The Sound of Silence

In April last year, I participated in Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Contest, just to challenge myself. In this contest, 24 hours are given to write a story. A prompt and a word count are provided on the given day and within a day writers are supposed to send their stories in. The entry fee costs $5 and I had nothing to lose except perhaps a bit of pride!

The prompt was as follows, and stories were not to exceed 950 words:

Sitting on the porch steps, she stared, ignoring the scent of lilacs from the overgrown bush. Her heart lurched when she saw the mail truck approaching, dust in its wake. Would it arrive today? The ancient mail carrier took his time handing her some envelopes and, finally, a large package in brown paper. As he drove away, she dropped the envelopes on the porch, and walked quickly around the side of the house, praying nobody inside saw…

Without further ado, here’s the story I penned. It won no accolades, but considering I wrote, edited and submitted it all within a space of twenty-four hours, I was pretty pleased with it. Tell me what you think!

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The Sound of Silence

Mary’s bones ached as she sat on the porch steps. It had taken weeks of preparation. Now everything she needed lay in one place, except for one last thing. And if she wasn’t wrong, it would arrive today.

Her heart lurched when she saw the mail truck approaching. The ancient mail carrier took his time handing her some envelopes and, finally, a large package in brown paper. As he drove away, she dropped the envelopes on the porch, and walked quickly around the side of the house, praying nobody inside saw her.

Mary slipped to the shed behind the house, shuttering the door behind her quietly.

For a second she stiffened, her ears perked up against the wall, waiting to pick up even a note of wakefulness from within the house. No sound came to her.

She set the kettle to boil and got down to work.

The package was large but not heavy. She opened it and gingerly extracted the items, one at a time.

Two skeins of yarn and the four double-pointed size 5 needles were set aside for later use. She had only a little work left on the mittens.

The sheet of satin was so smooth it fell out of the package. The color was a bit too baby blue for her tastes, but it would have to do.

She loved the bells best, but they jangled and broke the quietness in the shed.

A rustling sound broke her concentration. She dropped the package and padded over to one corner of the shed.

The girl, still in her wedding dress, seemed to be stirring awake. The duct tape over her mouth was intact. Mary checked the ones binding her wrists, and those were tightly secured too.

The girl’s eyes fluttered open. She looked groggily around the room. Her wandering gaze found Mary, and her eyes widened instantly.

Mary smiled. “Up already, my dear? You had better take some rest. We need you fit for the evening now, don’t we?”

The girl shook her head vigorously.

Mary dropped to her knees beside her, and picked up something from the floor. “Ah, the cat’s whiskers. Now if only I could find the cat.”

The girl looked even more scared and tried hard to make as loud a sound as she could with her mouth closed. Mary caressed her delicate cheeks. “Be careful my dear. I’m sure you don’t want to join your friends in their habitats.”

She nudged the girl’s face to the right. There the girl saw her companions. Her eyes opened so wide that her long lashes almost feathered her brows. The girl shuffled in her place, but she couldn’t move much. Mary had taken care of that. The sedative was too strong.

The girl closed her eyes. Mary thought she might be crying. She jumped to her feet and strode to the other side of the shed, where two cages housed the girl’s companions – a Siberian Husky in one, and a Welara stallion in the other.

“These aren’t your problem, my dear girl. What will give you a run for your life is this little thing.” Mary pointed to a glass cloche on the table backed up against the wall of the shed.

A bumblebee buzzed about inside, its wings hitting the sides of the glass in vain as it tried to escape.

Mary stroked the curve of the cloche. “It’s just like you – it has wings, it can fly, but it can’t escape. It’s trapped, just like so many of us.”

She fell into a pensive mood, but just as suddenly, snapped out of it.

“Right, let’s get to work. Lots to cook and make merry. I’m thinking, veal cutlets, apple pies and noodles. What do you think?”

Mary brought out a meat cleaver. The girl’s eyes, now red from crying, fixed upon the weapon.

Mary banged down a perfect cut of veal on to the table. With one firm stroke she swung the blade down.

#

In the evening when the whole family was gathered around, Mary said, “I’d like to thank you all for your support. But my shrink says I’m fine now! So I’ve made a small presentation I’d like to share with you all.”

The cheers and whoops of her family was drowned out by a persistent banging on the door.

A hush fell over the gathering.

Mary’s son Phillip opened the door. A young policeman stood at the threshold. “We got a tip-off about a missing person who was reported last seen around here.”

Everyone looked at each other. Mary stood rooted to the spot. Phillip said, “I thought I heard some noise in the shed.”

