55 minus 16: enigmatic and… enigmatic?

Posted: 1 August 2019 in 55 minus, fast fiction, fiction
Tags: , , , ,

Unexpectedly on a Thursday, and especially only two days after I already did a couple of stories from the vaults, due to various reasons, here are another two.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

But as you’ll have noticed from the title of this entry, what follows are two stories with the same word to be used.

Not only that, you’ll notice they have the same title.

Two stories, with the same title, the same word. Something’s going on, shurely?

Well, what’s going on are two stories, answering the same challenge.

It only ever happened twice… where I had to write a brand new story answering a challenge I’d already answered.

The second occasion was for an entirely different reason. This one, however… this was in retrospect a weird one, but at the time, was… well, it was also weird but another type of weird.

My wife and I had just split up, a few weeks earlier.

I’ve no idea whether or not that was on my mind when I wrote the first of the stories below. But once I’d written it, I knew I couldn’t publish this first story as the response to the challenge.

Because, as you’ll see, the inevitable and perfectly reasonable conclusion would be… that it was autobiographical.

It’s not; it’s really not. My now ex-wife and I are on great terms; saw her this afternoon for a coffee, as it happens. She’s still one of my favourite people on the planet.

The protagonist of the first version of the story, however…

Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

The first time she killed me, it was with cruelty.

The cold blooded severing of our lives, as she announced she was moving out. She looked around our apartment, summing up six years of togetherness with an apathetic gesture signifying that it had no meaning to her. The look of contempt in her eyes was chilling, made worse because of the utter yet enigmatic lack of expression on the rest of her features.

She took out her keys and one by one, removed any of them that had the slightest link to us. The sound they made as each one hit the table will remain with me for life.

One final look around the place, her eyes sweeping the room and passing over me as if I was of no greater import than a television or a curiously designed lamp.

And then she was gone, leaving me with the detritus of a life, wondering how to recover, how to go on.

Then the telephone calls started, so concerned about how I would ‘survive’, the patronising tone rubbing salt into the still open wounds of my heart.

The second time she killed me was with kindness.

Cruelty was easier to bear.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

See what I mean? Yeah, that version of the story went into a drawer and only saw print much, much later.

Anyway, the challenge remained publicly unanswered… So I wrote the following: the same title, the same word, an entirely differnt story.

I like both stories. I hope you do as well.

Here’s the second story.


Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

She was so excited when the box arrived that it was as if she was a child again, rather than a grown woman.

“It is, it is!” I heard her shriek at the front door, from where I sat, in the living room.

She brought the box in through the hall way and placed it in front of me with pride, the usual expression on her face, a conflation of enigmatic shyness and utter pleasure. Ever since she had opened the first one five years ago and had cut into the complimentary copies, she was wary about opening it herself.

Since then, prudence and superstition (and writers tend to be more superstitious than the average person) had mandated that I open up the parcel for her. I did so, removed the top edition and retreated to the couch to read while she examined the rest of the copies of her latest whodunit novel.

I didn’t do too badly this time around, I decided three hours later; looking at the victims, their names, foibles and eccentricities, I’d only been put to death twice. That was the lowest since the second book. I must have been on her good side that month.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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