Apartment 51 - Winter Flash Fiction Challenge
Hello, and welcome to Apartment 51!
I'm not quite sure why it's called Apartment 51, to be honest, as no alien research is done here and, as you tour it, you will see this is mostly a proper bookstore-café mashup, but it is. I'm also unsure about the staff attire; although Delia is quite satisfied with being a flapper girl and calling everyone "darling", I'm not quite comfortable in this projection. But enough about me, and back on script.
Apartment 51 is the newly renovated space above the Cup & Platter, and it is meant for those of a literary bent. It is, quite literally, a "speak-easy", but of the more bookish sort. I've heard there's a secret room or two hidden in here, with an assortment of--ahem--banned books, if you are in the mood to explore. It will also be the permanent home of Ditto Town's Flash Fiction Challenges. Flash Fiction Challenges are designed to create very short, self-contained stories on a given theme or prompt, within a certain set of parameters. Once stories have been submitted, writers can provide each other with feedback, of the friendly sort.
As you explore, please note the following rules:
1. Keep in mind that this thread is specifically for authors to post finished pieces and receive feedback. It is not for roleplays.
2. For the same reasons, please refrain from discussing tangent topics or plotting in this thread.
Flash Fiction Rules:
1. Keep all posts rated “G” or “PG” for the sake of our younger members.
2. Your story must be longer than 10 words and shorter than 1500 words. All stories must be on the prompt given, and all stories must be given a title to differentiate from stories written by other authors.
3. Members may only post one story per prompt.
4. All characters must be characters you have invented yourself, not taken from other authors. This means fan fiction is not allowed. You can use your characters from other Ditto Town stories, or ones made up just for this thread.
5. Remember again to post the title of your story at the top.
1. Always include the title of the story you are commenting on.
2. Remember to THINK—are your comments true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?
3. Make your posts substantial. For example, if you want to say “Good job!” or “I really liked your story!” add some details (“I really liked your story because it highlighted the strong friendship between Cheddar the Chipmunk and his Talking Thimble without being overbearing and cheesy”).
4. Please keep in mind that all writers are at a different place in their writing journey. Thus, we ask that you focus on giving feedback, rather than editing pointers.
Without further ado, your prompt is as follows:
Every year, as summer wanes, all known creatures of the world make the final cozy touches to their home before they go into hibernation for the winter. This year, however, your main character has woken up in midwinter--and they are wide awake.
Feel free to revise this prompt to fit your individual storytelling style by changing the tense or changing any pronouns necessary to fit your characters. Also, keep in mind this event will come to a close on February 28th.
Now, sit back, relax, and perhaps have a nice cup of suitable beverage. I'll be back down in the C&P, if anyone needs me.
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By the time I came to my senses, I was already sitting up. I knew I was wide awake, but I wasn't certain why. I looked at my Etlen and my children, but they were all still asleep. I shivered - even beneath all my fur, it was still frigid. The thermal vent we'd built our winter home around could only combat the cold so much. I was sure - the Winter Rest wasn't over yet. So why was I awake?
I was tempted to reach out to Etlen, but decided against it. Just because I was awake didn't mean I should wake him. Even assuming I could. The cold weather lulled us into a deep sleep, one that only the warmth of spring could dispel. Even finding perpetual heat sources didn't fight off our natural urge to sleep.
I tried to think clearly. Had anyone ever woken before the Winter Rest was over? Well, there were some stories. Legends, really, about beasts that could endure the cold of winter and weren't driven to shelter and sleep the way we were. Brave heroes would stay awake all winter, standing vigil over the sleeping tribes to ward off the beasts. But those were just stories, weren't they?
That was when I heard the sound - a shrill cry, not loud but piercing, even through the walls of our home. Instinctively, I rose to my feet, ignoring the bitter cold as I shed the last of my blankets. I must have heard the sound in my sleep, and it drove me awake. I must simply have been sleeping more lightly than my husband or children, for even now none of them stirred.
