Written: Short Story Snippet
I’ve been working on new short stories to add to my collection, which I hope to publish this year. Today I offer a snippet of ‘Say Say Oh Playmate’ in hopes to receive feedback for improvement.
Some questions to answer:
- Does the opening grab you and hook you right away?
- Do you “bond” with the characters in these few words?
- Are there any parts that take you out of the story?
- Too much or too little description?
- Does the cover make you want to pick up the book?
- Suggestions for improvement appreciated.
Don’t worry, I have tough skin.
Say Say Oh Playmate
A pop startled the children into silence. Shelby Firth crumbled to the ground, blood pooling underneath her. A second child screamed in rhythm with another pop, followed by a short staccato peppering the air as one by one all the children on the neighborhood playground fell to the ground where they played, scarlet staining the soil beneath them. A few more pops sprinkled the air, sending small bits of flesh flying in a macabre dance with the wind, which died out as suddenly as the gunshots. Anguished cries replaced the sounds of childhood laughter as frantic parents found their young ones covered in blood and open wounds as their lifeless eyes stared up at them. A small, weak cry trembled from the farthest end of the playground, and parents rushed to the sound, hope propelling them forward.
“I opened my eyes to dozens of faces staring down at me. Some had ugly looks on their faces, while others held tears that still dropped from their chins. The only face that mattered to me, the only face I wanted, I couldn’t find. I was the only one to survive that day, and my mother wasn’t there.” Mere said. She touched a tissue delicately to her eye, careful not to smudge her makeup.
Her therapist, Della Thompson, sat across from her and stared. Della rarely said much while Mere talked, and today was no exception, despite the gruesome discussion. Della also mastered the art of no expression, as her face gave away no details to her own feelings of what she heard. Her lips moved after a moment, as if she waited to make sure Mere had finished.
“Wow. I remember my mother reading that story to me when I was a teenager. I never realized it was true. Did you ever find out why your mom wasn’t there?”
Mere dropped her head, studied her fingers for a moment. “Well, she died when I was little. I just can’t ever remember if it was before or after this.”
Della nodded. “It is hard to lose a parent when you are young. Perhaps you missed her because she wasn’t there, and it would make sense that she would be the first person you wanted to see.”
“My next door neighbor went to the hospital with me and stayed until someone came. My daddy brought my grandma with him, and the neighbor left when he came. It was really nice of her, since her daughter was my best friend and the first to fall. She stayed with me a lot after that, which got weird sometimes. She’d stare behind me like she saw a ghost standing there, then send me home without explanation. When she passed away a couple of years later, people said she died of heartbreak.”
A frown creased Mere’s forehead. Della studied her client quietly. The minutes ticked by on the clock as silence overpowered the small office. Mere’s right hand gripped her left, and her thumb rubbed her palm absently. Mere had left the room mentally.
“Where are you, now?” Della’s voice scattered the silence.
Mere didn’t answer right away. Her hands still wrung together, and the frown deepened on her forehead. Della waited for a moment, wondering if Mere heard her. “Where are you?” Her hand touched Mere’s shoulder lightly.
Della smiled. “I’m sorry, Meredith. Where did you go just now?”
Mere blinked. A tear escaped and fled to the floor. Mere ignored it. “I always wondered why I wasn’t good enough,” she whispered faintly.
Confusion crossed Della’s face. This was a new development she had to explore. “Good enough for what, exactly?”
“Everything.” Mere’s eyes left Della’s face to stare at her own thighs instead. “Just, everything. I wasn’t good enough to die with the rest of them, I wasn’t good enough for my mom to stay, I wasn’t enough for Mrs. Firth, either. I’ve never been good enough.”
Her voice rose in crescendo as she spoke, but the last of her words sounded forced.
“I’ll never be good enough,” she said, her voice barely a whisper now.
It was Della’s turn to frown. Her age showed in the wrinkles that gathered in her face as she did. “That is not true, Meredith.”
“Then why am I still here, while everyone I loved is gone?”
The tears flowed freely now and left black trails of mascara in their wake. The tissue she’d dabbed her eyes with before laid in a crumpled mess at her feet. Years of pain echoed in that voice, the voice that belonged to a person too young to know this much pain.
Della sighed. As the court ordered therapist, she couldn’t afford to get caught up in this girl’s mess. After a year of therapy, they had come full circle again, right back to the beginning. She shook her head, hoping Mere didn’t notice. Her inability to move past this point made it difficult to work with her. Della had to make a decision.
Della’s pencil tapped on the clipboard. Mere shook her tears off, grabbed a second tissue and wiped her face as Della cleared her throat. “Meredith, our time is up today. Keep writing in your journal and do the breathing exercises I gave you. I won’t be able to meet with you next week.” She rose and escorted Mere to the door. “I’ll have Felicia call you when I return to schedule your next appointment.” Her guilt rushed Mere out the door, still sniffling and teary-eyed. Again she questioned why she chose to be a therapist as her own past flared in her mind.
Her father’s deep voice vibrated through her small body. Her face stung as he smacked her yet again. “Stupid girl! I told you to be home by 6:00, not 6:01.” He open his gun cabinet and pulled out a rifle and shoved it in Della’s face. “You know what I’ll do next time you’re late?”
She shook the memory off before it could go any further. No, this was the wrong case for her. Della’s fists squeezed together, her neatly trimmed nails leaving small cuts in her palms as she went.
“Stop.” Felicia’s voice brought her back to earth. “How can you expect Meredith or anyone else to let it go if you can’t?”
“Precisely. I’m putting in my resignation tomorrow.”
Felicia rushed to her side. She placed a hand on Della’s shoulders and applied pressure. “Della, no. That is not what I meant. You spent years studying to do this.”
Della stepped away, casting Felicia’s hands off. Felicia moved forward, this time not touching her except to lift her face to look into her eyes. “Della. Stop. It’s me, Felicia.” She ran her fingers down the side of Della’s cheek tenderly, never looking away. “Don’t forget why you wanted to do this. You can’t quit now.”
“You’ve never understood. I can’t keep doing this to myself. I laid those memories in the past, buried them on paper, and tossed them in the fire. They refuse to die. Every client I see now has his face. Every single one, and Meredith is the worst of them.”