It's a happy accident that the story for this month's FLASH on the FIVE happens to come from Fictive Dream, as this wonderful publication out of the UK does one of my favorite flash events this month. Every February, Fictive Dream hosts a "Flash Fiction February" where they publish one new flash piece every single day for the entire month. Definitely worth checking out to get your flash fix. And while this particular story -- "A Weird, Beautiful Thing" by Kelle Schillaci Clarke -- is not technically part of the Flash Fiction February, it serves as a great example of the quality of work published at Fictive Dream.
Give it a read at the link below and then come back for greater insight on how this beautiful piece came to be.
FAVORITE LINE: The boy wavers, then puffs out his chest, imagining his parents seeing him on the nightly news, the three of them watching together from the rented couch, legs-touching close.
I also easily could have chosen any line from the final two paragraphs. What I really love about this piece is the physicality and the messiness. I love the "wicked-sharp" fins and scales, and the boy's blood mixing with the fish's blood, and by the end we have this large, mutilated dead fish. We can see it and we can smell it so clearly. But what makes all that work so well is the other side of the coin. On the other side from the bloody warrior-boy that we see so much of, is a a typical little boy desperate for love and attention from his parents. And of course from all we see in the echoes of Mom and Dad is that this boy is getting anything but what he needs. So the line above is my favorite because it seems to capture all of this in one line. We see the proud, chest-puffing boy who whittled his own spear, but we also see the little boy who wants to make his parents proud, the little boy who craves affection, even if it comes from the accidental touch of knees on the couch. Heartbreaking.
I had a great time learning more about this boy and his fish from my Q&A with Kelle:
1. I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “A Weird, Beautiful Thing”?
I more often start stories from a sentence-spark or half-baked idea, but this story arrived image-first, born from a news article I came across last summer about a three-and-a-half foot, 100-lb Opah (aka “moonfish”) that washed up on the Oregon coastline, wildly out of place, far from its tropical home. I’ve been working on a novel set on an island in the Pacific Northwest, so I was particularly tuned into any news about sea-life, especially any anomalies in the off-shore ecosystem. I obsessed over this beautiful, lost fish and the idea of who might discover it, and what it might mean to them. I landed pretty quickly on this young, inquisitive boy, and the rest of the story formed around him.
2. I think writing is all about making choices. And I love the choice you made to keep the boy’s parents off the page. Mom is mentioned in the first line and she and Dad simmer just below the surface through the entire story, but they never appear in a scene. Can you talk to this choice? Did you ever consider having them on stage? What do you think it does for the story to have them only lingering like giants in the background?
The parents are main characters in this story, for sure, despite being cast in the shadows. In their absence, readers are left to fill in the blanks quite a bit. Why aren’t they watching their child? Why is this young boy all alone on an abandoned strip of cold coastline, with a knife he’d swiped, no less? He’s in such imminent danger, clearly beyond what’s in the scene, that even two passing strangers notice but feel powerless to help him. I chose to end the story with him actively engaged in this bloody battle, allowing/inviting the reader to imagine what happens next.
3. I love how much the fish is a character in the story! The description of it throughout is some of my favorite physical descriptions I’ve read in a while (the giant eye, the speckled orange, the circumference of the circle around it, the wicked-sharp fins, etc.) How did these details come about? Did you research a particular fish? Looking at a photo(s)? Just see it clearly in your mind’s eye?
Thank you! Since it was based on an actual image, I had a clear picture of the fish going in, but it definitely took on a larger, almost mythological feel as I wrote into it. I started to see it more through the eyes of this boy. How would he describe it, and why did its giant eye haunt him so? I sensed his desire to damage the fish, reflective of his need to act out in violent ways, but also his desperate desire to protect the fish, preserve it as a trophy to show off to his parents. He believes this weird, beautiful creature will heal something in his family, and yet, despite his best and most valiant efforts, he still ends up destroying it.
4. We are so much rooting for this boy! Between his home life, the bullies at school, etc. And he’s so smart, brave, proud. The image at the end is rather gruesome as he tears the fish apart, both him and it bleeding. And we can already see that whatever he brings home, if anything, won’t be pretty or received well by his parents. I love the complexity of this ending! Do you see the ending as hopeful for him? Has he accomplished something?
Sadly, I don’t see a lot of hope in the ending, but I like the idea that another reader might read hope into his fevered attempts to impress his parents, or at least accomplish this goal he’s created for himself. I’m more worried how they’ll react when his bloodied body shows back up at the rental, with or without the fish. Anger? Concern? Relief? I’m rooting for him, too, and really hoping his parents surprise us all by getting over their own bullshit.
5. What are you working on now, and where can we see more of your writing?
I’m thrilled to have a short story featured in And If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing, the anthology of speculative parenting stories edited by Hannah Grieco, which came out in January, and I have a couple other short stories coming out soon. Meanwhile, I’m still plugging away at a novel filled with all kinds of strange and beautiful sea creatures and super messed-up humans. Most of my short stories can be found at my website: www.kelleclarkecreative.com, and I’m always happy to connect with writers and readers on Twitter: @kelle224.