White Piping

Hola, folks! If you’re wondering why everything looks new around here, it’s because I decided my blog needed a change of scene, or should I say, a change of theme. Yep, that’s the best joke I can crack early on a Sunday morning before my cuppa. 

Also I thought what better way to declare a short story win? 

If you haven’t heard of the literary journal On The Premises, do head over there straight away! They hold nifty theme-based contests every few months. These are free to enter and offer excellent prize money. If your story becomes a finalist then they even offer a critique! 

Their last themed contest that ended in March centred on clothing, titled ‘It’s on you.’ 

I am more than thrilled to report that my story earned 2nd place in the contest! This story was particularly important to me, with all the conversations around #MeToo and #TimesUp entering the mainstream. 

This is one of the fastest acceptances I’ve ever received. I sneaked in my entry minutes before the deadline as I usually do, and a week later came to know I’d been shortlisted. Fast forward, another week and I received the fabulous news that I had placed second! 

I’d love it if you popped over to read the story and let me know what you think!

Please note: Opinions expressed in the story belong to the characters only!

Image Credit and Rights: Rare Vintage

The Demons of November

In honour of the first anniversary of demonetization, here’s a little crime story that I published on Juggernaut to celebrate the occasion. 

Read, like, share, let me know what you think, please! 

If you like the story please share it with your friends and family. If you don’t like it then definitely share it with everyone you know – what better way to torture them!

Here’s the link!

Mini-Update

I have been light on writing-related work this year. No Short Story Challenge, and definitely no other brand new work. I’ve spent most of my available free time on editing and whipping older pieces into shape. Per my records, I have about 28 of these essays and short stories that I need to whittle and carve to perfection, or at least start submitting them if I find I cannot revise and edit them any more.

Despite that I have a couple of acceptances to report. One was my short story targeted for a YA audience, titled Miss Quit which found a home in the lit mag Youth Imagination. I wrote this as part of the Short Story Challenge 2014, and it had been simmering ever since. When I did finally send it out I got a fairly quick acceptance.

The second was my article for writers, titled The Maturation of a Writer at Walrus Publishing. I wrote this last year on the spur of the moment one day, while reflecting on the differences I felt as a more experienced writer now compared to when I had started out.

Do read them and tell me what you think! Feel free to post links to your own recently published work in the comments below!

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.”

 

The Red Ants

I’d thought I’d try something a little different this time and post one of my stories on the blog. This one was published last year in eFiction India. I am reprinting it here for your reading pleasure. Do read and tell me what you think.

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“Let’s play football.” Tina chases the ball around the lawn, squishing it past the muddy patches.

My arms brush the plaster off the pillar in the corner of the clubhouse. From my cocoon of shade, I watch Tina trade kicks with the big boys at a game I can barely spell, let alone play. I picture myself trotting up and tackling the ball like Messi. But they don’t even notice me standing there in my sporty dress. I rub my forearms and wait for her to join me for the walk back home.

The boys hound her out soon enough. She jogs back smelling of musk and sweat, her damp ponytail swishing behind her. “Anita, why didn’t you join us?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know how to play.”

“What’s to know? You just kick the ball into the other team’s goal.”

I want to grab her sweaty shoulders and ask how do I do it? What if I send the ball spinning way outside the field? My teammates would totally pummel me, and my opponents would point and jeer.

Tina dribbles a ball as we shuffle back to Magnolia building. Outside her door, I raise my finger to ring the bell when Shetty Uncle disrupts our day. “Hello, girls! Enjoying your play?”

I narrow my eyes at him as he stares at Tina. Sweat fastens her vest to her skin. She wears real short shorts, the kind that wedges up and jams the butt cheeks in the middle. I often warn her to ditch the hip stuff and wear decent dresses like me, but who’s listening?

“Yes, Uncle.” Tina is careful to stress on the word Uncle. A giggle escapes my lips.

He shakes himself out of his leering. “Hey, you girls can take part in the football game we’re organizing next week!”

Tina stops twirling her hair, and snaps to attention. “Football game? In our clubhouse?”

“No, silly girl. We will hold it in the grounds next to Jogger’s Park. All teams from our apartment complex – adults, kids, ladies, mixed teams, everyone is invited to participate!”

“That’s great, Shetty Uncle! Please note down our names for this.”

“No, no, my dear.” He wiggles a pudgy finger at our noses. “First, form a team of eleven, think up a name for your team, and then tell me.”

Shetty Uncle huffs into the elevator. Tina nudges my elbow and drags me to her house. For the next hour, she spews out names like a phone book.

“How about Mala? She’s into sports and her brother’s cute too.”

I shake my head. Girls like Mala exist only to count my pimples and declare the total in full view of their hunky brothers.

Tina glares at me for a second. “What about Rimi?”

I smile. “Rimi’s nice. We can ask her.”

The next day at school, Tina corners Rimi after our basketball class. Rimi’s eyes widen at the thought of founding a football team and she promises to rope in her fellow tennis-players. She’ll drag her boyfriend into this too, I’m sure.

By evening, we assemble our team. It includes both boys and girls, but mercifully no adults. Tina’s dad has formed his own team. They’re calling themselves something crazy like Fan-chester United.

Now our team is all set, we charge onto the lawn to grab a couple hours of practice. The battered soles of my sneakers kiss the ball, but it only bounces off the low brick wall that runs around the lawn. Rimi bursts into laughter and staggers off to the restrooms for a pee break.