I crept up to the front entrance of our home. We’d never even considered putting windows in our winter home before - why allow the cold another entrance? - and now I cursed that decision. I would have to talk to Etlen about that when summer came. I grabbed my bow and cautiously opened the door.
I was stunned by the light - what light! How could the moon be so bright?! I forced my eyes to adjust, before I finally realized that it wasn’t the moon - it was the sun. The sun shone in the winter? But the days grew shorter as winter came on, we knew this. I thought winter came because the days ended for a time. More than that, the sun was reflected off of the ground and the world covered in white. Snow! So much snow covering everything! I had seen snow before, but I had never seen so much. If the first snows came before the Winter Rest, it was a sure sign that the time was coming soon. Even the sight of the snow brought to my mind images of sleep and rest, and curling back up next to my family safe and warm. I wanted to go back inside.
Perhaps I would have, had it not been for what I saw off in the distance. Two, perhaps three hundred feet away, I saw a large creature, the sun behind it and casting a horrific shadow across the otherwise shining snow. The creature walked on all four legs like many beasts, and I could see a series of large spines growing out of its back.
I could tell by its walk and the hungry sheen in its eyes that it was a predator of some kind. Worse than that, the creature looked lean, but if I had to guess, that was not its natural shape. It was likely hungry, and desperate. Perhaps it was an animal that, like me, had woken too soon from its hibernation and had no food, and was now desperate for a meal. Or perhaps it was like the creatures of legend who had no need to sleep, and could easily prey on those who did.
I spent too much time considering these possibilities. Its head turned my way, and I heard it snarl. It had seen me. It turned, scrambling in the snow and almost losing its footing, giving me a few precious seconds. Once it started in a straight charge, though, it charged at me with such speed!
To tell the truth, I don’t remember exactly what happened next. My instincts and my pounding heart seem to have taken over as I loosed my arrows to drive it away. I remember it shrieking at least once, so I must have hit it; the next thing I truly remember was being back inside, the door closed behind me, panting for breath, the sound of the creature shrieking, and its footsteps in the snow getting farther away.
Perhaps that would have been an almost welcome sound, if it hadn’t been followed by a second sound. I heard another cry, very similar to the first - but, pointedly, not quite the same. It was quieter, more distant - and coming from the wrong direction. There was at least one more of those things out there.
I rubbed my eyes, hoping to restore some warmth to them after the icy cold of the outside, and trying to figure out what to do. Some part of me thought of the cold, and still wanted to sleep. But I need only have one look at my Etlen, and my children, before I knew that I couldn’t do it. None of them had woken during any of that commotion. For whatever reason, I was the only one. So I was the only one who could protect them.
I didn’t know whether I would need food, or whether the food I’d eaten before the Winter Rest would be enough to sustain me. I didn’t know whether or not the sleep might come to claim me later, perhaps when the threat was gone again. But I did know that there was a threat to my family waiting outside our home. So, like the legends of old, I would stand vigil over my family for as long as I could keep my eyes open.
N-Web sis of stardf, _Rillian_, & jerenda
Proud to be Sirya the Madcap Siren
Standing Vigil by Ryadian
Rya, I loved your story! In just a few words you’ve created an image both familiar (love of family) and alien, not to mention hints of a mythology of ancient heroes sacrificing their winter sleep for the safety of others. I liked the surprise of realizing the sun shines during the winter, and I really enjoyed the end, in which your protagonist does what must be done and thus makes herself a hero.
Confession time: in many respects, my own story (which is finished and is being polished up for submission) may well come across as a cheap imitation of Standing Vigil, but I prefer to think of this as 'great minds think alike' as opposed to plagiarism. I've given some thought to writing something else instead, but this seems to be the story my characters want told.
The importance of family is a theme in my tale as well, and that may explain some of the similarities. (I like to think that family is a theme in much of what I've written here, whether it's about the Baxters or the gargoyles of the Ditto Story).
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
Author's notes: Once again, apologies to Ryadian for the similarity in plot. I've tried to come up with a different one but this is the one my characters insist upon.
