PenPrints Flash Fiction Dash: Empty Image


I had been toying around with the idea of writing a little flash fiction. Through an acquaintance in the twittersphere I discovered the fun of the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash and I took the leap. You can click the linked text to learn a little more about the writing challenge, and some of my motivation for writing a little flash fiction (aka writing an entire story in 1,000 words or less). The sign-up was simple, and then I waited for my prompt to arrive in my inbox.

image is everything

This is the visual prompt I received. Eerie, no? For me, this image evoked a tone reminiscent of The Portrait of Dorian Gray/ The Tell-Tale Heart.  The story that follows, my friends, was the result of my brainstorming. It’s not what I normally write or the type of characters I typically create, so bear with me. But, then again that’s part of the fun of flash fiction :).

Empty Image

The click of Alana Walsh’s stilettos echoed off the marble of the vacant hallway. Well after midnight, everyone had gone home save the handful of employees she still held hostage in the conference room. She’d left them to reel over her latest cutthroat move.

With a trembling hand she smoothed the front of her form hugging black dress as she made her way to the restroom. Her employees’ shock had rattled something, a conscience she’d worked hard to bury. They’d seen it all. If they were shaken, maybe she’d taken things too far.

It was a line even she hated to cross, cutting the deal out from under her longtime friend. He wouldn’t know what hit him until tomorrow morning, when it was too late. She should feel triumphant, outfoxing a fox before he decided to do the same to her. Because that’s what people did. They were your friend until it no longer worked in their favor.

Though friend seemed an empty word for what James was to…had been to her. She straightened her shoulders and ran her fingers over the gold lettering of her name on the wall as she passed. Now James was just another casualty of war. A means to an ends.

Something in her gut twisted as she reached for the restroom handle, and she huffed out a breath to settle herself. The guilt would fade. It always did with time.

At the first pedestal sink in the row, Alana gripped the sides and stared into the porcelain as if searching for something that confirmed what she’d done was justified. She bit the inside of her cheek to stay the emotions rising.

Days ago, she’d caught James looking at her when he didn’t think she’d notice. Their gazes collided, a spark of something vulnerable and sweet that spanned the space between them. A spark she’d just ground out with the heel of her designer shoes. But, instead of victory there was a hollowness.

The light in the sconce next to the mirror took to flickering, lighting the room with an haunting strobe. The silence throbbed in her ears, and she shivered. Alana lifted one of the hand towels from the warmer, and patted her cheeks, careful not to smudge her wing-tip eyeliner.

“You’ve gone too far.” A voice echoed, heavy with warning.

Alana stiffened and lowered the towel. She scanned the open mahogany doors of the stalls behind her, and then put the lemon-scented towel back to her face. She needed to lay off the caffeine.

“Look at me!”

Alana jolted. The feminine voice, oddly familiar, carried a feral growl that made gooseflesh rise up her neck. She turned slowly. A fleet movement out of her peripherals gripped her.

The damp hand towel fell with a splat on the marbled tile, and the room temperature dropped like a vacuum sucked heat from the room. Alana stumbled-stepped back from her reflection. One of her stiletto heels snapped as she fell.

Her reflection didn’t move.

A desperate sound, feeble and high-pitched rose in Alana’s throat.

Frozen, she stared at the woman in the glass that was her, but then again wasn’t. This version of her had hair blown wild, half covering her face. There was a vehement heat in her expression. A hunger that demanded to be seen and heard. But then, the figure in the reflection softened her stance.

“It’s been awhile, Alana. Do you remember the day you left me behind? This part of yourself, you’ve starved.” The reflection woman traced an invisible name on the glass with her boney finger.

A name Alana knew, but had spent a lifetime trying to forget. A memory she’d cryogenically frozen beneath a glacier, along with a piece of herself from the day she discovered the price of vulnerability. Of trusting. When that part of her had been ripped apart, flint steel and ice became the thing that held her together.

“Come closer, Alana.” The reflection’s voice beckoned like a Siren song—a mystery she couldn’t resist, though a warning rolled up from her middle.  “Come close, and see who you really are. The person you try to hide from the world. From yourself.”

The woman in the reflection smoothed back her hair. Even though she wore no make-up, she seemed to glow with a vitality Alana tried to paint into her own features each morning as she covered up the dark circles and stress lines.

“Aren’t you tired of being so hard? Of sabotaging every relationship?” The woman’s voice was tender now. Softer. And it was like a balm on Alana’s ache, the ache she worked every day to pretend didn’t exist.

“Yes.” Alana chanced the whisper.

“You can stop.”

“How?” Alana hobbled forward on her broken shoe.

She pressed her hands to the glass. In that instant, the light flickered and the room went dark, so dark Alana breathed ink. There was no longer glass beneath her hands, but warm flesh.

Boney hands gripped her’s and pulled. Alana fought and screamed for someone to come, anyone. This reflection of herself was strong, far stronger than she looked. Fierce even. She was over-powered by this weak, soft-hearted, vulnerable person. This person who had once upon a time trusted, and who had been burned.

And then, the fighting ceased and there was once again glass beneath her hands. The light returned, no longer strobing. Alana expelled a sigh of relief. The reflection woman straightened her hair and dress.

She smiled triumphantly at Alana. “I’m going to undo this mess you’ve made. I’m going to live. And I’m going to love.” Her voice was oddly muffled.

Alana pounded the glass. The sound reverberated around her. “Wait. What’s happening.”

The reflection woman paused. “What should have happened a long time ago. You’ve always been the empty image, not me. I’ve put you in your place. And now, I’m free.”


Do you love flash fiction? Check out my friend, Jebraun’s, story who also took the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash challenge. It’s about a sneaky grandma who ropes her granddaughter into a boring day of birdwatching. Hint: She finds something more interesting than birds to watch ;).

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