Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the ninety-second piece in this series. This week’s is a 733-worder by Caron Allan. This story will be podcasted in episode 30 (with two other stories) on Sunday 11th August.
The pockets of Gran’s bathrobe were empty. She found an old tissue, that was all, nothing useful. No matches. There wouldn’t be anything in Lottie’s backpack, no point in even looking.
Lottie’s giggles were gone now, the fun was over, the outing spoilt. The ambulance, their transport, was parked crookedly behind them, the doors open, the driver’s seat empty. Gran didn’t know where the ambulance-driver had gone. She remembered arriving in the vehicle but the details eluded her.
This wasn’t how Gran imagined it would be but now she was puzzled. Why had she thought this would work? Outings need to be planned, not carried out on the spur of the moment. Lottie was hunched on a tree stump, kicking her feet, cold, miserable. They needed a fire. Rubbing the sticks together hadn’t helped, had not produced the required spark.
“What are we going to do, Gran? Are we going to live in the forest now?” Lottie asked her. Gran knew her granddaughter was trying not to cry. Then as half-expected, Lottie said, “I think we should to go home now, Gran. It’s cold.”
Gran shuddered. Home meant different things to different people. To Lottie, home was a big, bright kitchen, a cat on the window-sill, a plate of chips with a blob of ketchup.
To Gran, home was a dark, cold place where bombs fell from the blacked-out sky. Where all around you was damage and destruction. Or more recently, home was a converted old manor house, down on its luck and smelling of boiled cabbage, and the place was filled to the brim of old, crazy people like Gran herself, and nurses who had no time to spare.
She felt a surge of resistance rush through her. She was not going back. She renewed her attempts to kindle a fire, girl-guide style, in the little pile of dry twigs and leaves. Nothing happened. After another half-dozen attempts she gave up. She had lost the knack, along with so many other things.
In spite of her original determination, there was no fire, no food, no fun. She slumped down next to Lottie and the nine year-old leaned against her and they sat together for a while.
Gran was wondering about the driver of the ambulance parked behind them, but Lottie spoke and her voice chased the other thoughts away.
“Gran, what does it mean when you say resistance is futile?”
Gran looked at Lottie. “Where did you hear that?”
“Dad says it sometimes. He got it off the telly. What’s it mean?”
“It means there’s no point in trying to fight,” Gran whispered, and a tear crept down her cheek. She looked down at her slippers. Now she remembered.
“I never fight,” Lottie said, “you get kept in at playtime for fighting. And then you can’t go on the climbing frame.”
“I know, Darling, I know.” Gran placed a kiss on Lottie’s hair. Then, “shall we get back in the ambulance?”
Lottie nodded. “Yes, Gran. We could do this again next week. If they let you borrow the ambulance again. It was fun going along fast with the siren on.”
Gran nodded, but she still didn’t move. Lottie grabbed her backpack.
“I did you a picture at school today.” She hauled it out, slightly bent at the corners. Gran took it and carefully smoothed out the creases and looked at the bright yellows and blues.
“It’s lovely, Lottie. Thank you, Sweetheart, thank you.”
“You can put it on your wall. It’s you and me at the seaside.”
“It’s lovely, Sweetheart.” Gran said again and she carefully laid it to one side as she got up. They got into the ambulance and she started the engine. “Let’s go then, buckle up!”
By the time they got back, Gran knew the police would be waiting. She had a feeling this might have happened before but she wasn’t sure, perhaps she was remembering what was about to happen. But in any case, she was too tired to resist any more. There was nowhere to go.
“Gran, did you have electric when you were a little girl?”
“No, love. When I was a little girl, your age, we were very poor, and we lived out in the country. Then there was a war. A lot of houses got destroyed.”
“So how did you see to watch telly then?”
Gran hid a smile. “We had candles.”
I asked Caron what prompted this piece and she said…
The inspiration for this short story came from your online novel writing group daily exercises. There was a picture that looked like it could be an ambulance; if it wasn’t, it was about to become one! The word Resistance caught my attention. Due to my husband and son’s interest in science fiction, the phrase ‘resistance is futile’ is a common one in our household. But in many ways it is both a chilling and a depressing observation. I began to think about someone who is trying to grasp at something important that is slipping away from them, and I thought of an elderly person, kicking against the loss of her independence following being admitted to sheltered housing. I thought about how the frustration of that, coupled with the desire to go where you want and do what you want might lead to drastic actions being taken.
The keywords did their work: resistance, crazy, candle. The random phrase – ‘s/he’s trying to get a fire started’ – this led me to think of survival, of the instinct to protect and provide for our children. The mixed bag provided the characters (grandmother and grandchild), the painting, the nursing home, giggle – which led me back to the grandchild who would at first think this was a great adventure and the dilemma – something’s spoilt – that would be Gran’s plans for a fun, exciting camping trip. I didn’t want the story to be too bleak, so I tried to introduce some humour – it was after all a ridiculous situation, so I ended on a high note, with the granddaughter asking one of those daft artless questions kids ask you when they think you’re really ancient!
I loved it. Thank you, Caron, for sending it to me and for using the prompts!
Caron Allan was born in Kent and has lived all over the south east of England, and also spent five years in Brisbane, Australia, which has provided plenty of material for writing novels and short stories, mainly in the mystery / crime genre but Caron also writes fantasy fiction.
Married with two grown up children and now living in Derbyshire, Caron has previously worked as a railway ticket clerk, a classroom assistant, a secondhand bookshop assistant, an archivist, and a University administrator.
When not plotting how to kill people, Caron can be found trawling the aisles of her local grocery store in pursuit of everyday items with lethal potential. Other interests include history and family tree research and chatting on Facebook. Caron self-published her first eBook, Criss Cross, on 1 January 2013, and is currently writing a sequel, which at the moment has the working title Cross Check.
You can find out about Karen and her writing via…
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