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by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 04 August 2016
Word Count: 875
Summary: This is my first real attempt at flash fiction. It was a real challenge. Any pointers welcome.

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‘How many sessions have you actually been to?’ Billy lowered his voice to camouflage the word ‘sessions’. She looked him straight in the eyes.The trouble with being a twin was everything was so familiar though not entirely the same.
‘Got to the front door,’ she laughed. ‘Decided to keep the cash, don’t need psychiatric help.’ The hubbub in the café drooped as customers tuned in over the strangled gurgle of the frothing machine. 
‘Its only Center Parks, Isla, not even a real wood. ‘
‘I can’t, Billy. Just can’t. You know why.’
Not a phobia at all. She had on her usual get up. Scuffed brown shoes, green trousers, a mossy shade of washed out jumper topped off with a tattered green overcoat. Her complexion reminded him of a ripe acorn. Her nails, blackened with compacted soil. She looked like a leaf holding itself back from uncurling until the perfect environmental conditions were met.
‘How come you can work in the gardens, then? Amongst the trees!’
‘I’ve told you. It’s not the same. He’s waiting for me. In the wild wood. I can hear him whispering in my dreams. I can hear him whispering when I’m awake.’
Not this again.
‘No-one is waiting for you in the woods. If you can work in the gardens you can go to Center Parks. It’s for mum and dad. Not many couples reach their golden wedding anniversary and it’ll be perfect for all of the kids. Think of someone other than yourself for once. ‘
Her expression said he’d just crushed a tender woodland flower with the force of his grip but her answer was calm. ‘I’ve told you. My name's Sycamore now’
‘You can call yourself whatever you like when you’re with your hippy dippy set, you’ll always be Isla to me.’ He laughed then touched her hand in a conciliatory gesture. ‘Look, how about a practice run? There’s that little wood in between the industrial estates. It won’t take long to walk through and I’ll be with you all the time. I’ve been reading up about hylophobia. You need to confront your fears, head on.’
‘You’ll be with me?’
‘Yes, every step.’
‘And Center Parks. You’ll be with me all the time there too.’
‘Okay. Let’s try it. For mum and dad’s sake.’
He could hardly believe it. Of course the problem was she’d never really grown up, always been indulged.
They finished their drinks and left.

He pulled the car into the piece of wasteland that passed as a parking area. She sat rigid, fingers gripping the safety belt.
‘Let’s do this thing.’ He bellowed like a gridiron quarterback in the split second before the snap.
‘Hold tight’, she whispered, ‘promise.’
He grabbed her hand as they made for the gate. The start of the wide path was enclosed by a natural archway of entwined rhododendron and willow. Petals from the luscious purple flowers were scattered on the ground like confetti. The heady scent of honeysuckle couldn’t quite mask the musty smell of leaf mould mixed with decomposing dog waste. He’d expected her to be shaking, have trouble breathing. That’s what the internet had told him but she was calm, rapturous even. He watched her gulping down the mushroomy air.  Crap, she’d been putting it on all this time. Attention seeking as per usual. She stopped to stroke a moss encrusted tree stump still gripping tight to him with her other hand.
‘He kissed me next to one like this. Her eyes sparkled like shards of mica. He said that when I came back I’d be his forever.’
‘You’re not remembering it right, Isla. When they found you entangled in that briar patch you’d just fallen down the slope and banged your head on a stump. Concussion. No little man, no crown of leaves, no kiss.'  She reached forward and ran her finger over his cheek. It was a habit she’d had since they were small. A sort of code between them to say don’t worry everything is fine. They walked on a little and he felt her stiffen at the sight of a withered oak tree.  It stood upright but was cracked open and had no bark. It’s leftover bare branches stuck out like partially amputated arms.
‘I have to go, Billy.’
‘But I promised. Every step.’ He tried to grip harder but her fingers were used to working away at small things.
‘Let go,’ she hissed.
‘Don’t leave me’ he whined as she detached herself and the thump of his heart filled up his ears. He wound around the oak. A queer maypole dance, stopping every now and then in disbelief.  He was sweaty though the air was cold. He took a deep breath. She was just fooling. Teaching him a lesson. If only the quality of the silence didn’t tell him she was gone for good. ‘What a stupid thought’ he said out loud. She’d be back in a minute. Laughing about her so called phobia. His mouth was dry, he felt dizzy. He tripped slightly on a sycamore sapling that was nestling in the roots of the oak. As he struggled to regain his balance a tender young leaf brushed across his cheek. It felt discomforting and familiar.