The others head off the grass to catch their breath. I grab this chance to practice in one corner. I place the ball right in front of me, and as if in slow motion, throw a hard kick at the ball. Instead, I hit something that looks like a brick squelched into the mud. I let out a yelp and clutch my feet in despair. Tina dashes to my side. The socks and shoes reek when they come off. Neither my feet nor my toes bear any marks of damage.

“It will be fine. Just put some ointment on it,” Tina says. I glare at her – what does she know about a sports injury?

Later, when we’re soaked to our skin in sweat, we sit cross-legged on the lawn in a circle and toss around names for our team.

Someone suggests ‘Delhi Teenyboppers’, but a chorus of ‘Nah!’ knocks it off the list. ‘Kids Kick’ treads the same path of rejection. Shetty Uncle drops by and suggests ‘Junior Jocks’ but we just roll our eyes at this.

Rimi’s boyfriend Samir throws his arm around her, and addresses the crowd. “Which house are you in at school?”

Everyone yells out different names all at once, but even in the melee, the word ‘Red’ stands out. I holler out ‘Blue’, but it dissolves in the racket.

“I have an idea,” he says. Rimi glows at him. “Why don’t we wear our Red House t-shirts and white shorts as the team uniform? Those who’re not in Red house can borrow from others, right?”

“Sounds great! And how about we call ourselves The Red Ants?” Tina says.

“Awesome!”

He high-fives Tina. Rimi strokes his arm possessively.

The name is settled but my nerves are jangling. Come Saturday evening, when the referee blows the whistle to start the game, I might just puke out all the stress bottled up within me.

For the next three practice sessions, I run around but not always after the ball. I learn that one thing well. Just darting around the lawn convinces everyone that the goal lies in my crosshairs. My heart beats a little faster every time I sight the sphere. It’s like a loaded gun about to fire. It will be the death of me, that football.

On the day of the tournament, I battle match nerves and eat nothing. Ma concocts an awful gooey dish filled with vegetables. One bite suffices for me to push away the plate.

At five, I throw on my borrowed red tee and shorts. Tina rings the bell and together we stroll down to the grounds.

They announce the rules – four games, forty minutes each. A lottery system will decide the opponents of the four games.

My heart sinks to my chest as Tina draws out a piece of paper from the bag. Shetty Uncle makes her shake hands with a hulking fellow wearing a sleeveless tee. Tina smiles and says what looks to me like ‘Best of Luck.’

She trots up to us. “Number four. We’ll play last today.”

I heave a sigh of relief. Two hours of breathing time will help me come to terms with the fool I am about to make of myself.

Two teams of adults storm the field first, one of them composed of older women wearing demure track pants and sparkling white sneakers they must have bought especially for the day. I doubt they ever slip their feet into anything but ballet flats.

We fan across the edges of the ground and watch. The game must be close. Rimi, Tina and Samir cheer and hoot every few minutes. My heart keeps popping up to my mouth and I face a tough time shoving it back down.

As the seconds tick down, my pulse quickens. Between games, Samir, Rimi and I scamper about the grounds flattening the sludge.

Tina’s father and his team swarm the ground. They are up against another group of hefty men from the Marigold building in our complex. This is the first game that pits two all-male football teams against each other. They charge after the ball and yell instructions at each other and at some point, even curse their opponents, just like the games on TV.

Tina’s father tackles a yellow-teed bodybuilder, and falls to the ground. For a minute, time stops. In a blur, I see Tina darting down to the center of the grounds, where her father lies on one side. He wraps his fingers tight around his calves, his face screwed up in agony.

A crowd encircles him, until someone tells people to back off and let him breathe. He tries to move but his legs do not cooperate. Shetty Uncle and a spectacled man wearing an ugly checked shirt jog down to the grounds. The ugly-shirt man claims to be a doctor. He kneels by Tina’s father, cups his shins.

The proxy-doctor curls his lips. “It might be a fracture. We should call an ambulance.”

Shetty Uncle nods. Nobody notices the concrete slab caked in slimy mud. Rimi takes me by the hand and draws me away from the scene.

“So, you feel secretly relieved you don’t have to play? I know you were dreading it,” says Rimi.

“No way,” I say. “I would’ve played great. Football’s a piece of cake for me now.”

Distant Echoes

At the beginning of 2014 I joined a group of eclectic writers for the Short Story Challenge, in which we committed to writing one short story for the month. We shared stories, exchanged critiques and reveled in each other’s successes. Nine writers emerged victorious, successfully completing the challenge.

The result is an amazing collection of stories called Distant Echoes, published this month on Amazon. It features my story as well as those of the eight other writers, which includes debut novelists and award winners among them.

This is very exciting for me. Though I am part of other collections available on Amazon such as the Bartleby Snopes Issue 8, eFiction and BookMuse Reader’s Journal, this qualifies as my first foray into self-publishing, albeit not with a book that has my name on the cover. But there is time enough for that. Do check out the collection and help spread the word. I hope you enjoy the stories.

In other news, I am striving hard to write regularly. A sprinkling of successes here and there keeps my spirits buoyed up.

If you feel funny, i.e. if you want to write funny and inject a little humour into your stories, take a look at my article A Shot of Humor on FreelanceWriting.com.

My personal essay Digital Devotion is up on Cecile’s Writers magazine. It’s one of my favourite pieces and I’m glad that it found such a good home.

As always, I continue to write one story per month for Short Story Challenge 2015.

What news on the reading/writing front for you?