Tau Ceti III – not exactly the most romantic or poetic name for our new home, but home it is nevertheless. There’s a lot going for it; it’s about earth’s size with breathable air, lots of water and arable soil with edible native plants, and a day about 24 hours long.
The recruitment brochures – be the first colonists outside the solar system! – called this world Paradise, and thanks to a large PR budget, the name stuck.
In fact, the PR campaign was so successful it convinced governments, contractors, and even potential colonists to overlook the one serious problem Paradise had: half the year the climate was pleasant, but the other half was dark and cold, way too cold for humans.
They sold us on the comfort of warm dwellings to spend the long winters in, and somehow had a huge budget to develop genetic engineering that would make us sleep during those months.
The long journey from earth took several generations, and during that time the genetic alterations were finalized and given to us. We would hibernate during those winter months.
Yeah, I see the irony. My last name, inherited from ancestors long past, is Bearpaw, and now I was going into hibernation like my animal namesake. If the modifications worked as planned, doing so would be instant and unavoidable. We would sleep until spring awoke us, and only until then.
We’d timed our arrival for spring, to give us the most time to get set up. All went smoothly; the world was all we’d hoped for and our colony had thrived. Good thing too, since everyone knew this was a one-way trip. Our ship had been dismantled and the parts used in starting our home on this new world.
Now we were coming up on our first hibernation cycle. Our house was warm and we’d laid up food for spring and even fattened ourselves up in preparation for seven months of sleep. I curled up with my family and we were asleep before we knew it.
Wait! What’s that?
I snapped awake, my dreams of the green hills of earth shattered. Our house was dimly lit and the digital wall calendar showed only three months had passed. Why was I awake? A flaw in the genetic engineering perhaps?
But my wife Olivia and our children slept on, curled up together for warmth. They appeared to be fine. That’s a relief. I couldn’t bear living without them.
I was wide awake and my heart racing, so I figured sleep wouldn’t be coming soon. My first step was to check that the heat was still working in our little house. Andrea, our youngest, had had nightmares at first about going into the long sleep and never waking up because the heat went out. Her brothers had teased her about it and we were quick to stop that, but only Olivia’s tender reassurances had allowed our baby to go to sleep for the winter.
The house seemed comfortable enough, and the thermostat registered a toasty (for winter) fifteen degrees, just as it was supposed to. We were fine.
Maybe it was something outside? I might as well see what’s going on out there, both out of curiosity for the world in winter and to try to find out what woke me up to start with.
I donned my parka and cracked open the door. A gust of chilled air rolled in and I shivered. A glance showed nothing dangerous, so I slipped outside and closed the door to keep the warmth inside. No use risking waking up my family with the cold.
It was dark, even though the sun was out. It was the dimmest I’d ever seen it, and I could even see some stars overhead. Paradise’s larger moon was a thin sliver. The beauty took my breath away – or was that the cold? I thought about looking for earth’s sun, but sightseeing would have to wait. The cold, and whatever had awakened me, demanded my attention.
I quickly took in my surroundings and saw no immediate danger. The nearby houses were all dark and still, as they should be. All was quiet, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of summer in our colony. The ground was white, covered with snow, and my breath came out in big white puffs.
This was cold far beyond anything I’d experienced, and I wondered how it might compare to the Antarctic cold back on earth. I couldn’t be outside too long. If not for my curiosity, I might have retreated back inside immediately, hiding behind locked doors until spring.
There was a strange crackling sound above and behind me and I whirled around to see a spectacular show overhead. Northern Lights, they were called back on earth, but those paled in comparison to these. Not just green and red, but purple, orange, and even blue curtains shimmered and flickered, vanishing then coming back stronger than ever. They even cast faint shadows despite the dim sun’s light.
But surely this isn’t what had awakened me, was it? They were bright but wouldn’t be visible through the walls and thick blackout curtains of our house. And the strange sounds they made were only obvious in the otherwise-silent winter.
I tore my attention from the light show above; any danger would likely come from the ground and not the sky. I walked around our house but still could see nothing out of the ordinary. The whole world seemed asleep.