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Comments by other Members

Desormais at 16:20 on 05 August 2016  Report this post
I really enjoyed the originality of this piece - and all the tree references were worked artfully into the story, from her clothes, to her skin and fingernails.  Masterful! 

'The heady scent of honeysuckle couldn’t quite mask the musty smell of leaf mould mixed with decomposing dog waste.'

That was such a graphic description, I could identify with it straight away.  I thought the piece flowed beautifully, and I got a clear sense of who each of the characters was.  When she disappears, I would have liked something a little more there, I think.  I think the leap between "she detached herself" and then him 'winding around the oak' was, for me at least, just a tad too long.  It felt as though her disappearance was something that was happening to him.  (I don't think I've expressed that very well.)  The end was quite moving.  A very impressive piece for a first attempt at flash fiction.  Nicely paced and very imaginative.  Choice of adjectives was spot on for the nature of the piece.  Well done.
And thanks for taking part.

Cliff Hanger at 17:01 on 05 August 2016  Report this post
Thanks for your encouragement, Sandra

You're spot on about the disappearance part. I struggled there. I was hoping to plant the idea that he might be the one that ends up with a phobia but got hung up worrying whether it was belieavable that she would just disappear like that. In a longer story I could have expressed myself better. I guess that's the skill in flash.

It's all a learning process.

I really enjoyed the prompt it was fun to write.smiley


TassieDevil at 17:45 on 05 August 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane,
Great to see you participating. This group has been great to develop my flash and these days I sell them on a regular basis.so it's a skill worthdeveloping. Already I can see loads of impressive skills

Her complexion reminded him of a ripe acorn. Her nails, blackened with compacted soil. She looked like a leaf holding itself back from uncurling until the perfect environmental conditions were met.

Excellent image.
As I read on I felt it lost a sense of direction a little with suggestions of something else that never quite was resolved. For me this was the disappointment although there was a whistful dreamy feel about the entire piece and to experience that atmospher was a pleasure in itself..
Also it was a thought-provoking phobia to choose. I smiled at the artificial nature of Centerparcs and whether this would trigger a phobic attack.


Great simple title too.

Cliff Hanger at 19:15 on 05 August 2016  Report this post
Thank you, Alan

You're right, I probably lost my way in the woods a little.laugh

Glad you liked it notwithstanding.


GingerTom at 13:50 on 06 August 2016  Report this post
Lovely descriptive passages here, Jane, though it left me wanting to know what happens next. Great stuff.

Bazz at 19:38 on 06 August 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane, there's some wonderful descriptions in this piece, especially

Her complexion reminded him of a ripe acorn. Her nails, blackened with compacted soil. She looked like a leaf holding itself back from uncurling until the perfect environmental conditions were met.

There's a great earthy sense of detail, which runs into the woods at the end. I did think the scene where she vanishes is a little abrupt, what exactly from his point of view happens? But at the same time, there's a strong sense of almost mythic mystery, topped off with the "familiarity" of the leaf that brushes his face (also a great link to their "code").

There's a strong sense of pace and character here, and I love the details in the description. A great piece of flash to start the group off with :)

Cliff Hanger at 19:51 on 06 August 2016  Report this post
Hi Bazz,

Thanks. I've been reading about foliate heads recently (because that's the kinda gal I am, hah, hah) and I really did happen across a mystical wood in between two industrial estates a few weeks ago so ...

Flash is tricky but it's a discipline I'd like to develop - if I can.



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