Tales of War - Flash Fiction Stories
Writing Flash Fiction
I never used to understand why people wrote flash fiction. I wanted to write novels and short stories. Lengthy tomes with lots of words. Then I joined my local writing group, Watford Writers, who hold a monthly flash fiction competition.
My first entry, surprisingly, was placed and I was hooked. But I had a lot to learn. A maximum word count of 300-350 words means that each word is precious, is chosen with care. My long, rambling sentences needed to be pruned back, the adjectives cut and my verbs be more dynamic. I also realised I had a habit of dropping in to the passive voice.
So here are three of those flash fiction entries. They are all set in times of war and explore different aspects of the struggles, challenges, hardships, successes and heroism faced by the characters.
One was a winner, one was placed and one story did not come anywhere. Can you guess which ones they are?
The Lavender Garden
The scent of crushed lavender filled the summer garden.
Charles pulled his arm tighter around his mother as she sobbed.
Over her head he could see his brother’s body sprawled in the herbaceous border; blood pooled on the dry, cracked soil.
The sight of a body, even Harry’s, no longer shocked him. He noted details to tell the police. Like why use their father’s shotgun when his service revolver was still upstairs? And had he angled the gun under his chin so he could not miss?
Charles knew Alicia visited Harry this morning to return her engagement ring.
His mother tried to blame the girl. Charles knew she was too young to be tied to what his brother was now. A man whose hand shook as he raised his glass, who flinched if a door banged. Someone who screamed in terror every night.
His mother looked up and patted the empty left sleeve pinned to the front of his jacket.
It was him they were all sorry for. The fit young man who had to live his life with one arm. All Harry needed they said was rest.
Too late, Charles realised he was the lucky one. He adapted, got on with life. Harry could not rebuild his shattered mind. They told him to buck up, be a man. His brother only retreated further, trapped in his past.
The light at the end of his tunnel was Alicia. That morning she doused the flame. Harry foundered and was lost.
Charles shivered. If this is what they fought for he wanted no part of it. It was the promised life of peace and security he craved.
Back in the house the doorbell rang. They were here to take his brother’s body away.
Colonel Hetherington called for another brandy.
‘You know Doctor, Captain Murray is quite the rising star; most promising officer I’ve ever had in all my time in India. Rides like a demon, expert shot and popular with the ladies. I’ve got great hopes for him.’
Doctor Mackenzie looked at Murray twirling the Colonel’s lady around the ballroom.
‘Well Colonel,’ he said. ‘I agree he looks the part but, as we both know, until he’s seen action I’d rather reserve my judgement. For my money, young Lieutenant Arnold is the one to watch. Solid, dependable and the men like him.’
The Colonel gave a snort.
‘Can’t agree, Doctor. Fellow’s got no breeding. Didn’t even go to a decent school.’
‘Well Sir, we’ll know soon enough if the native troops refuse the issue of the new cartridges next week.’
The two men ordered more brandy and began talking polo as the regimental band struck up a jolly polka whilst outside the garrison gates India turned restless in its sleep.
Two weeks later, the Mutiny exploded around them. Colonel Hetherington turned to Captain Murray.
‘Take Lieutenant Arnold and six troopers to blow up the magazine before those mutinous dogs get their hands on it!’
The fight to take to take the magazine was savage. Arnold, mortally wounded and the last man standing, looked around for his commanding officer.
He spotted Murray cowering in terror behind a low wall.
Arnold crawled over on his stomach and laid a hand on his shoulder.
‘You go, Sir. Get away. I’ll finish the job.’
‘I only wish Lieutenant Arnold lived to share this moment with you,’ Colonel Hetherington said months later as he pinned the medal to Murray’s chest.
He turned to Dr Mackenzie.
‘I told you he was a good ‘un, now he’s the most celebrated officer in India.’
The Darkest Hour
The shadows lengthened as the moon slipped behind the mountain.
Maren knew it was time to wake the American. The wounded flyer would only get one chance and, if he didn’t get it right, they could both be dead by the time the sun rose.
He reached out and shook the sleeping man’s shoulder, shoving his other hand over his mouth to stop him calling out.
‘Time to go,’ he whispered. ‘The moon’s set. It’s as dark as it’s going to get. You need to keep low and make as little noise as possible. I haven’t seen or heard one of their patrols in a couple of hours, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out there waiting for us to make a move.
Maren took the top off his water bottle and thrust it at the American, who took thirsty mouthfuls.
The young flyer gave the old Basque guide a grateful look as he handed back the bottle.
‘Won’t you come too? Someone tipped the Nazis off, those patrols were waiting for us? It’s too dangerous to stay.’
Maren shook his head.
‘My family is here. If I don’t go back I’m putting them all under suspicion. Besides, Todor is only expecting one package.’
‘How can I thank you for what you’ve done for me? You’ve risked so much?’
‘By not getting caught. The Spanish border is over there by that stand of pine trees. Get beyond the gate and you should be safe.’
A light flashed three times in the trees, the signal Maren was waiting for.
‘You must go now,’ he said pushing the American out of the barn door, watching the young man as he stumbled into the dying night to be swallowed by the darkness.
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Wikimedia Creative Commons The Christmas Truce on the Western Front, 1914 is in the Public Domain
Wikimedia Creative Commons Sepoy Rebellion 1857, Hyderabad is in the Public Domain
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