I have been a fan of Chuck Wendig's weird and wonderful writing site, Terrible Minds, for a while now. While decidedly NSFW, Chuck has a lot of interesting things to say about the craft and how it's done. He has been posting flash fiction challenges, and while I have tried a couple of times, I never had anything worth putting up until now. This week's is based on a set of truly horrifying stock photographs, available here, and the challenge, issued here, is to write a story based on one of the pictures. My story, New Kid In Town, is based on picture number 40.
Amanda Heymann opened the door, then shut it just as quickly. She didn't, Amanda thought in foot high letters across her eyelids. Another part of her brain reminded her that her mother, obviously, had. She had told her mother that her first birthday in her new town didn't mean anything- that she needn't bother, that it didn't matter, that she wouldn't care. She had seen, in the flash of color and riot of smell and sound when she had opened their front door, that her mother had bothered.
Amanda thought briefly about leaving- simply taking off, walking back down the driveway. She didn't have anywhere to go, of course- no boyfriend, no sympathetic older sister with a car to drive her to safety. She could just walk, going down sidewalk after sidewalk in flight from the party, but that would bring attention and concern. Amanda wanted that even less than she wanted this.
She opened the door and stepped inside. Her mother Nancy was coming out of the kitchen, adding a plate full of what looked like Geno's Pizza Rolls. There were maybe 15 or 20 faces she knew from her new school, scattered around her living room in clumps of 2 and 3 and 4.
"Honey, you're home," Amanda's mother said, "I just couldn't stand the thought of not doing anything for your birthday, so your teachers helped me find some of your school friends to have a little party. Isn't that fun?" She used her high, tight, overly cheerful tone, the tone of voice that sounds like glossy photographs look. It was her tone when she was trying to convince herself of whatever she was trying to tell you.
Amanda walked across the carpet, measuring her steps carefully. To her right was Sara, she knew, a willowy blonde who seemed above the earthly concerns of mortals, along with a tall, athletic boy who kept one hand on her whenever he possibly could. She saw Zane, a dark haired boy she would admit only to herself she wanted to get to know, along with a bitter, gossipy trio from her Spanish class she called "The Harpies" inside her head. She saw on her dining room table that the food her Mom had come up with was at least being eaten- so they couldn't tease her about that, she reasoned. More was gone than sheer politeness would require.
She saw Jane, a short, dark-haired girl who seemed a tiny bit frightening and intense, talking with a broad, expansive redhead, making the taller girl laugh softly, as if she was used to choking off her natural reactions. Amy was alone by the table, chewing excessively on a tortilla chip with salsa while an overweight boy she knew sat in her math class seemed to be telling her the denouement of a long, complicated story.
Amanda kept walking. Her mother had plugged her iPod into the little speakers attachment a thoughtful uncle had sent, and she imagined that her musical taste was drawing little snickers from around the room. She saw balloons, and streamers, and thought that the only thing that proved that she was no longer 8 years old was the taller party guests and the absence of a piñata.
She looked around at them, huddled in their groups and their private worlds. Why did they even come? She felt sweat starting to trickle down her back, and her skin itched under her black hair. No one spoke to her, continuing their conversations as if she had never come in. Her mother was bustling away in the kitchen again. She finally reached the door to the laundry room, opening it and stepping through, closing it behind her quietly.
It was an insane thing to do, she thought. There were probably a few eyes on the back of the door now, and without a doubt her mother would drag her out of here in another minute. It was one of those things that made sense for just a moment. She had to be away, even for mere seconds, from the judgment in their eyes. She couldn't believe her mother had done this. It was like so many things she did- sweet, well meant, but utterly wrong.
There was a single pink balloon that drifted in here from the living room, and Amanda grabbed it and pulled it down. She looked at the decorative ribbon curled around her fist with its chipped nail polish and patches of itchy skin. She felt dizzy, nauseous and uncomfortable, holding on to a single pink balloon, abandoned in a room by itself. She felt another sudden, sad impulse- suddenly imagining stripping off her clothes, climbing into the dryer and sitting there, her face buried against her own knees, like she did when she was 6 and just needed so desperately to be apart.
Amanda stood there, balloon in her tightly clenched fist, tears making silent hot tracks down her cheeks, when she heard the knocking, gentle at first, then more insistent. "'Manda?," her mother was saying in a voice that she thought was soft, "You need to come out and be with your friends." She had no idea, Amanda thought, her body sliding down until she was sitting on the floor, how wrong every part of that sentence was.