Introducing “Finish My Story”! In this column, Culture Editor, Ally Yager, and Editor-In-Chief, Maddy Levin, will be writing short fictional stories based on creative writing prompts, and letting our audience finish them. Want your ending published? Email email@example.com with your finished story and we’ll let you know if we select it!
The first two stories, “Ducks” and “Sugar and Spice” are below.
Prompt: Describe a lake seen by a young man who has just committed murder. Do not directly mention the murder.
By Maddy Levin
My father was the one who taught me pecking order. I was only eight when he first hit me. Drunk and belligerent, he smacked me so hard across the face I saw stars. Stars. I see them now, hanging high above the lake like pictures of the night. My old man taught me about stars, too. How they were dead and dying. Dead, like–
Quack. The stars cast light on a familiar shape. One lonesome duck wads across the water, stopping on the grassy bank a few yards away from me.
He taught me about ducks, too. How they establish pecking order through fights. Sometimes they’re small skirmishes, occurring only because of aggressive tendencies. Other times they result in death. Death, like–
Quack, quack. Another shadow, bigger than the first, crosses the lake, wading onto the shore with the other duck. It’s the males who get the most aggressive. His voice is in my ear, hot with whiskey.
Quack, quack, quack. They seem to be talking. The quacking intensifies. No, they seem to be fighting, arguing over something. Something.
My father was the one to teach me pecking order. I was only thirteen when he showed me how to butcher a pig. A pig’s anatomy is similar to that of a human’s. His hands gripping shoulders, covered in pig blood and guts. Be careful where you slice it.
The commotion of feathers flapping and loud quacking guides my attention back to the duck fight. To the death. They will fight to the death.
And just like that, the fighting begins. The bigger one pecks first. The smaller one pecks back. Quacking at the top of their lungs. Don’t ever disrespect me like that, he warns, his eyes dark with rage. You know who’s on top. You’re nothing but a pig, I say. He lays a punch across my face. I lay one back.
And just like that, the fighting intensifies. They peck harder, now. More aggressively. Birds of the night, fighting with ferocity of bears in the wild. Tiny but mighty.
And just like that, it is over. The smaller duck wades back into the water. Taking only a second to bask in his glory–his life spared–he glides away, the stars lighting his path.
My father was the one to teach me pecking order. I was only sixteen when I laid a hand on him. Only this time he had nothing to say. Couldn’t say anything.
The duck watches me from across the lake. Its beady eyes meeting mine. His stare so cold it could freeze the lake water.
Male ducks are the only ones who try to dominate humans.
“Sugar and Spice”
By Ally Yager
I see my brother’s silhouette from across the lake, his posture hunched and his shoulders bent forward to preserve his warmth. The night’s chill envelopes me in an icy blanket and each sharp intake of breath is invigorating, but of course my brother has never been partial to the cold.
Not the cold of the night air, not the cold the wintertime brings, and definitely not the coldness of our father.
I worry because these days it seems as if nothing is able to capture his interest much. He wanders through life as if comatose, eyes glazed over and tendencies unresponsive.
So I can’t help but wonder… what is he doing out here at this hour looking more on edge than ever? Even though his spine is curled forward because of the temperature and he’s trying to relax into his usual slouch, I can tell something is off.
It’s that bullshit twinstinct, I tell you. I can almost smell the booze and hear the palpable disapproval intertwining with the intermittent, gravely scoff.
Snap. A large icicle shatters off of the tree branch I’ve been clinging to, and as I jolt out of my stupor I gasp. I choke on my own breath, coughing.
The sound ricochets off each surface of the park, so it’s only natural that my brother come running. Twinstinct or not, I must have been loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood.
As he slows in front of me, clutching the stitch in his side, I notice his irregular breaths and frenzied glances. His fists curl and unclench, but he assures me everything is fine. I almost believe him as his steps fall in sync with mine.
When I was younger and times were sunnier, my father signed me up for dance classes. I’ve always busied myself with them and was even happy to oblige, but as the path of my adolescence dwindles behind me, I’ve been able to pick up on much more.
My brother’s jealous gaze. The way his eyes light up when he sees my new dance costumes. The way whenever I unveil new messes of gold ribbon and tulle for my leotards, his hands reach out as if to say, I want this. Whether he’s talking about my life or just the costumes I will never know.
Don’t be a sissy. Man up. Act like the man you’re trying so hard to convince everyone you are.
Back when our mother was still with us, I was her Sugar Dumping. My brother’s hot temper inspired Peppers.
Sugar and Spice and everything nice. You two must always be there to protect one another.
I don’t feel very protecting as we traipse back through the twilight to our house. I haven’t felt very protective as of late at all, actually.
I open my mouth to say something, but my brother sweeps his hand out in front of me, inhaling and exhaling as if to brace himself for the worst.
Creak. The door groans open. My eyes do a quick sweep of the floor.
Now I’m the one shaking. To think I was once so critical of the cold.
My brother’s talking now, and although I should be focusing on the words his lips are forming, I can only notice one thing.
He stands straight up, lips curling into a smile. Or is that a sneer?
Although the door still is ajar, letting in the frigid night wind, my brother no longer shivers. Not even once.