The Frayed String Snaps

The spotlight turns toward her, aged metal hinges creaking unintentional atmosphere into the performance. Her feet splay in bow-legged display, arms held out to her sides, head bent forward in repentance for an as yet unnamed sin. The audience cannot see the flakes in the rouge spots on her cheeks peeling off, cannot hear the skritch of her wooden joints as the strings, the fraying strings, pull her gently across the stage, a broken doll flung aside in slow motion.

They, the they whose human faces she has never seen except in shadow, work their levers and turn their wheels and make their adjustments with soft grunts and sometimes not so soft curses from behind the heavy curtains, equipment no longer up to snuff for the demands that they make of it.

There she is now, in place at center stage, fully steeped in the spotlight’s beam. She can feel them starting to lift her head, to force her eyes once more into the glare of the floodlights, to make her look out upon an audience who does not understand that she doesn’t want to be their entertainment any longer. They do not see the splinters escaping from under her painted eyelashes, little tears that look like tears; they would only add to the sad ambience of her painted face could anyone see the detail.

She does not want to be on the stage any longer. She had been the pinnacle, not the penultimate, but the zenith at the time of her creation. She was given no direction to go but down. How could every show, then, not be more of a disappointment than the last? The sighs and gasps and applause are a saw blade drawn against violin strings to her psyche, leaving her more and more an empty shell. She does not want to dance any more, having already been forced to reap more than she had ever hoped for simply by catching the eye of someone who thought that they came bearing a gift.

Her middle pulls taut as all the strings are tugged at once, a crescendo of agony behind the rictus of a smile, and they pirouette her across the boards, a blur of ragged beauty through steps that have not been altered in a hundred years. She yearns for silence, she prays for release, even as she drips joy across the horizon of bodies that sit in rapt attention at her stocking feet.

The man whose job it is to tighten all knots and inspect all ropes, to adjust wardrobe and touch up wig, has taken it upon himself to become lackadaisical.

Her weight is being raised from the floor, she is on her tippy toes, they are in the air, and all of her is now suspended in an airborne arabesque, to the delight of the squealers. Her left arm is beginning to droop noticeably lower than the right, her side is canting, and she imagines she hears, layer by layer, the already frayed rope coming apart above her, over the voices of the men as they scramble and over correct.

She begins to jerk a bit, from side to side, corps de ballet de grotesquerie.

An infinite glee comes with the sudden snap. Her prison is collapsing around her and for the first time since she looked out from behind the dead material of the face she had been forced into, she re-awakens to bliss. A broken ragdoll of disjointed bits is all she is now, sprawled in an untidy heap upon a dirty floor, legs and arms akimbo, soul winging up through the rafters and into the ether.

The audience is stunned into silence at this unexpected ending, this abrupt departure from the tawdry bows and curtsies that tend to follow such performances as these, but then shake free and welcome the new and rise to their feet, a hootenanny of hollers and cries for an encore that can never come.

The maestro, the magician, the darkness that had encapsulated her soul, cries quietly behind the scenes as his queen, his triumph, arcs towards the heavens and leaves him, alone, ever more.


So, I was listening to Lindsey Stirling and this story popped up….

Okay, so here’s a crazy thing…the erudite and awesome Suzanne, whose blog I have followed since I first found her through the now defunct Trifecta Writing Challenge (go read her here, both her fiction and non-fiction posts will either have you thinking or laughing or learning, sometimes all at once ) recently announced that she was launching her own writing challenge DUN DUN DUN here: and that got me excited because she attracts other writers as talented as she and I love the word ghoul. I just happened to write this story for the hell of it this morning while I was supposed to be working, and then just now realized that, by adding a single sentence to incorporate the word prompt REAP, that it fits the word and picture prompt.

I’m rambling like a crazy person. I’ll shoot for extra coherence later. No guarantees.