Mary piped in. “That’s all my stuff.”

Phillip turned to her. “What do you keep there, Mom?”

“Ma’m can we see the shed?”

Mary shrugged. “Let’s go. I was taking everyone there anyway.”

“For what?”

Her face shone with excitement. “To show them my presentation performance!”

She led the way to the shed. When she opened the door, a gasp issued from everyone gathered.

Lined up in a neat row were roses with water droplets on them, a clutch of cat’s whiskers, two copper kettles, colorful mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, even a horse and finally, the girl in the wedding dress wearing a sash.

The officer rounded on her. “What’s all this ma’m? Did you know that girl’s been missing from her wedding since two days now?”

“What’s the big deal? I was going to return her anyway.”

“That’s crazy. And why is she wearing a blue sash?”

Mary said, “Oh come on, Officer, I thought you’d have realized by now. These are a few of my favorite things.”

 

2015 Year-end Wrap-up

Every January I look back on the year that went past with the intent of scrutinizing it to see what I could’ve done better/different. It’s a fun exercise, and I like to make sure I’m growing in my writing. Check out my previous year-end posts here, here, and here.

At the beginning of the year I had formulated a plan to send out my writing to more venues than I ever had previously. I had 15 acceptances in the year 2015. That may sound lyrical and poetic now, but to be honest it’s better than I expected to do when I started submitting.

Out of a grand total of 171 submissions, I garnered 15 acceptances (1 was accepted last year but published this year). The final tally looks something like the following:

Accepted 14
No response 7
Rejected 107
Responded 3
Shortlisted 2
Submitted 33
Withdrawn 5
Grand Total 171

As expected, a majority of submissions have been rejected. The ‘Responded’ category refers to queries I sent and I maintain it only for tracking purposes. The ‘Submitted’ status means it is awaiting a response, so there are 33 of those still lurking in the ether.

This time I included a ‘Shortlisted’ category, wherein twice my piece was shortlisted but not finally published. I couldn’t count it as a rejection either, so I created this new category. One of these venues was On The Premises. In their regular contests, if you make the shortlist but don’t make the final set of winners or honorable mentions, you get a detailed critique of $15 value. I got my critique from their editors, and I have to say it was way beyond the stated value. I highly encourage my fellow authors to submit to their contests. You get to read great stories either way when the issue is out, and even if you don’t win a prize you can win a chance at a critique from the editors which is highly valuable.

In 2014 too, I had 15 acceptances. This set me thinking about what was the difference between my submissions in 2014 and 2015. Here’s what I think:

  • Last year I tended to send out submissions to every publication that generally suited my stories. This year I tried to fine-tune my targeting of markets, and in many cases I wrote stories or essays meant for them, such as the On the Premises contest. I found this works better than dusting off an old story and moulding it to suit the theme.
  • A spin-off of the above point – there were a few markets I wanted to see my name in, mainly because I admire them. That was satisfied this year with pieces published in Literary Mama, Open Road Review, Papercuts, the Her Stories Project, etc. I also had a humor piece published in HuffPost India.
  • The number of non-responses still surprises me. I know the number is paltry in terms of the total, but I would have preferred at least a rejection note from venues that don’t state explicitly that ‘No response means no’. A couple of markets simply shut down, so that’s out of my control.
  • Last but not the least, I sold two short stories at pro-rates! This was a target at the back of my mind, one of those things that I just wanted to see if I could do it or not. One was in GreenPrints journal and another from Cracked Eye. In both cases I got paid on acceptance.

On the writing front, I achieved the following:

  • Attempted to write 500 words a day every day. I did this successfully in the first half of the year, but stopped by May as I was starting to feel the effects of burnout.
  • The end-of-year writing count total came to around 113k. I don’t set yearly targets or anything, so I am happy with this total. It’s a fair improvement on my 2014 total of 80k words.
  • More than 70% of the total was achieved in the first five months while I was on the 500-words-per-day diet. My writing in the second half of the year, due to increased work combined with health issues, was quite sporadic.
  • I still managed one short story per month for the Short Story Challenge. I am sorry to say I won’t be continuing it in 2016. I lack the time and also I want to revise the stories I’ve written over these two years. The body of work I’ve created is quite substantial now, and I’d like to actually see more of these stories published.
  • Helped copyedit and publish Distant Echoes, a collection of some of the best stories thrown up by the 2014 Short Story Challenge. This is a major landmark for me as I had never been part of publishing something on Amazon before! I am pleased to say that the collection is doing well.

That’s all from me. How has 2015 treated you? Have you (dare I say it) made any resolutions for 2016?