Note #2]

In November, A Hacked-up Holiday Massacre came out. This is a Pill Hill Press publication, edited by Shane McKenzie, who has recently left PHP to start his own publishing company: Sinister Grin Press.

As the title suggest, all the stories are based on Holidays. Mine was Mother’s Day and it’s a story titled Remember What I Said About Living Out In the Country?. Yeah, long name, I know. Better than my story appearing in this anthology is that it appears in there with the likes of Jack Ketcham, Joe Lansdale, Bentley Little, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Kevin Wallis, Steve Lowe, Lee Thompson and others. I was thoroughly honored to get into this publication.

Again, I’m going to make this easy for you. If you want to check it out, you can follow either the above referenced link to Pill Hill Press and check out their bookshop or you can follow the following link to the Amazon page where it can be purchased as well:

A Hacked-up Holiday Massacre

Just recently, my short story, Skipping Stones was published by Dark Moon Books in an anthology titled Frightmares, A Fistful of Flash Fiction Horror and edited by Stan Swanson. All the stories (and there’s a LOT of them totaling a whopping 129) are less than 500 words in length.

Skipping Stones is a reworked story after having let it sit and stew for a couple years. In it’s original form, it was less than 200 words.

You can check out Dark Moon Books from the link above and you can check out the Amazon page by following this link: Frightmares, A Fistful of Flash Fiction Horror

[Side Note #3: This not so banner year looks like it hasn’t turned out so bad after all. End Side Note #3]

Coming soon from Blood Bound Books, my story, In the Shadows They Hide will appear in the anthology Night Terrors II, edited by Marc Ciccarone.

In the Shadows They Hide is one of my favorite stories that I have written. I think the title tells a lot about the story. And you readers, I really think you’ll dig this one. I’ll keep you updated on it when it comes out.

If I haven’t bored you to tears yet, let me throw in a couple of other stories that have come out during the year that I know I’ve plugged, but while I’m at it, I may as well do so again.

Flowers In Her Hair came out in the spring, published by Liquid Imagination, which is edited by Kevin Wallis. The story also has an audio version, read by Bob Eccles, another talented individual with a great radio voice.

You can read or listen to the story here: Flowers In Her Hair

After a couple years and over a dozen tries at finding a home for Summer Jumpers it was finally picked up by The Gloaming earlier this year. This story had been accepted twice previous, but both of the zines folded before the publication dates. It was short-listed half a dozen more times, so it was good to finally give the story a place to be read. Sadly, I can’t seem to link to it because it no longer appears to be on the website.

[Side Note #4: If you would like to read Summer Jumpers as it appeared in The Gloaming, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do for you. End Side Note #4]

One of my favorite stories to write over the last couple years has been a series titled Dredging Up Memories. This series has been so generously put out by the good folks over at Tales of the Zombie Wars. It’s (kind of obviously, given the site name) a zombie tale and follows the trials of a lone man dealing with the world gone to Hell in a hand basket, the loss of family and friends and what he discovers about the zombies… or, rather the people who have turned into them. You can find the first six parts of the ongoing series here: Dredging Up Memories

I’m going to end this blog tonight with a simple thank you to those who have read my work this year or in the last five years or so that I have pursued this dream of being a writer. It’s an up and down roller coaster that would never go up without all of you. For the writer, having no readers is the worst thing that could happen. If I have touched just one person with any of my words of fiction, then I’ve succeeded at being a writer. If you’ve liked one of my stories (or even if you didn’t) thank you for reading.

As the New Year rings in, I have some good news, which I had originally intended to share here, but I seem to have gone on a different path with this blog. So, in order to avoid turning this into a 3000-word piece, check back here in the next day or so.

For now, I’m A.J. and I’m out…