My shadow suddenly flashed into sharp relief, and I looked up again, just in time to see a bright meteor shooting across the sky. It faded but was so brilliant it left an afterimage in my sight, just like the flashbulbs of old earth.
Then another followed, and another, until dozens of them rained across my view at once. It left me speechless.
The show only lasted minutes, but I was shivering by the time the meteors passed. All was quiet again, except for the winter wind whistling through the barren tree branches. I still had no idea what had awakened me – though maybe one of those bright shooting stars, at just the right angle, could be to blame. Still, I had doubts since the scientists had told us that nothing would awaken us until warmer weather arrived in the spring.
The cold finally forced me back inside, and I had to smile at the sight of my wife and kids still fast asleep. I’d stay awake a while, if I could, to keep watch and to make sure no real danger lurked outside.
The hours stretched on, and I couldn’t help becoming bored and lonely. I was glad my family was safe, but seeing them, so still and quiet, made me miss the fun times we’d had together. And I was still no closer to figuring out what made me wake up. When we all woke up again I’d listen for rumors of similar happenings to others in the colony.
Come spring, I’d have a story to tell, a tale of snow-covered ground, a faint sun, and stars and meteors during the day. But could I tell it? Who’d believe me?
Maybe it’s best to keep my mouth shut, I thought as once again I curled up next to my wife and succumbed to the need to sleep.
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
This was a fun project to work on and I hope that anyone who reads this enjoys it to the fullest. I would really love to hear what you would think of my story.
Hearing a soft whisper in my ear, startled, my eyes drowsily open. Sitting up, I look around the room, I am confused as to why I am awake, or am I? Is this a dream? Is winter over? Did I do something wrong? I sat there contemplating for a minute on what to do next. Finally, I decided to get up and look around more to see if anything is out of place.
As I look around I find a strange bow leaning against the harsh wood wall. How did this get here? Did I make it and forget about it or did someone put it here while I was sleeping? I pick up the bow and suddenly I felt a burning sensation in my hand. I threw the bow on the ground as far away from me as possible. Looking down at my hand I see a strange symbol on it. Looking back at the bow I see the same symbol on it.
Hearing another whisper like the one before I spun around, nothing; I turn around again and yet again there was nothing. Brushing it of as just my mind playing tricks on me because I was tired. I walked over to the bow, which was now pulsing with what looked like fire, and picked it up again. I brace myself for another burning pain, but it instead of burning it was just warm. Wanting to have a closer look at it I turn the bow over in my hands and study it. It was beautiful, I had never seen anything like it before.
From far away it only looked black, but when you look closer it looked as if there was every kind of flame running through it. The grip was also amazing; even though it only had the colors of black and grey, the warm glow from the other parts of the bow made it more stunning than the rest of the bow. I pulled back the string to test the strength of the bow, unexpectedly an arrow looking much like the bow itself appeared. When I slowly retracted the string back it its original position and the arrow vanished and again as if there was nothing there.
I was interested in why this bow did these things. Was this the only bow? Was there more? What does the symbol mean? My thoughts were abruptly cut off by a deafening roaring sound. The silence that followed made me more uneasy than the roar. I crept up to the window and peered out. At first glance it was all white, but when I looked closer I could see the trees and the bushes covered in snow with small amounts of green leaves. I opened the door slowly and walked out. The snow crunching under my feet was the only sound I heard as I walked through the forest. While I was searching for the thing that made that thunderous noise, a thought came to my mind. Why did we hibernate during winter? Why did I wake up? What will happen to me? I kept these things in mind as I strode through the forest.
While strolling through the forest another roar came from just North of me. I ran over and saw a strange creature stuck in some weird looking claw trap. Sensing my presence, the creature swung its head towards me and softly growled. Putting my hands up in a non-threatening way, I gradually made my way closer to the creature. Its growl grew steadily louder as I drew nearer. Not stopping I finally made it to the creature’s… foot? Paw? Talon? Whatever it was I made it to the part that was caught in the claw trap. The creature moved defensively around it and bared its fangs. Taking a step back I again looked at the creature. It had a many different shades ranging from the darkest night to the whitest snow. Finally snapping out of my trance I was able to get the creature to trust me more by bringing it some scraps of meat and crushed herbs. After about two hours I pried the creature loose from the trap. The creature instantly sprang up and pinned me to the ground. I froze as the creature licked my face. After about a minute the creature stopped and got up off me.