Read, write, love, sleep,

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “The Frayed String Snaps

  1. Love it, Shannon! And it’s always good to meet another ghoul fan, if even only for the word itself…

    • So glad you liked it πŸ˜‰ if October is my favorite month, I think that’s, like, automatic Ghoul status, maybe…

  2. Shannon! I’m so happy to see you here – and even happier to read your fantastic story. I love the way you juxtapose the happiness of the audience with her inner tragedy.

    Yes, October being your favourite month definitely grants you Ghoul status. And thank you for the very lovely things you said about me. (You are one of those talented writers, by the way.) πŸ™‚

    • Suzanne! How could I not show up here?! I’m really glad you enjoyed it and I feel very proud that you would consider me one of those talented writers, truly πŸ™‚

  3. I agree with what Suzanne has said but I have to paraphrase a bit and say that this was quite the roller coaster ride. A really great read.

    • Awesome, I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. It was honestly one of those stories that just dropped into my head, so I’m really happy it worked. Thank you!

  4. Great story, I loved “a crescendo of agony behind the rictus of a smile”

    • Very cool- I love it when a certain line or phrase catches someone, I feel like for that moment I caught exactly the right words out of the air πŸ˜‰ Thank you for reading, truly.

  5. I enjoyed your story Shannon. Your great use of words portray a sad picture. I think one of my favourite lines was, “The man whose job it is to tighten all knots and inspect all ropes, to adjust wardrobe and touch up wig, has taken it upon himself to become lackadaisical.” So much sadness because one man has taken it upon himself to no longer care.

    • I love that that is one of your favorite lines – you can get away with so much, as long as no one gets close enough to really see the details, but once you start not to care at all then it all falls down. Thank you so much for reading, and I’m very glad that you enjoyed it.

  6. Grotesquerie indeed! Beautiful and haunting horror story, subtly told, too. I’m loving, among all the skillful phrasings, the “skritch of her wooden joints as the strings, the fraying strings, pull her gently across the stage, a broken doll flung aside in slow motion.”

    • I’m such a sucker for ‘sound’ words like skritch (which spellcheck can just quit trying to change for me, thankyouverymuch), so I think it’s awesome that line works well for you. Thank you so much, for the lovely compliments, and just for taking the time to read what I wrote.

  7. I thought this story was really wonderful, from the title down to the magician at the end. The way you string together so many vivid, beautifully phrased descriptions – wringing so much emotion out of a mechanical process involving wood and string gave it a fairytale-like poignancy.

    • This may be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. It makes me happy to know that what I felt when I wrote it is being evoked when it’s being read. Truly, thank you so much.

  8. This reminds me of an ancient dark fairytale played out in the dusty pages of an old book. There is something very shadowy and classic about it which plays beautifully on the mind. Is the magician the reference to the picture prompt?

    • Firstly, let me say that I really love the name Splendid Empress. Secondly, THANK YOU. That’s how I saw it in my mind I guess, as a melancholy fairy tale, and your descriptions above just made my day. Thirdly, yes, I did see him as the magician- she was his crowning glory and he descended into madness as she ascended into the heavens. Thank you again, I’m so pleased with your thoughts on this piece.

  9. I also liked skritch, and arabesque, and hootenanny, and all the rest of those lovely words. This was brilliant. πŸ™‚

  10. Pingback: Grammar Ghoul Press » GG Challenge #2 Winners and Challenge #3 Prompts

  11. Loved the descriptions and the elegant writing. This story just screamed pain with its macabre images of a broken doll. Excellently done!

    • Thank you so much! I am very happy with your descriptors here, they make me feel that I really told a tale, and didn’t just type out a story.

  12. This is an amazing, amazing story. But everyone has already said that. I’m so glad I had time to read it today. There are those stories that just fall out of the sky, that are both inspired and amazing. This is definitely one of them! I just loved all of your descriptions but “corps de ballet de grotesquerie” really caught my attenion.

  13. Man, thank you so much, truly. I will say that I’m very pleased that you appreciated that particular line – that was one of those things where I typed it, then sat there and stared at it, like, wow, did I just do that?? So while I understand that what resonates with me doesn’t with everybody, it’s always rather fulfilling to hear that it did with someone πŸ™‚

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