As with my last Blog post, this one was sparked by the monthly challenge set by WEbook - this time for October. They wanted their members to write a story (up to 850 words) that revolves around a specific room, where the characters have been, or feel, 'abandoned'.
To your left there's a window.
To your right there's a wardrobe.
Behind you is a fireplace.
In front of you is a door.
It doesn't look like there's anyone here.
Not as easy as it sounds. In fact, downright tricky... especially when you don't want to end up with a story that's a mirror image of what others have submitted.
So, when I sat down to write, I was trying to think of how I could turn the room itself into a metaphor. Metaphors are something that I find fascinating, and they can be useful to a writer because they allow us to say/describe one thing, whilst meaning/describing something entirely different. And I figured, if I could pull it off, I'd have a pretty cool plot line, with the ability to layer the story, explore a number of topics, and give the reader something to really think about.
Ambitious? You bet! But that's half the fun of writing, and the whole point of the exercise: to challenge myself.
It took me a while, but I'm hoping that what I ended up with is a story that most people will 'get', without me telling them exactly what it's about.
See what you make of it... and don't forget about the challenge. It's open for submissions until 31st October.
Happy reading and writing!
WARDROBE SHAPED BOXES
Stepping from the wardrobe, onto dusty floorboards, his cry of despair echoed through the empty room.
At the centre of the space, he turned in a circle. Tired eyes took in the fireplace, the window, the door… and the now shut wardrobe, with its single, full-length mirror.
He knew the room's door would be locked, but tried it anyway. Misshapen fingers grasped the oversized brass knob, twisting and rattling it to no avail. His booted foot kicked at its panelled surface. The sound of steel-toed leather on wood mimicked the hollow beat of an aged heart, encased in wasting flesh and bone, made fragile by time.
Crossing to the fireplace, he noted that it was slightly different to the one before. Maybe… Aching limbs folded downwards, with little regard for the impact on his body. Pain speared up from his knees as they hit the floor, and leaning forward, he peered upwards from the hearth, past the iron grate, to the void above. There was nothing to see; just a bricked-off flue.
Staggering to his feet, with more will-power than strength, he ran his fingertips across the tile surround and wooden mantelpiece, testing for the slightest give in either. Wasn’t that how it worked in adventure novels? A secret catch, cleverly disguised; a cobweb-decorated passage that led to freedom.
There was nothing of the kind.
Three steps, to where the floorboards creaked and he could swear he heard movement from below; pause to listen for a moment, with no reward; four more steps and he was at the window, staring through the rippled and air-bubbled glass. Mist, as always, met his gaze, shrouding whatever landscape lay beyond. Was there the whisper of laughter, rising up from the place he could not see?
He waited for more; time was something he had in abundance... but silence reigned.
Looking over his shoulder, he stared at the wardrobe on the opposite wall. There’d been one like it in his childhood bedroom. Too large, too dark, too ornately carved. It had overpowered the room just as this one did. And that long, bevelled mirror… how many times had he stood in front of it, with tears running down his cheeks and the burn of strap-marks radiating pain from thighs, buttocks and back? He’d sworn he would never visit such a punishment on his own children—and he never had.
Not that they’d thanked him for it. Instead, they’d railed against the freedom he’d allowed them, and interpreted his lack of discipline as a lack of care… a lack of love. It had taken years for them to come to understand each other. Wasted years.
For a moment clarity returned, and he remembered them as they were; blond-haired angels with smiling blue eyes and happy faces, who grew into confident, arrogant teenagers, with little life-learned sense. And then… into adults who treated him with cool civility, veneered with familial duty. He tried to bring them closer in his mind; flicking through the faces of too many strangers. But they had gone.
As surely as the room was always empty, the door locked, the fireplace a dead end, and the window a blank pane of mist-filled glass—there was nothing. No memories, except the pain of his childhood, embodied within a piece of furniture.
With a sigh, he turned back to the wardrobe, aware of hate building within; irrational, ridiculous, satisfying. Hate was something he could use, to give his time here meaning. In front of a wardrobe just like this, he’d felt a child’s hatred for adults who kept their love for him inaccessible; walled-up behind their need for his obedience to, and dependence on, them. In front of a wardrobe like this, he’d glimpsed love; the reflection of a soft, sweet-faced woman holding his child. In front of a wardrobe like this, he’d accepted the abandonment of his own mind.
But wait… that was something new. What woman?
Frustration burned as brightly as his hatred now. This new ‘something’ was important. He knew it as surely as he recognised this room for what it was—a prison with a constantly open door; a way out that never changed in shape or form, but offered little by way of escape.
A rush of heated breath, and a stream of curses. He had no choice. It was time to move on.
Spinning on his heel, he crossed to where the reflection of a sobbing boy stared back at him. But… he was old now, wasn’t he? His limbs were aching and tired, and his mind a confusion of images he couldn’t quite make sense of. So why did his younger self refuse to fade?
Another glance at the room he knew so well, and when the wardrobe's door swung open, he stepped across its threshold with weary resignation. The void beyond was as dark as ever, hope the distant outline of another doorway... and briefly, he understood.
The mind is not made up of boxes—but of wardrobes in empty rooms.