Flash Fiction Challenge: “I was Within and Without”
Today I’m participating in Rachelle O’Neil’s Flash Fiction Challenge again. I received a very interesting prompt from Evan White: “I was Within and Without”, a quote from the 1920s novel The Great Gatsby. These words had to be found in my story at some point.
There’s a story behind this story, one of intense procrastination (and time-consuming biology), six or seven hours of working on a story one day, and two stories written from this prompt.
My first story (one with a much grander feel than the one you’re about to read), I wrote over the course of a few days, but mostly I finished it earlier this morning (because, procrastination and biology). When I finished it, it ended up at 2,363 words; 1,363 words longer than the 1,000 word limit for the Flash Fiction Challenge. For several hours, I worked to edit out those 1,363 words. With around 300 more to go, I let my sister (who had read the lengthy original version) read it again. She (indirectly) told me that the original was better.
For the sake of the story… I dropped it. If it was already worse off, I didn’t want to edit out another 300 words. I reverted that story back to the original word count and set it aside. My faithful readers, you may be able to read that story some other time.
By this time, it was around six o’ clock in the evening, three hours past the suggested deadline to post the Flash Fiction pieces. I grasped for new story ideas, came up with something, and because the day was lengthy already, made cookies (readers, cookies are always helpful) before returning and writing this new story that you are about to read.
After editing out a few words on this new Flash Fiction story, I finally have it ready to post here, with apologies to Rachelle for being late, thanks to my sister Faith, for reading my original and letting me know it was better before, and thanks to Katie Grace, for reading over the second story for me to let me know whether or not it was absolutely horrible.
Now that you know the story behind this story, I do hope you enjoy it.
Gusts of wind rushed through the trees, the blasts of air broken only by branches flung by the wind. I ducked around trees, straightening my leather jerkin. He should have known better than to go out today. Everyone spoke of rainstorms or hurricanes, and in the cliff-strewn forests, safe ground didn’t exist. If he wasn’t somewhere dodging flying trees, he probably lay at the bottom of a ravine somewhere.
But then, that’s why I’m here.
I brushed my hair behind my back and cupped my hands around my mouth. “Matthias!”
The rain hit.
I stumbled under the force of it, the wind catching me and blowing me a few steps forward before smacking me into a tree. Water streamed down my face, blurring my vision. Keeping a hold on the tree, I blinked rapidly, scanning the area. “Matthias!“
The wind snatched away my voice. I cast a glare upward in irritation. Child, where are you?
The voice, worn thin by the force of the wind, barely reached my ears. “Matthias!”
Ducking low and watching for branches, I sprinted toward the voice. I had to duck once under a branch that nearly snagged my hair, and the rain obscured my vision every few seconds.
When I made it to the edge of the cliff, I nearly fell off.
I scrambled back from the edge, breath catching in my throat and my brain snapping sarcastic comments. Moving more carefully, I knelt and peered over the edge.
The rain lashed at the sandstone over a thirty foot drop, tree roots protruding from the surface. Clinging to one of them, battered, rain-sodden, and gripping the strap of a blue backpack, hung Matthias.
My first glimpse of him as a boy showed him as an average twelve-year-old.
“Matthias!” I shouted.
He looked up. “Help!“
“Drop the backpack!”
He shook his head, eyes wide and frightened.
I sighed, swept my dripping hair off of my face again, and scanned the surface of the sandstone. “All right,” I said. “Hold on—I’m coming!”
I slid over the edge, carefully placing my feet on roots and ledges in the sandstone. The wind smashed me against the rough wall, stealing my breath, and I dripped almost as much as the sky. Slowly, I made my way downwards, toward Matthias. As I neared him, I could see the facial features I knew so well; younger, his hair a few shades lighter, but still him. He shivered, clutching the root with all his might.
“Keep holding on,” I said. “I’m coming.”
The wind thrust me against the sandstone and I smacked my chin against the rock. Warmth spurted out, accompanied by sharp pain. I shook water from my eyes and glanced downward.
Matthias still clung to the root.
Something moved on the edge of my vision, and I sucked in a breath. A tree limb careened through the air. I followed it with my eyes, rapidly glancing between it and the expected place of impact.
“Matthias, let go!”
A fall would be better than an assisted one!
Matthias looked up at me, eyes wide. The tree limb jerked in the wind, and I thought for a moment it would miss him.
It jerked back, crashing into the side of his head. His grip on the root released, and he fell.
Cursing under my breath, I scrambled down the sandstone, slipping more often than not and grasping roots to slow my fall. I hit the ground hard, stumbled, and dashed to Matthias.
Red streaked from both sides of his head, where the tree limb hit and where it smashed his face against the rock. I lifted him as best I could, grunting and grabbing his backpack as an afterthought. Surely there was a cave or sheltered area somewhere around here.
It would be just my luck if there wasn’t.
I was Within and Without. Sheltered Within a world by a depression in the ground ringed by sandstone, I fought Without for breath, life, and, if convenient, no lasting brain damage. The darkness fluctuated, sometimes deepening, but he breathed through the night.
Matthias stirred as dawn lit up the eastern sky. I lay on my back a few feet away, sore in a way both physical and far from it. But he lived; I lived. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
Matthias groaned, but as his eyes opened he quieted, gaze darting around. Suppressing a groan of my own, I rose to my feet.
Matthias stared at me for a moment before finally saying, “Thank you.” The fact that he remembered was impressive on its own; the fact that he politely thanked me added to it. “Who are you?”
I smiled, bending over and offering him a hand. “I’m Hope.”
He took it, and I helped him to his feet.
“Matthias,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head.
He glanced at me, uncertainty flickering through his eyes.
“Your books are in the bag. I think they might be ruined.” He looked wide-eyed toward his backpack, and I laughed under my breath. “If you go straight east, you’ll be home in an hour.”
“…Thanks,” he said.
I smiled. His mannerisms, though younger and more uncertain, were as familiar to me as breathing. I took a deep breath and reached into my jerkin, withdrawing a small blue orb. “Here.”
He took it, turning it over in his hands before looking back at me.
I stared into his equally blue eyes, solemn enough that he gave me his full attention. “You’re going to save the world someday, Matthias Wendell. Don’t forget it. Learn how to use that. When you’re done with it, give it to a little girl named Nadine.”
With an irritated push at my damp hair, I turned and started toward the opening in the rock.
“Hope,” Matthias called, and I turned back. He paused. “Nadine means hope.”
I smiled and nodded. “You’re right.” With another nod and a wave, I turned and jogged off into the forest.