Today I’m giving away a short story – or “flash fiction” as it’s called in the writing industry (writing under 1000 words in length).
This is the first story in my short story collection, Dark Things. It started off as a treatment for a longer book, and evolved into a very focused, intense work about child abuse (it wasn’t supposed to be like that, I just followed the writing).
I hope you enjoy this work of flash fiction called “Austerity Measures”.
The kitchen light flickers and makes a dink sound. You’re not supposed to look at it too long. It burns your eyes, Mam says. But he still does. The spots it leaves are like secrets which only he can see.
“Upstairs,” she taps her cigarette.
“Do I have to?”
“It’s signin’ on day.”
“Yuh know how yer Dad gets after Job Centre.”
“‘E’s not me Dad.” He picks up his water and leaves the kitchen to its layers of cigarette smoke. In his room he gets under his bedsheets, which tent over him, and he imagines the light, the shining world.
He hears the front door open; slam. “Wha’s fer dinner?” It’s the man. Mam says not to call him that, so he only says it in his head now.
A light escapes his bedsheets.
Silence, then he hears the second-most hated sound in the world. It’s followed by the first-most hated sound: his Mam crying out.
He does the hiding thing where he closes his eyes and imagines himself underwater with the light, like he’s down in the ocean trenches on the programmes they watch when the man’s out. Deep and far away.
Under the bedsheets the voices are muffled. But in the small house, he can still hear. “Ge’ dinner on,” from downstairs. “Where’s ‘e? I said where is ‘e?”
“GET DOWN ‘ERE.”
He sinks. When he can’t sink further, he opens his eyes. The shining world fills them. He puts his face to its surface.
“Where’s the sauce?”
“Couldn’t afford any.”
“It’s hard wi’ what government give us. Wi’ food prices an’ all.”
“Everything’s fucking my fault, en’t it? Where’s ‘e? GE’ DOWN ‘ERE I SAID.”
Each word becomes a depth charge, waiting for a wrong move. Warmth leaks out and yellows the sheets. Water leaks along a cheek. He crawls away from the dirty stain he’s not supposed to make and drops to the floor and wriggles under the bed. The light is in his eyes and inside him. It’s safer under here, like at the bottom of the sea. It’s easier to hide. A battered old action figure looks at him with dead eyes.
“Din’t say it’s your fault. I try.”
“Berra’ off eatin’ down’t Club.”
He hears the hated sounds. Second-most. Firstmost. Cringes.
There’s a thudding sound, and his bedroom door explodes open. He holds his breath.
“Tol’ you ‘uh ge’ downstairs.”
“Leave ‘im, will ya?” Desperate.
“Fuckin’ ignore me?”
“If you touch ‘im…”
“Aye, yer’ll leave ‘us! Gerron wi’ it, then. Where are yer?”
The man whips the bedsheets away.
“Fuckin’ pissed the bed again? Eight year old, pissin’ bed?”
He hides the light inside so the best person at hide and seek would never find it. He is deep in a trench, deep under the sea.
Deep underwater, he lets a bubble of air escape, draws another. It’s soft like a gasp.
“There y’are. Hide from me, will ya?” The floorboard creaks, the man drops and looks at him with darkness in his eyes. The man’s breath is sour and ragged.
He follows the light inside him to deeper, deeper canyons.
The man reaches in and pulls him out. The bed scrapes along his head. Depth charges explode, spreading the darkness.
He keeps hiding in the light, deep, deep beneath the waves.
Above, a storm roars and thrashes and he sees the room spin around.
Deep down, the light is soft and doesn’t burn at all.
Bubbles burst from his mouth.
A whale sings far away, a sad and mournful sound.
The darkness closes in.
He follows the light inside.