The creature followed me all the way back to my home. It also tried to come inside my house, but it did not fit because it was too big. After seeing it try many times I decided to build it a temporary shelter. I found some branches and large rocks outside and some blankets from inside my house. Looking around to find a place to build this shelter. Eventually I found a small cave close enough to my house where I can get to it quickly.
I finished making the shelter around sunset and the creature seemed very pleased with it and walked right in. I thought that would be the end of it for the night. As I started to walk away the creature grabbed me and pulled me in the shelter. Startled I let out a roar as if I was about to tear something in half. The creature flinched and let go of me in an instant. Falling face first into the snow with a thud, the creature immediately curled into a ball and sunk as deep into the shelter as it could. I got up and went over to it to see if I could get it to unfurl itself.
After about twenty minutes it uncurled and pulled in closer to me. I snuggled in closer to is fur and started to doze off forgetting about previous worries. It’s so warm, I thought to my self as I fell into a deep sleep. That’s when the nightmare started.
I was running endlessly through the dark with something behind me. Not wanting to think about what that something could be, I kept running and running hoping that something, anything would happen. After what seemed like hours the darkness started to change, warping into a cave that I had never seen before. I turn to my side and immediately found out what was running behind me. It was my long dead mother half broken and decayed just sanding there. After awhile she started to reach toward me in a threating manner. All I thought was not again and started to run, but she overtook me swiftly and just as she laid her had on me I sprung awake.
Seeing me startled by my dream the creature just curled its tail around me comfortingly. I looked up and it was just beginning to be dawn. The creature, no Fury was already awake but was still curled around me. I chuckled as I stood up thinking it was a bit funny that a huge creature like this one was still with me and did not eat me.
Once I made it back to the house I looked over at the bow then out the window at Fury and all the snow. I go over and pick up the bow and look at the symbol on it then at the mark in my hand. Was it all connected? Maybe I am supposed to go somewhere, or maybe a danger is coming. But before anything significant happens, I want to figure out why all of this is happening: me waking up in the middle of winter, the glowing bow, the mark on my hand, and Fury.
Wow, Rya, this definitely feels like the prompt was written just for this story. I very much enjoyed the ending, where you hint at the "more" but leave it to the imagination as to what will come next. I do feel like the creature is a bit unresolved...I think the story would be a bit stronger if we either knew it was a threat to the homestead, rather than just a spook, or that it was a near miss. Your MC, though, is incredibly relatable, and I think that makes the story forgive the unknown about the creature.
Hat tip for the Northern Lights, gazer! I really was expecting a villain of some sort, or something, but the alternate explanation--the natural phenomena of the Northern Lights and a meteor shower, was a nice twist. Definitely the sort of short story I'd want to read on a comfort day.
First off, welcome to Ditto Town, Blackstar! I enjoyed your story. You did a good job humanizing the creature, although it might have helped to start with a full explanation of how it looked. I was able to appreciate the creature so much more the second time around, after I had all the details. You painted quite the picture. Your main character is quite compassionate, and I'm sure the two of them would have many future marvelous adventures together.
I hope to see you around Ditto Town some more!
Avatar thanks to AITB
Well, I hope you all had loads of fun, but it appears it is time for me to turn the last of the lights out. As the saying goes, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here! If you are looking for a place to hang out before the next Apartment 51 Challenge, which I estimate should be sometime in May, I would recommend checking out the Town Square, where you can chat with fellow Dittotopians great and small. It never closes, even in foul weather. If you wish to comment on any of the stories posted here, stop by the Cavern Tavern.
I would also encourage you to keep an eye out for signs of life around the Mansion. I hear Delia will be opening the Mansion to visitors on March 15th. Beware the Ides of March!
You can expect the next Apartment 51 challenge to commence on May 28th.
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