Writer’s Retreat [Flash Fiction]
Set against a backdrop of ominously grey sky, Neuschwanstein loomed over the the lonely forest. It presided, dominated, menaced and threatened. The synonyms tumbled through Clara’s mind as she stood staring agape at the eerie, fairytalesque castle—and if fairytalesque wasn’t a word before, it damn well was now!
It was the perfect setting for a writer’s retreat, and she sent a thousand silent thank-yous to God or Luck or Fate that she’d been given the chance to come here and learn from the Reginald P. Valence in a setting so amazingly suited to the Horror genre. The ambiance of the castle’s exterior alone was a fertile oasis to the desert of her mind.
She pulled out a pocketbook and wrote, ‘fertile oasis in form of eldritch exterior.’ Yes, this was definitely worth the £2000 she’d paid. A bargain.
Their guide led them up the path to the castle—Clara mentally squealed with pleasure when she spotted crows in the trees lining the trail—with smiling assurances of how much they would all enjoy their forthcoming experience. The guide seemed the type who might turn out to secretly be an axe-murderer. Clara noted that, too, even though her fellow writers were smiling along with him.
Refreshments, as promised, awaited them on arrival. The castle staff appeared to take their bags to their rooms, and whilst her fellow writers descended on the coffee bar like a swarm of ravenous locusts, Clara drank in the sight of the alcoves and sculptures and dribbly candles inside sconces which were—sadly—lacking in cobwebs. Growing up in rural England, she’d never lacked for spooky architectural inspiration, but Neuschwanstein was on a whole other level.
Their guide reappeared, sans axe, and informed them Mr. Valence was ready for them. The locusts abandoned their coffees, though a couple grabbed handfuls of biscuits, and the guide led them through marble corridors to the function room. Chairs had been laid out ampitheatre style, and Clara mumbled apologies as she pushed her way to the front. She was not, not, going to get stuck at the back behind some tall guy. She got enough of that at the cinema.
A man walked into the room, and it was him. Reginald P. Valence, NYT’s best-selling author fifty bazillion times over. The man who didn’t just write genres, but transcended them. Clara didn’t really believe in God, but she did believe in Mr. Valence.
“Welcome!” he said. In the awed silence, Clara could’ve heard a pin drop. “You’ve all paid a lot of money to be here, so let’s not waste a hot second. Some of you are published, some of you are just beginning your careers as writers, whilst others are rudderless ships in need of guidance.” He smiled, gaze hopping from face to face as he turned on the spot. “I can promise you that when you leave here, you’ll take away exactly what you need to write that best-selling novel.”
Excited whispers buzzed and hummed before being silenced by a loud, single clap of Valence’s hands.
“So. Let’s get started!”
* * *
Donnie ambled down the corridor, following on the heels of the tiny English chick he’d been paired with. He had no idea why Valence had paired the writers off and sent them all to different sections of the castle, but he wasn’t gonna be the one to stick his hand up and ask. He already felt enough of an outsider in that group; no sense alienating himself further.
The chick, Clara, kept up the chatter as they walked, but Donnie was more focused on the beautiful architecture than on the girl. Such breathtaking alcoves and divine statues… the perfect setting for an illicit midnight tryst. He could already see it in his mind: her delicate ebony face, his rugged shadow of stubble, the candlelight…
“So, Donnie,” Clara said, turning to walk backwards so she could talk to him face-to-face, “you have anything published yet?”
He shook his head, grateful that his dark skin hid the flush he felt creep up his cheeks. Writing was seen as a white man’s venture by most of his friends and family. When he told them he was gonna be a writer, they assumed he’d be writing historical fiction or crime. When they learned the truth, they would laugh. It had stopped him from trying to get published… until now.
“I’ve got a few things out. Short fic, mostly. Anthologies. That sort of thing.” The girl sighed. “At first, the ideas came thick and fast. Like bam bam bam.” Her hands made fake-guns which shot him. “But now… That’s why I’m here. Who better to—”
A high-pitched shriek yanked Donnie’s balls up into his stomach and made his blood run a whole lot colder. Clara’s pretty blue eyes widened as her skin went a whiter shade of pale. She ran the tip of her tongue over her rosebud lips.
“Umm. I hope that wasn’t someone getting axe-murdered.”
Donnie took a deep breath. “Maybe you should stick behind me.” Long hours spent working out with Terrence in the gym had given him a physique more conducive to stopping axe-murderers than Clara’s slender frame was.
She nodded, and let him take the lead. Together they crept down the corridor, halting to give their hearts chance to catch up when a low, wailing moan reached their ears. Suddenly, those alcoves didn’t look quite so breathtaking. More like dangerous. Anybody could be lurking in there.
“Do you think we should go back?” Clara whispered.
Donny nodded, and turned. At that moment, the corridor was plunged into darkness as every light went out.
Clara squealed in a way that sounded almost happy. Her hand slid into his, soft and warm. “I knew this retreat for Horror writers would get my creative juices flowing!”
“But… this isn’t a retreat for Horror,” Donnie said.
“Oh? What did you come here to write?”
Conscious of her small hand in his, his cheeks heated again as he said, “I came to write Romance.”
It’s Friday, which means Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds posts another flash fiction challenge. This week’s challenge is photograph-based… and I love these!
My prompt comes in the form of a picture of Neuschwanstein castle (source)—a picture which is unfortunately not in the Public Domain, so I couldn’t use it as my featured image. Luckily, good ol’ Pixabay came through with a very nice picture of the castle I could use instead (source).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this story; I had a lot of fun writing it. I managed to cap it at 999 words, one shy of the 1k limit.